British grocery chains Tesco and Morrisons have started rationing essential items over fears that stricter lockdown measures will send shoppers into a panic.
Supermarkets limited sales of certain goods earlier in the pandemic, and Morrisons became the first major grocer to reintroduce these measures when it said on Thursday that customers could only buy three of certain products. These included pasta, soup, hand wash, and hand sanitizer, as well as multipacks of toilet paper and kitchen roll.
One checkout worker at Morrisons who wished to remain anonymous said customers had been stocking up on canned food and toilet roll. They described their store was “worse than a bad Christmas, it was horrible.”
Tesco imposed its own three-item limits on Friday morning for flour, dried pasta, toilet rolls, baby wipes, and anti-bacterial wipes, the grocer confirmed to Business Insider. The limit extends to a small number of products online, such as rice and canned vegetables, it added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced stricter lockdown measures on Tuesday, including a 10 p.m. curfew for pubs and restaurants, and extending the use of face masks. Officer workers were also told to work from home wherever possible.
Social media users began posting images of empty shelves on Monday, when rumors of the stricter measures began to emerge, and toilet paper sales rose 23% in the week to Tuesday, The Guardian reported. But an Asda spokesperson told Business Insider that “despite the general media perception we’re not seeing evidence in a change of customer behaviour,” adding that “we’re not seeing any panic-buying.”
A spokesperson for Morrisons told Business Insider that its stock levels remained “good,” but that the grocer wants “to ensure that they are available for everyone.”
“We continue to have good availability in stores and online, and are not experiencing any shortages,” it said, adding that it has more than doubled its number of online delivery slots during the pandemic to 1.5 million per week.
Grocers saw a wave of panic buying in March as shoppers faced the reality of a coronavirus lockdown. Most major supermarkets limited sales on essential products including milk, bread, soup, flour, and cleaning products.
Other supermarkets are now discouraging customers from a second round of stock-piling.
“There is no need to buy more than you usually would,” said Giles Hurley, the chief executive of Aldi UK, in an open letter to customers on Tuesday. “I would like to reassure you that our stores remain fully stocked and ask that you continue to shop considerately.”
When asked whether Sainbury’s, another large grocery chain, would reintroduce product limits, a spokesperson told Business Insider: “We aren’t currently restricting products.”