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With the UK back in lockdown, supermarkets are once again on a mission to ‘feed the nation’.
Thankfully, it’s a very different situation from the start of the first lockdown in March 2020. Over the course of the pandemic, supermarkets have massively increased their online order capacity and implemented social distancing measures to help keep customers safe.
Here, we look at supermarkets’ latest guidelines and your options for getting food if you’re shielding or self-isolating.
You can scroll down to read the whole story or use the links to skip to particular sections:
- Latest news: supermarkets tighten mask rules
- Priority shopping hours by supermarket
- Online delivery situation by supermarket
- How to get food if you’re self-isolating or shielding
- Getting financial help for food shopping
- 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?.
Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose have all announced that they will refuse entry to customers who don’t wear face coverings, unless they are medically exempt.
Security staff at Sainsbury’s will also challenge shoppers who arrive in groups, and it has ‘significantly reduced’ the number of customers allowed in store at one time.
Asda and Morrisons have said staff will offer free face coverings to shoppers who don’t bring their own.
Meanwhile, Tesco and Waitrose are encouraging customers to shop in store if they can to free up online delivery slots for elderly, vulnerable and self-isolating shoppers who need them.
Every supermarket with an online grocery operation is prioritising elderly and clinically vulnerable customers. The government is still sending out up-to-date information on people who are shielding – find out more here.
Sainsbury’s has told customers via email to only buy what they need, assuring them there is enough stock for everyone. The email also encouraged customers to shop for others if they can.
- Find out more: nine things you didn’t know about online grocery shopping
Many supermarkets set up exclusive priority hours for NHS staff or elderly and vulnerable customers during the first lockdown. Since then, some have kept them and others have changed or removed them.
We’re updating this alphabetised list of supermarket special slots for NHS workers and vulnerable shoppers every time we learn something new.
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||No priority hours||No priority hours|
|Morrisons||Mon-Sat 6am-7am; Sun 9am-9.30am||No priority hours|
|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||Elderly and vulnerable have priority access at all times|
Correct as of 7 January 2021.
The online grocery market has grown throughout the pandemic, with supermarkets increasing their online delivery capacity to try and meet increased demand. Here’s a breakdown of what’s happened with different retailers.
Links take you to the retailer websites.
Amazon (amazon.co.uk) 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 (aldi.co.uk) doesn’t offer full online grocery shopping, but does now offer a click-and-collect service at more than 200 stores.
You may be able to order same-day deliveries of certain items via Deliveroo.
Aldi launched a £9.99 Essentials Box for vulnerable and elderly people last year, but these are currently out of stock on its website.
- Find out more: do groceries cost more when ordered through Deliveroo?
Asda (asda.com) has increased its weekly delivery capacity to 850,000, which is a 90% increase since the first lockdown. It plans to add a further 50,000 slots by April 2021.
Booths (booths.co.uk), 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 (coop.co.uk) 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 (iceland.co.uk) says it’s grown its online delivery capacity by 300% since the start of the pandemic and is confident it can meet demand.
M&S (marksandspencer.com) doesn’t sell groceries via its own website, but you can buy much of its range from Ocado.
Morrisons (morrisons.com) goods can be ordered from its own website and from Deliveroo or Amazon in some areas.
It says it’s increased its online operation fivefold since the first lockdown.
Ocado (ocado.com) is currently accepting new customers, after closing to all but its most regular shoppers in the first lockdown.
Sainsbury’s (sainsburys.co.uk) can now fulfil 800,000 online orders a week and has rolled out its ‘Chop Chop’ e-bike delivery service to 50 stores across 20 UK cities.
Tesco (tesco.com) has more than doubled its online grocery capacity since the start of the outbreak and now serves more than 1.5 million households per week. Despite this, though, it’s asking those who can shop in store safely to do so where possible in order to help free up slots for those who can’t.
Waitrose (waitrose.com) says it has more than trebled its online capacity in the past year, and significantly increased click-and-collect slots. Like Tesco, it’s advising customers to shop in store if they can safely do so.
- Find out more: supermarkets on Deliveroo – are you paying more?
If you’re one of the millions of people being told to shield or self-isolate, you won’t be able to go to the supermarket (although the advice for those shielding in Scotland says you can leave home for essential shopping).
These are some of your options if you need to get food delivered in this situation:
Supermarket priority delivery
Supermarkets are still receiving government data on shielders in order to offer them priority for online grocery delivery.
Volunteer shopping cards
Another option is to ask friends, family or neighbours to shop for you. If you’re unable to pay them back for your groceries via a bank transfer or cash, you can buy a volunteer shopping card for them to pay with.
- Find out more: how to pay volunteers to do your shopping
NHS Volunteer Responders (England only)
NHS Volunteer Responders was set up during the first lockdown to help people who needed essentials or prescriptions delivered to their homes.
The service can help anyone who lives in England and is shielding, self-isolating or choosing to stay at home as much as possible.
You can call NHS Volunteer Responders on 0808 196 3646.
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.
Local volunteer groups
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.
The pandemic has been tough on many peoples’ finances, with jobs lost and businesses shutting down. So you’re certainly not alone if you’re facing financial troubles at the moment.
You can also get advice on debt and coronavirus from StepChange.
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 £15 to £39 for a range of boxes.
- Morrisons £10 to £55 for a range of boxes from fruit and veg to hygiene products.
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 2020 and since then has been regularly updated with the latest developments. The latest update was on 14 January 2021, when we added information on supermarkets’ mask enforcement.