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15 May 2020

Shoppers spend more on groceries since lockdown - but have food prices gone up?

Which? reveals how coronavirus is affecting supermarket spending

Nearly half of shoppers say they are spending more on groceries since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, Which? research reveals.

We quizzed more than 2,000 members of the public about how their shopping habits had changed since the UK-wide lockdown was introduced in March.

Some 45% said they are spending more on groceries, with 14% spending 'a lot' more.

But are grocery prices actually going up, or are we just buying more? Here, we unpick the data to understand why shoppers are spending more on food, and give tips on how to keep your shopping bills down.

Read the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?.

Why are shoppers spending more?

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, grocery shopping has changed in unprecedented ways.

UK shoppers have faced empty supermarket shelves, difficulties getting online delivery slotsand social distancing inside stores. And all this means that our grocery shopping habits have changed.

Of those who said they were spending more, 39% said it was because they were having to buy more-expensive brands or types of products, due to lack of choice.

Other reasons for splashing out more on groceries included not eating out anymore (32%) and a lack of multi-buy promotions (29%), which were stopped by many supermarkets at the start of the outbreak to help manage stock levels.

Comfort eating - a common feature of lockdown for many people - also contributed, with 31% saying they were eating more in general, and 13% admitting to treating themselves to pricier brands or product types.

About one in four (26%) said their increased bills were due to shopping in pricier convenience or independent stores since the lockdown began.And one in five (19%) said they had been stocking up on food in case of future shortages.

Why are people spending more on groceries?

Are grocery prices going up?

Despite people spending more on groceries since lockdown began, there's no strong evidence of widespread food price rises.

In fact, when we crunched the numbers on a trolley of 40 comparable grocery items at all eight major supermarkets, the cost of our trolley actually went down from £59.16 in March to £58.27 in April - a decrease of 1.5%.

Looking at a longer timeframe, retail analyst Kantar Worldpanel found that groceries had gone up in cost by a modest 1.9% over the 12 weeks ending 19 April.

'Unreasonable price hikes'

However consumers' perception is different, as half of the members of the public we asked said that they had seen an 'unreasonable price hike' on certain types of goods since the lockdown began.

Most commonly reported were price hikes on hand sanitiser and antibacterial washes/wipes, where 28% said they had seen an unreasonable jump in price.

This was followed by toilet rolls (17%) and paracetamol or thermometers (16%). Shoppers reported seeing these price hikes across the board, including at supermarkets, independent/convenience stores and retail websites, as well as on online marketplaces and community web forums.

6 tips to cut your grocery bills

While it can be tricky to spend less on groceries at the moment, these tips could help:

  1. Consider replacing meat and fish with cheaper protein-rich food sources, such as lentils, pulses and beans.
  2. If you don't want to give up your meat and fish, canned or frozen packs can be cheaper.
  3. The same goes for fruit and veg, which can contain more nutrients when frozen - and you might waste less too.
  4. Try switching to cheaper product ranges - for example, a supermarket's own-label instead of a pricey brand.
  5. If you have the storage space and can either use or freeze the food before it goes off, buying larger pack sizes is often cheaper.
  6. Always use your supermarket loyalty card, which might get you discounts or allow you to pay for your shopping using your points.

Find out more