Spike in demand but UAE shoppers shun hoarding

UAE supermarkets are well stocked as 'selfish' panic buyers strip shelves in other parts of the world

At supermarkets across the world, shoppers have stripped shelves bare as they embark on coronavirus-inspired panic buying.

From the US to the UK to Australia, some retailers have even imposed limits on the number of items one person can buy.

But even as measures to slow down the spread of Covid-19 became more severe, hoarding has apparently failed to take off in the UAE, with plentiful supplies of pasta, toilet roll and even hand sanitiser widely on sale on Thursday.

Retailers said they had seen increases in demand, particularly for hygiene products, in online delivery orders and for bulk items.

However, they said they had so far been able to source extra supplies.

"Our shelves are well-filled, there is no sense of panic," V Nandakumar, chief communications officer for Lulu supermarkets, told The National at the chain's Mushrif Mall branch.

“We do see people trying to order online more, to avoid coming to the store, but it has been stable.

“Our staff morale is high, consumers are seeing cleanliness and are happily shopping with no sense of panic," he said.

“I am thankful to our customers for being totally calm, and I want to reassure them all that there is no need to have any panic.

“We are well-stocked, not just for a month or two but beyond that. There is absolutely no need to go on a hoarding spree.

Mr Nandakumar thanked the leaders in the country for assuring citizens and residents that gives confidence to suppliers, consumers and retailers.

“We have done enough and more so that you never see an empty shelf, like we have in some other countries,” he said.

The number of staff members have been increased at Lulu, by around 20 per cent to keep shelves stocked and also to complete regular cleaning tasks.

A high-level committee has been set up to oversee supply chains during the outbreak.

Azmat Rasul, a shopper at the branch was stocking up but not on food or toiletries.

Instead he bought a carrom board, a popular Asian tabletop game, to help his family pass the time while staying indoors.

“Panic buying doesn’t help,” Mr Rasul, an academic at Zayed University, said.

“I believe we will get everything we need. I am working at home, the gym was closed in our building, so my daughter and I are going to play on the carrom board to keep our time productive.”

In the UK, some stores have begun opening early only for elderly customers so the vulnerable can get the products they need.

Others across the world are only allowing customers to buy a limited amount of any one product.

However, at the Waitrose store in Reem Island on Thursday, a closed self-service deli counter was the only change from normal due to the virus.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 19, 2020.   Staff restock goods at the Lulu Hypermarket at Mushriff Mall during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Victor Besa / The National
Reporter:   Dasn Sanderson
Section:  NA

Even hand sanitisers were still on sale, with hundreds of packets of rice, pasta, canned goods and toilet paper also on the shelves.

The coronavirus did not delay the opening of a new Waitrose store in Motor City, Dubai, its third-largest in the UAE, on Thursday.

“We are doing all that we can to support our customers and community in the current challenging climate," Tom Harvey, head of commercial grocery at Waitrose UAE, said.

"We are committed to ensuring our deliveries remain on track and shelves are fully stocked of all essential items to keep up with our shoppers’ requirements.

“There has been a spike in demand for products across departments, particularly for household cleaning, canned food, pasta and rice, frozen and protein.

“In health and beauty we are seeing increased demand for personal care items, driven largely by antibacterial products. We continue to work closely with our supply chain partners from 26 different countries to manage any constraints as they appear."

Carrefour, which operates 29 hypermarkets and 80 supermarkets in the UAE, also said it had enough food for everyone, despite changes in consumer behaviour.

Orders for products sold in bulk have increased from 32 per cent to 46 per cent, with demand for masks, gloves, and cleaning and hygiene products particularly high.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 19, 2020.  Shoppers doing their groceries at the Lulu Hypermarket at Mushriff Mall during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Victor Besa / The National
Reporter:   Dasn Sanderson
Section:  NA

Electronics and healthy food have also been more popular than usual. However, the retailer said it would not be taking advantage of the situation by hiking prices.

Like Lulu, Carrefour has seen a sharp increase in online orders over the past month.

There has been a 59 per cent increase in new customers on online platforms compared to the usual weekly average.

In the first two weeks of March, online transactions were up 32 per cent compared to the same period in February.

“We understand that at a time like this, it is vital for retail chains to provide products with greater efficiency,” Philippe Peguilhan, country manager of Carrefour UAE, said.

“As such, we continue to source a large portion of our fresh produce and all other products through local or regional suppliers to avoid interruption to the supply chain.

“To cater to increased demand for delivery orders, we’ve opened six new fulfilment centres across the region. We’re also replenishing stocks more frequently and increasing resources at our centres to guarantee timely delivery to our customers who do choose to shop online.

“We are encouraging customers to shop responsibly and refrain from panic buying. This will allow each customer to purchase enough for their short-to mid-term needs and ensures all customers have access to the goods they require.

“Our stores remain open and fully stocked for customers. As always, we will continue to monitor stock levels to ensure we adequately cater to customer needs.”