#CoronavirusSA: Shoprite & Pick n Pay win week; Spar’s brand fail – 27 March

Our weekly tracking to curate and update our readers on the latest developments in South Africa and Africa around COVID-19 and its impact on the brand and retail value chain.

We launched our COVID-19 news tracker for the retailing eco-system in South Africa and Africa last week; and will be continuing to update our readers with relevant news for our brands and retailers each week of this pandemic.

FRIDAY: March 27

COVID-19 deaths

On this first day of South Africa’s 21-day lockdown, the Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced South Africa’s first deaths from the coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Western Cape – one in a private hospital and one in a public hospital. And Edcon has become the first large retailing group to announce it will most likely need a bailout once the State of Disaster has been lifted.

In an emotional conference call clip published by business media, the Edcon CEO Grant Pattison breaks down while telling suppliers that the group has prioritised staff salaries this month and cannot pay suppliers – many of which are small businesses. Edcon is facing sales losses of about R1.2 billion after the group lost 45% of its income in the weeks ahead of #LockdownSA as South Africans started spending on essential items like groceries and medicines after South Africa’s cases of COVID-19 started to climb.

THURSDAY: March 26

Going for a song

It is not easy to market or launch campaigns during a pandemic, when fear and panic rule and the situation changes daily. Most brands are playing a watching and waiting game or suspending activity indefinitely. The tone has to be exactly right. Pick n Pay released a song collaboration with local musicians – all from their homes of course – in which they urge consumers not to “be that guy” and panic buy. It was much needed light relief ahead of #LockdownSA. Here’s the full link:

Retailers call for calm

There was always going to be panic buying ahead of #LockdownSA, but this moved into high gear when Government announced that it was prohibiting sales of alcohol and cigarettes and the queues stretched out the door, through the malls and into the parking lots across the country as shoppers rushed to buy booze and cigarettes; as well as over the counter medications, to self-medicate during #LockdownSA.

Dis-Chem Pharmacies called for calm following a day of panic buying and stores crowded with shoppers. According to Dis-Chem CEO Ivan Saltzman, the group falls into the category of organisations that will remain open throughout the lockdown period as they are essential to the production and transportation of food, basic goods and medical supplies. “We have extensive warehouses which are fully stocked, we have ramped up delivery schedules and our supply chain will ensure the distribution of goods to stores on a regular basis. Many stores are working extra hours to keep shelves stocked. We are reassuring all South Africans that we have put in the necessary steps and protocols, including temperature monitoring, to ensure that Dis-Chem continues to provide a critical service to shoppers during an unprecedented time for our country and its people.”

Plastics industry appeals to Government

Plastics SA, the umbrella body representing all sectors of the South African plastics industry (including polymer producers and importers, converters, machine suppliers, fabricators and recyclers), is urging the Government to classify certain of its sectors as essential. According to Anton Hanekom, executive director of Plastics SA, the plastics industry is vital in keeping the country running, ensuring that food and other essentials are available on supermarket shelves and that the healthcare system is supplied with all the materials and equipment they need to fight the disease.

Plastics SA is currently also engaging with member companies regarding the products they are capable of producing to assist in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, such as ventilators, face masks, various equipment for healthcare workers, containers and bottles for hand sanitisers and soaps, infection control bags, clinical waste bins, anti-infection soluble laundry bags, and polythene sheeting. “Now, more than ever before, plastics are essential to protect South Africans against viruses and germs, extend the shelf-life of products and provide critical infrastructure. If manufacturing in these industries are forced to shut down for the next three weeks, the plastics sector will not be able to meet the demand,” Hanekom warned.

Since the first case of the Corona virus was reported in the country a few weeks ago, the plastics manufacturing industry has seen a dramatic increase in demand for products across the sector. “Panic buying by consumers who are stocking up on groceries, cleaning materials, hand sanitisers, etc., has forced packaging manufacturers to work at full capacity in order to keep up with the demand, whilst the medical industry has also seen a sharp increase in orders placed for IV bags, tubes, oxygen masks, gloves and protective gear and packaging for medicine.”


Shoprite pays frontline staff a bonus

R102 million is what the Shoprite Group, the largest private employer in South Africa, will pay its shopfloor and distribution centre employees as an “appreciation bonus” to thank and support them for their efforts to feed the nation as they keep working. “Our employees are crucial players in the task ahead and the Group wants to thank and reward them for their tireless efforts to stock our shelves with food and other essentials for our 29 million shoppers,” said Pieter Engelbrecht, CEO of the Shoprite Group. Supermarket employees are at the forefront of serving and safeguarding customers by implementing hygiene measures; while distribution centre employees are key players in the retail supply chain and are tasked with restocking stores as quickly as possible.

