A number of social media users shared pictures as apparent panic buying began to take hold once more ahead of the new restrictions on Thursday, despite the stores insisting there was plenty of stock to go round.
Maria White shopped at a Lidl in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, on Monday evening to find empty shelves where usually there was bread, vegetables and meat.
Ms White, who works for a web design site, said despite the supermarket not appearing as busy as during the first lockdown, seeing the empty shelves “triggered” other shoppers to buy extra items.
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“A gentleman bought about 30 bottles of water of two litres each,” the 35-year-old told PA.
“Another lady grabbed about 10 packages of pasta and a few sauces.
“I think it’s a rather selfish and an unnecessary overreaction, given that the supermarkets and shops won’t close during lockdown and I believe … will have enough supplies.”
Ahead of the UK-wide lockdown in March, a number of supermarkets introduced limits on purchases of key items to counter the effects of stockpiling.
Some chains, including Morrisons and Tesco, reintroduced these measures in recent weeks as the rate of the virus’ spread increased – using policies such as three items per customer on some products.
Social media posts showed the dearth in essentials affecting a variety of other supermarkets, including Tesco, Morrisons, and Sainsbury’s.
Elysium Sexsmith said shelves of products such as pasta, toilet roll and nappies were cleared entirely in his local Lidl in Luton on Monday evening.
“There was absolutely no stock on the shelves whatsoever,” the 41-year-old musician told the PA news agency.
“There’s kitchen towel but no toilet rolls… there were people picking up the kitchen rolls and wondering if they can use that.
“I was in absolute disbelief, and I literally walked out of the shop shaking my head.
“At this point in time it didn’t have a major impact on me… but there is the concern that I may not be able to get essential supplies in a week’s time if this carries on.”
Supermarkets have repeatedly encouraged shoppers not to stockpile, with Lidl’s website telling customers: “Our stores are being replenished every day.
“That item you want to buy ‘just in case’, might be essential for someone more vulnerable who can’t visit the store multiple times.”
A Tesco spokesperson said: “We have good availability in stores and online, with plenty of stock to go round, and we would encourage our customers to shop as normal.”
Ratula Chakraborty, professor of business management at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said it is unclear how widespread the issue of panic buying is but it could “spiral out of control” without intervention.
“Unfortunately, some customers are going crazy in grabbing everything they can to put in their trolleys… in turn, this is encouraging copycat behaviour by other shoppers,” she said.
“The result is empty shelves and the possibility of panic buying spiralling out of control.
“Shoppers will naturally think of their own needs and will fear losing out if they see other shoppers stockpiling.”
She added that media coverage of empty shelves could “frighten customers” and the easiest way for panic buying to be controlled was for more supermarkets to introduce purchase limits.
“In the first lockdown, supermarkets acted too slowly in introducing these limits, but hopefully this time they act more swiftly to avoid the panic buying seen last March,” she added.