Irish Consumers Stock up on Health and Medical Items Amid COVID-19 fears

Irish Consumers Stock up on Health and Medical Items Amid COVID-19 fears

Irish consumers are actively stockpiling grocery and medical items as concerns grow around the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) becoming a worldwide pandemic. This level of consumption is placing immense pressure on grocery retailers as fears spark panic buying. In the four weeks to 23 February, sales of hand sanitizer in Ireland have increased by 75% compared with the same time last year, evidence that Irish consumers are planning for the worst, after COVID-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in January 2020.

In doing so, Ireland  is following in the footsteps of countries including China, the U.S. and Italy, where Nielsen research found significant spikes in the hoarding of emergency and essential supplies as consumers rush to build “pandemic pantries.”

“The uncertainty created by news of the spread of COVID-19 in other countries is having a knock-on effect here in Ireland. Irish shoppers are following the government’s health instructions, but are also taking precautionary measures,” noted Karen Mooney, Market Lead Nielsen Ireland.

The Irish grocery market has experienced a buoyant year to date, and sales were up 4% in the latest four weeks to 23 February. However, for the same period, many categories are already showing growth above this average, even though the presence of COVID-19 was not confirmed in Ireland until the 1st of March.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Hand Sanitizer Sales in Ireland

Sales of disinfectant sprays and wipes are up 24% on the same period last year, while sales of soap and antiseptics are up 6% on the previous month. It looks as though health-conscious Irish consumers may also be stocking up on more vitamins and supplements, which are up 5%.

As well as buying the obvious health and hygiene products, Irish shoppers are spending more on cupboard staples. This includes take-home juice (17%), canned fruit (11%), home-baking ingredients (10%), pouch soup (13%), cooking oils and condiment sauces (6%) and breakfast cereal (6%).

“As more cases of COVID-19 emerge, we expect that Irish shoppers will continue to ‘stock up’ in anticipation of potential restrictions around travel to work, school or social engagements – and retailers and suppliers should prepare for this”, says Mooney.

Overall, ambient grocery food sales—shelf-stable food— up 6% compared to the same time last year, as well as compared to January 2020. This includes pasta, rice and sauces (up by 5%), jams and spreads (5%) and canned vegetables, which are up 7% on last year, rising to 11% compared with January 2020. Packaged bread sales are also up (7%) in comparison to last year—likely because consumers are able to store bread in the freezer for later use.

However, there currently remains no significant uplift in frozen food. Moreover, take-home water sales remain surprisingly flat compared with last year. Sales in beers, wines and spirits are also not showing any significant uplift in sales—a contrast to the significant increase following the ‘beast from the east’ cold weather which hit Ireland and parts of the U.K. two years ago.


At present, retailers are working closely with supply chains in the Irish industry and are well-placed to respond to increased demand for key products.  In many instances, pantry stockpiling will simply bring forward future purchases (e.g., toilet paper, medical supplies), and there will be a mid-term sales trough as these products are gradually consumed. However, other categories, particularly shelf-stable food products, will experience expansion as households potentially consume more in-home than they usually would.


  • Unless otherwise stated, all data is Nielsen Total Store Read; Market: Multiples Incl. Discounters, Symbols Groups & Forecourts
  • All dates referenced (unless specified) are for the four weeks ending 23rd February 2020