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Asda puts restrictions on shoppers to limit stockpiling | Business

Asda is closing its cafes and pizza counters and restricting shoppers to three items on all food, toiletries and cleaning products as supermarkets continue to battle high demand because shoppers are stocking up during the coronavirus outbreak.

In a blogpost to customers, the supermarket said it was making the changes because of “heightened demand for products both in stores and online”.

The retailer said: “We have plenty of products to go around but we have a responsibility to do the right thing for our communities to help our customers look after their loved ones in a time of need.”

Asda is the latest supermarket to tighten restrictions and shut services after Sainsbury’s closed its cafes as well as meat, fish and pizza service counters to free up its staff and delivery network for essentials.

The changes come as over the weekend, shortages extended beyond toilet roll, canned food and pasta to fresh meat, flour, frozen vegetables, eggs, sugar and teabags.

Aldi has introduced a four-items-per-shopper limit on all products and Tesco cut its limit from five to two items over the weekend on products including toilet roll, long-life milk, pasta and tissues.

The government’s advice to avoid restaurants and bars has also added to demand in supermarkets, with families preparing more meals at home rather than eating out.

On Wednesday, Morrisons warned that it faces “unprecedented challenges and uncertainty” during the coronavirus outbreak, which has boosted sales by an estimated 15% in the last fortnight.

The company said it had seen ‘“considerable stocking up and sales pull-forward” as shoppers prepare for more time at home during the nationwide lockdown.

Sales rose 5% in the six weeks from 2 February, which the analyst Bruno Monteyne at Bernstein Research said indicated a 15% rise in the past two weeks. That surge in trade compares with a 0.8% fall in sales in the year to 2 February.

Despite the jump in sales over the past fortnight, Morrisons said it had decided to hold off paying a special dividend to shareholders. It will instead keep the cash in hand to prepare for any difficulties associated with the virus.

“We are currently facing unprecedented challenges and uncertainty dealing with Covid-19,” the company’s chairman, Andy Higginson, and the chief executive, David Potts, said in a joint statement.

The company added: “Covid-19 is a severe threat to Britain and worldwide. Morrisons’ primary focus is the health and safety of our colleagues and customers, and we are doing all we can to mitigate that threat.”

The retailer has is expanding capacity via its Morrisons.com site and Morrisons store on Amazon Prime Now as it admitted its home deliveries are being booked out days in advance.

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Morrisons said profits for the year to 2 February, before one-off costs and benefits, rose 3.0% to £408m, despite a 1.1% fall in total sales to £17.5bn.

The company said it was still assessing the potential impact of the government’s one-year business rates holiday announced by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, on Tuesday but said it paid £308m of the tax last year, about £290m of which related to stores.

Sainsbury’s said it paid UK business rates of £567m in the financial year to 9 March 2019, of which about £500m related to stores.

Monteyne said the business rates holiday should provide “a great deal of relief” to supermarkets in addition to the boost to sales they were experiencing. “While there may be costs from disruption in phase two of the pandemic, this business rate cut should offset it,” he said.

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