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With tight coronavirus restrictions still in place across the country, Which? explains how the supermarkets are responding and what it means for your food shopping.
The lead-up to Christmas is usually one of the busiest stretches on the shopping calendar, with families stocking up on ingredients for festive feasts. This year, supermarkets have vastly increased their online order capacity already, which could put them in a good position for the December rush.
Still, to make sure everyone can buy all the mince pies they need, Aldi and M&S have confirmed longer opening hours for the Christmas period, with 400 M&S stores staying open until midnight on 21, 22 and 23 December.
Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are lobbying the government to extend Sunday trading hours, according to Sky News.
In this article, Which? explains everything you need to know about grocery shopping during the pandemic, including what supermarkets are doing ahead of the holidays, the support that’s available for NHS workers and elderly and 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: supermarkets’ Christmas plans
- Priority shopping hours by supermarket
- Online delivery situation by supermarket
- Are supermarkets still prioritising vulnerable shoppers?
- Essential food boxes: which stores sell them?
To find out what COVID-19 means for your rights, travel, health and lifestyle, check out the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?.
Not every supermarket has confirmed its Christmas opening hours yet, but M&S has said it’ll keep 400 of its stores open until midnight from 21 to 23 December this year. Over the same three days, Aldi will keep most of its stores open until 11pm.
Waitrose has also said it will keep some smaller stores open until 11pm on these days, but larger stores will close their doors at 10pm.
Aldi is expanding its online grocery capacity throughout the Christmas period by offering Deliveroo deliveries from 87 more stores, bringing the total to 129 by the end of the year.
Many supermarkets have released their Christmas online delivery slots already and some have already sold out, so if you’re planning a big order for the winter break it’s worth checking your favourite supermarket’s site as soon as possible.
- Find out more: nine things you didn’t know about online grocery shopping
England is more than halfway through its four-week national lockdown now, with people still urged to stay at home as far as possible. Shopping for groceries is one of the only reasons they’re allowed to go out.
The government says trips to buy essentials should be ‘as infrequent as possible’, though there is no legal limit on how often you can go to the supermarket.
On 4 November, Which? asked the biggest UK supermarket chains about their plans for the second national lockdown. All of those that responded said they were continuing with the social distancing measures they already had in place, including floor markings, signage and perspex screens. They also encourage customers to follow government guidance on wearing face coverings and keeping two metres distance from others when in store.
Supermarkets claim to be optimistic about online order slot availability, as many have hugely increased their delivery capacity during the pandemic.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) told us at the start of the lockdown that special shopping hours exclusively for the use of vulnerable people and NHS workers aren’t as necessary as they were in the first lockdown because large queues were not forming.
Still, the majority of supermarkets we spoke to do have some kind of priority hours system in place. You can find these in the table below.
- Find out more: lockdown latest – the latest guidance for your area
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||No priority hours||No priority hours|
|Co-op||Elderly, vulnerable and NHS Mon-Sat 8am-9am; Sun 10am-11am||Elderly, vulnerable and NHS Mon-Sat 8am-9am; Sun 10am-11am|
|Iceland||No priority hours||No 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||No specific hours but can go to front of queue at all times||No specific hours but can go to front of queue at all times|
|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; can also go to front of queue outside of those times|
Correct as of 4 November 2020.
- Find out more: are social distancing measures in shops effective?
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 have a full online grocery shopping service, but it now offers click and collect from 18 stores, and it’s considering expanding this further.
You may be able to order same-day deliveries of certain items via Deliveroo – 129 Aldi stores are set to be on the service by the end of 2020, with more than 40 already online.
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.
- Find out more: do groceries cost more when ordered through Deliveroo?
Asda says it has more availability than at the start of the March lockdown, and it will still give customers a three-week view of available slots.
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.
You may also be able to order via Deliveroo – more than 400 Co-op stores are on the service.
Iceland says online availability is good, and it’s grown its capacity by 300% since the start of the pandemic.
M&S replaced Waitrose as Ocado’s grocery partner on 1 September, meaning you can now order M&S goods online from Ocado.
Morrisons goods can be ordered from its own website, and from Deliveroo or Amazon in some areas.
The supermarket also has a new telesales service for vulnerable customers, explained here.
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 says it currently has good delivery availability for all customers.
The supermarket has rolled out its ‘Chop Chop’ e-bike delivery service to 50 stores across 20 UK cities.
Tesco says it has more than doubled its online grocery capacity since the start of the outbreak, and it continues to prioritise vulnerable customers. Customers are encouraged to shop in store if they can to free up delivery slots for those who can’t.
Waitrose says it has more than trebled its online capacity this year, and significantly increased click-and-collect slots.
Now that it has stopped selling via Ocado, it’s trialling a partnership with Deliveroo, with 30 stores on the service at the moment.
- Find out more: supermarkets on Deliveroo – are you paying more?
In short, yes.
During the first lockdown, when vulnerable people were asked to ‘shield’, supermarkets used a government list and their own data to identify customers that would need priority delivery slots.
Shielding is not being formally advised this time, but those who are clinically extremely vulnerable have still been advised not to go to the shops. The government’s new guidelines are here.
Here’s what supermarkets said when we asked them on 4 November if they’re still giving out priority slots, and what people should do to get one if they need one.
- Aldi says customers who can’t shop in store may be able to use click and collect or Deliveroo. It did not tell us it was offering priority slots.
- Asda will continue its priority slots until March 2021 at the earliest. It says anyone who needs priority should register with the government, as it’s still getting data from it.
- Co-op says that as its online shopping service is new and you don’t need an account to place an order, our questions about the shielding list don’t apply.
- Iceland is still offering priority delivery slots, and it will use the government’s new criteria for people advised not to shop to identify vulnerable individuals – originally intended for Tier 3 areas but now extended across England – to identify extremely vulnerable individuals.
- Morrisons says it has a new ‘doorstep delivery service’ that it recommends for vulnerable customers. You can order from a list of 47 essential items over the phone and pay when your shopping arrives. There’s more info on this webpage.
- Sainsburys says it still prioritises the elderly and vulnerable for home delivery and with a phone order service. When asked how customers can be added to its list, the supermarket said availability is good for all customers.
- Tesco says the 600,000 people already on its vulnerable list will continue to have priority. Those who aren’t on the list can call 0800 917 7359 and request to be added.
- Waitrose says it still prioritises people on the government’s list, and those who have told it they need support. You can contact Waitrose’s customer service team to request to be added.
Other ways to shop
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.
Volunteer shopping cards
If a friend or neighbour is shopping for you, you can buy a volunteer shopping card for them to pay with.
- Find out more: how to pay volunteers to do your shopping
Local shops and volunteer groups
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.
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
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. The latest update was on 23 November 2020 to add information about Christmas opening hours. Additional reporting by Hannah Walsh.