Waitrose feasts on fuel shortage panic buying

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The Independent Online

The petrol crisis kept customers away from John Lewis department stores but did wonders for the sale of food, according to its latest sales figures.

The petrol crisis kept customers away from John Lewis department stores but did wonders for the sale of food, according to its latest sales figures.

The retailer yesterday said it had suffered a 10 per cent slump in department store sales during the week that fuel shortages hit hardest. It said people had been deterred from driving toout-of-town branches. But, as panic buying of food products simultaneously took hold, the lost sales during the week to 16 September were offset by a 25 per cent surge in business at the group's Waitrose supermarkets. Overall, John Lewis ended the week up 6.6 per cent, or about £2.5m. In an average week, the group's takings total £38m.

Geoff Salt, Waitrose distribution director, said the sales uplift had been "stunning" as stockpiling took hold from late Monday to Thursday lunchtime of the week in question. There were "spectacular" increases in sales of fruit and vegetables, meat, bread and milk. Items, such as flour and long-life milk were also in strong demand, as were frozen foods and cigarettes.

But John Lewis department stores at Cribbs Causeway near Bristol and Bluewater in Kent, were badly hurt. Noel Saunders, managing director of the Bluewater branch, said: "We are very much dependent on car-borne trade."

Reaction to the fuel shortage was not as marked in London as it was elsewhere in the UK. Andover in Hampshire, Birch Hill in Cheshire and Daventry in Northamptonshire were among the top areas for panic buying.

Separately yesterday, Tesco's chief executive, Terry Leahy, described the period of the petrol blockades as "one of the interesting weeks in retailing".

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