Virgin cancels debit orders under lockdown

Virgin was one of the first service providers to give consumers a payment holiday and suspend all debit orders and close gyms, for the duration of the State of Disaster. “We understand that this is a difficult time, but exercise is a great antidote for stress and supports a healthy immune system, so we encourage you to stay healthy and as active as you can. To support you through this lockdown period, we have a number of online workouts that will continually be added to through our Virgin Active APP (download here) and our social channels,” read the Virgin statement.

Pick n Pay promises to continue serving up ‘your daily bread’

Richard Brasher, CEO of Pick n Pay stores released a video message late Tuesday afternoon aimed at consumers: “In this time of crisis, we know that we will have to pull together, both as a community and as a nation. We have been given the responsibility by Government to ensure that we stay open, we stay safe, we stay full and we stay working. Me and my team will be doing everything we can to ensure that you can shop safely in our stores and feed your families. This huge responsibility is something we take on gladly, is to help feed the nation, along with our other colleagues at other retailers.

He said they had dramatically increased their attention to hygiene practices in store and among employees and their homes in recent weeks to help stop the contagion. “We have a very good supply chain, we have suppliers, great farmers, great colleagues and we will be giving everything we can that when  you come to visit us during this lockdown, we can provide you with the service that you can be reassured by. Clearly this is not normal. Some of you will have a temptation to buy more than you need.” All stores would try and be open every day, restocking shelves at night and while certain ranges may be curtailed in more peaceful times, but they will stock the basics: “We are grateful for the opportunity to serve you your daily bread.”

TUESDAY, March 24, 2020

Biggest brand fail to date belongs to Spar

Animal lovers reacted with horror on social media as informational marketing material intended to inform consumers about the coronavirus, COVID-19, also contained information telling consumsers to avoid contacts with cats and dogs, among farm animals. This was Spar’s apology after animal lovers flooded social media with their protests after the retail franchise’s communications went up:

Dear SPAR customers and all Animal Lovers,
“The SPAR Group would like to unreservedly apologise for the incorrect posters that have been displayed in some of our stores. In an effort to protect our customers and in the wake of the panic following the first Covid-19 announcement, we acted too hastily by adopting and translating communication from other countries dealing with the pandemic. They were factually incorrect. Animals have NO CONNECTION with the spreading of the Covid-19 virus. We have instructed all stores to immediately remove the misleading posters and replace them with the correct communication. Our most sincere apologies to all that have been affected. We will endeavour to make amends in whatever way we can to mitigate the damage we have caused.”

Shame on the brand. I hope they donate millions to the SPCA and other animal rescue groups to assist them with all the dumped pets as a result of this misinformation. Yes, people are stupid if they listen to such nonsense; but fearful people are also not rational people, and irresponsible marketing communications like this from a trusted local brand is enough to make up some people’s minds for them in these uncertain times.

MONDAY, March 23, 2020

Carbs over kale as consumers lockdown

We always knew that when it came down to the apocalypse, no one was going to stockpile with kale. Bloomberg confirms it: Consumers are loading up with shelf-stable items from canned meat and soup to pretzels and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. They are also loading up on treats such as popcorn, pretzels and chips which have all shown sales growth of 30-48% in the week ending up on March 14 as Americans prepare for lockdown. Bloomberg postulates that this shift back from heathlier products towards traditional fare might boost the fortunes of packaged goods manufacturers.

New world, new words

We humans love our labels and with every new crisis comes a new language to desanitise and legitimise. Social distancing is one. The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar revived the popular 1980s phrase ‘cocooning’ to put a comforting spin on lockdown in his speech last week (worth watching). And now we have ‘covidiot’. Which by the way, also applies to brands doing the wrong thing. You’re welcome.


Be authentic in your messaging

This cartoon was doing the rounds on social media over the weekend. It says it all. Brands do more – consumers want more than a trite message. They want support and genuine reassurance. Figure it out and fast. It’s all very well for Vodacom to send around a message that says, “Take care”, but you know what your consumers really want? Yes, cheaper data and FREE data during this crisis. And what is with all the funeral policy specials, from everyone and their dodgy uncle? I’ve seen several Facebook posts in this regard expressing disgust and it is in extremely bad taste and only serves to panic an already fearful population further.

FOR MORE: #CoronavirusSA tracker: Week March 16-20, 2020.

*Curated and edited by Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers. Keep the industry updated and send your announcements and news to:


Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.


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