Surge in freezer sales amid coronavirus stockpiling

Freezer sales spiked as people stockpile food amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus. (Getty)

Sales of chest freezers and under-the-counter freezers have spiked in the UK amid rising coronavirus fears, new figures show.

Freezer sales surged 200% year-on-year last week, and Wednesday was its third highest sales day ever, according to figures from online appliance firm AO.com.

Department store chain John Lewis also said it had seen “a substantial uplift in freezer sales.”

This is an unusual trend as at this time of year people are normally buying heating, cooking and cleaning products, an AO.com spokesperson told the BBC. Sales on AO.com make up a fifth of the UK's home appliance sales, according to the company.

The company saw its third highest freezer sales in two decades last week, behind pre-Christmas Black Friday sales in 2018 and 2019.

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AO.com doesn't ask its customers why they are buying appliances, but it was reasonable to assume people were buying freezers to store more food, the spokesperson said.

Supermarket shelves have been left empty as the coronavirus outbreak has seen consumers panic buying essential items such as toilet roll, dried pasta and tinned tomatoes.

Frozen food retailer Iceland said it had seen a “notable increase” in the number of frozen food sales at the beginning of March.

People diagnosed with the virus are expected to self-isolate and avoid contact with others. This policy may be extended to the general public if the virus becomes more widespread.

The government has said there is “no need” for coronavirus stockpiling but has relaxed restrictions on delivery hours for supermarkets to enable retailers to keep up with demand.

Some supermarkets, including Tesco and Waitrose, began to ration in-demand products such as hand sanitiser, UHT milk and some tinned vegetables over the weekend.

Sales of online streaming services and takeaway meals have also increased, according to separate figures from Barclaycard. The card provider said consumer spending grew 2.2% last month compared with the year before, “propped up by digital subscriptions and takeaways as Brits stayed home to avoid bad weather and the potential spread of coronavirus.”

Read more: The psychology and economic fallout of 'panic buying'

However, coronavirus fears have not benefited all retailers, with sales at department stores falling 3.6% as shoppers kept away from the high street, Barclaycard said.

In the UK, 373 people have tested positive for coronavirus by Tuesday, up from 319 on Monday, the Department of Health said.