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With COVID-19 cases on the rise across the UK, Which? explains how the supermarkets are responding and what it means for your food shopping.
The country has been warned to prepare for a tough six months, with new national restrictions in place and more than a quarter of the UK population currently under some form of local lockdown.
In this article, Which? explains everything you need to know about grocery shopping during the pandemic, including how the supermarkets are adapting, special opening hours for NHS workers and elderly/vulnerable shoppers, and how to get food if you’re self-isolating.
You can scroll down to read the whole story or use the links to skip to particular sections:
- Latest news: the Bake Off effect and drone deliveries
- Priority shopping hours by supermarket
- Online delivery situation by supermarket
- Essential food boxes: which stores sell them?
- Social distancing in supermarkets
- Help getting food if you’re self-isolating
- How shopping habits are changing
To find out what COVID-19 means for your rights, travel, health and lifestyle, check out the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?.
With coronavirus cases on the rise again, supermarkets have reassured customers that they’re well prepared for the ‘second wave’.
Some have stocked up on extra flour in anticipation of a Bake Off-inspired baking surge. This could be particularly helpful, given that baking supplies were in high demand during the national lockdown earlier this year.
Morrisons and Tesco have reinstated limits on some items as a precautionary measure. Both supermarkets say stock levels are good, and that the limit has only been brought back to make sure it stays that way.
More broadly, we’re continuing to see new initiatives, such as virtual queuing apps at some Asda and Sainsbury’s stores. The Co-op has expanded its robot delivery service in the Milton Keynes area, and Tesco will soon begin testing drone deliveries for small baskets of items in Ireland.
And in other respects, things have gone a bit more ‘back to normal’ in recent weeks. Sainsbury’s has reverted to bagless deliveries after temporarily delivering all shopping in plastic bags during lockdown to speed things up. And Ocado reintroduced its bag recycling scheme on 22 September.
- Find out more: lockdown latest – reopenings paused amid case rise
Priority shopping hours by supermarket
We’re updating this alphabetised list of supermarket special slots for NHS workers and vulnerable shoppers every time we learn something new.
It’s worth noting that Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have made changes to their priority hours, and Iceland has removed them.
Some stores are running things slightly differently on a localised basis – this list only covers nationwide policies, so check with your local store if you want to be sure.
Links take you to the Which? review of each supermarket.
|Supermarket||Key workers||Elderly/vulnerable shoppers|
|Aldi||NHS and emergency workers get priority in queues and also 30 minutes’ early access before tills open on Sundays||Mon-Sat: access 30 minutes before store opens|
|Asda||NHS workers priority queuing on Mon, Wed, Fri from 8am-9am and priority entry for browsing 9am-10am on Sun|
|Co-op||‘Prioritised’ Mon-Sat 8am-9am; Sun 10am-11am||‘Prioritised’ Mon-Sat 8am-9am; Sun 10am-11am|
|Iceland||No longer offering priority hours||No longer offering priority hours|
|Lidl||No priority hours||No priority hours|
|Marks & Spencer||First hour of trading on Tue and Fri – but only if there’s a queue||First hour of trading on Mon and Thu – but only if there’s a queue|
|Morrisons||Mon-Sat 6am-7am; Sun 9am-9.30am|
|Sainsbury’s||Priority entry Mon-Sat 7.30am-8am||Priority entry Mon, Wed, Fri 8am-9am|
|Tesco||NHS and emergency services staff allowed to go to front of queue at all times||Wed and Sun (browsing only) 9am-10am|
|Waitrose||NHS and social care workers have priority access at all times other than the first hour of opening on Mon, Wed, Fri (as this is reserved for elderly and vulnerable)||First hour of opening on Mon, Wed and Fri|
Amazon is now selling Morrisons groceries to customers in several cities around the UK.
Its Amazon Fresh service is also now available to all Prime members who live in eligible areas (London and southern England only).
Aldi doesn’t offer a full online grocery shopping service, but is testing click and collect at the Allendale Road store in Loughborough, with plans to roll it out further if it’s a success.
Aldi also launched a £9.99 essentials box for vulnerable and elderly people during lockdown, but these are currently out of stock on its website.
You may be able to order same-day deliveries of certain items via Deliveroo – 29 Aldi stores are currently on the service.
- Find out more: do groceries cost more when ordered through Deliveroo?
Asda says those who are self-isolating or have additional needs should fill out the ‘other information’ section when placing their orders to tell delivery drivers where they would like their groceries to be left.
In Birmingham and Leeds, the supermarket is testing a 30-minute delivery service with Uber Eats.
Booths, which operates in the north of England, is delivering emergency food packages to vulnerable customers living within three miles of its stores.
It has also launched a click-and-collect service for those wishing to avoid shopping in store. You can make your order online, but payment will be taken over the phone.
Co-op is offering same-day online deliveries in some areas. You can order a maximum of 25 items from a curated selection of products.
Demand for slots is high. If you can’t get one, you may be able to order via Deliveroo – more than 400 Co-op stores are on the service.
Co-op has also expanded its same-day robot delivery service from eight stores in the Milton Keynes area.
Iceland is offering priority delivery to self-isolating students.
M&S replaced Waitrose as Ocado’s grocery partner on 1 September, meaning you can now order M&S goods online from Ocado.
Morrisons has turned off its app and has warned that shoppers must make final edits to their online shopping basket no less than 72 hours before the delivery slot.
If you’re unable to get a Morrisons delivery slot through the website, check Deliveroo and Amazon as both deliver Morrisons groceries in some areas.
Ocado is once again open to new customers, so you can now place an order if you’ve never shopped with it before, although the app is still unavailable to most people.
Sainsbury’s is still offering priority delivery slots to elderly and vulnerable customers, and says it currently has good delivery availability for all customers.
The supermarket has also rolled out its ‘Chop Chop’ e-bike delivery service to 50 stores across 20 UK cities.
Tesco’s drone-delivery trial is set to start in Ireland in October. It will initially only be available from its store in Oranmore, County Galway.
Waitrose has brought forward its cut-off time for online order changes to 12pm the day before your delivery is due, and has also pledged to give a quarter of its online delivery slots to vulnerable customers.
The supermarket is trebling its Rapid Delivery service, which provides same-day delivery for up to 25 grocery items from 28 stores in Hove and London. It’s reserving 40% of these slots for elderly and vulnerable shoppers.
And, now that Waitrose has stopped selling via Ocado, it’s trialling a partnership with Deliveroo, with five stores on the service at the moment.
- Find out more: supermarkets on Deliveroo – are you paying more?
A number of supermarkets have started selling boxes packed with pre-selected ‘essential’ items such as bread, milk and pasta to help those who are self-isolating.
Links take you to the relevant page on the supermarkets’ websites.
- Aldi: £9.99, including delivery, for 21 items – currently sold out online
- Asda: £17-£39 for a range of boxes containing 16-44 items
- Morrisons: £22-£55 for a range of boxes from fruit and veg to a luxury meat selection
Supermarkets have introduced a wide range of social-distancing measures and high-tech innovations to try to make shopping safer. In fact, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) estimates supermarkets spent more than £100m on new safety measures during the nationwide lockdown.
Many offer apps or handheld devices that enable you to scan your own shopping and avoid using the checkout, and every major supermarket has installed checkout screens, floor markings and enhanced cleaning measures.
Although queues have died down, you may still see people waiting outside stores due to limits on customer numbers designed to help people stay two metres apart from each other. And as social distancing looks set to be required for some time to come, supermarkets are working to make the process safer and more efficient.
The most recent development is the requirement for both customers and staff to wear masks or face coverings in shops. While many supermarkets have said they won’t challenge people who aren’t wearing them, as they could have a valid reason for not doing so (such as a disability or health condition), all are encouraging shoppers to follow the government guidance.
Sainsbury’s is testing its uFirst app, which allows shoppers to virtually queue before they enter stores. You could be sitting in your car, in a café or – if you live close enough – at home while you wait to enter. Asda and Waitrose are trying similar schemes.
Aldi has installed traffic lights at store entrances to make it clear whether or not the next person in line can enter.
And throughout the UK, the contactless payment limit has been raised from £30 to £45, so more people can pay without having to touch the Chip-and-Pin machine.
If you’re struggling to secure an online delivery slot and are self-isolating or unable to get to the shops, it’s worth exploring whether there are alternatives in your area.
Many local independent shops, farm shops, community shops and wholesalers are now offering home delivery. If you’re unsure where to start, try asking on local online forums or social media groups, or check websites such as localfooddrops.co.uk and wedeliverlocal.co.uk.
You could also seek more direct help from your local community: in many areas, residents have set up Facebook or WhatsApp groups to help people who are vulnerable or running low on essentials – try searching for your local Mutual Aid group if you need help or want to get involved.
The neighbourhood hub Nextdoor is being used in a similar way, too, with users reaching out to offer help with shopping or even supporting those in self-isolation.
Alternatively, you could see if neighbours want to club together on a single online order, which could be handy if any of you are new to online shopping.
- Is someone doing your shopping for you? Find out the safest way to pay shopping volunteers.
Until this year, online supermarkets had a market share of roughly 7% to 8%. But the pandemic has meant demand for this form of grocery shopping has skyrocketed.
According to Kantar – a data, insights and consulting company – online currently accounts for approximately 12.5% of all grocery sales (although this is lower than the 13.5% peak seen in the summer).
In July, Sainsbury’s chief executive revealed that online orders accounted for 17% of the supermarket’s business – up from 7% before the pandemic. Separate research by Waitrose in August found more than three quarters of people now regularly order household goods online, up from 61% last year.
And it seems these changes are here to stay, at least for some: a quarter of shoppers are expected to stick permanently with online shopping, according to Retail Gazette.
- Find out more: the truth behind coronavirus ‘stockpiling’
Which? advice on coronavirus
Experts from across Which? have advice on everything from staying safe and keeping in touch with loved ones to travel insurance rights and saving money on your household bills.
Click to see all the latest coronavirus advice and news from Which?.
This story was originally published on 9 March and is being regularly updated with the latest developments. Additional reporting by Hannah Walsh.