The UAE’s Union Cooperative has ramped up hiring of additional employees and is adding dozens of delivery vehicles to help meet a spike in grocery demand during the coronavirus outbreak.

The hypermarket operator reported on Monday a 223 percent increase in online sales to 18.7 million UAE dirhams ($5 million) during the first three months of the year. 

The number of new customers who signed up for the cooperative’s online store between March 1 and April 21, 2020 also nearly doubled from 38,816 to 61,664.

To meet the surging demand, the company increased its workforce handling delivery orders to more than 500 people, according to a spokesperson. 

“There are currently about 155 delivery vehicles and we are seeking to increase the number to more than 300,” the spokesperson added.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed consumer behavior in the last few months and provided new impetus to the growth of e-commerce. As people were ordered to stay at home, they refrained from visiting the grocery aisles and food takeout counters and opted to order deliveries online.

“We are already observing drastic changes in consumer behavior such as bulk-buying, a surge in low contact commerce and crowd avoidance/cocooning,” according to a March report by Ipsos, a market research company.

Marloes Knippenberg, CEO of mixed-used operator Kerten Hospitality, noted that the stay-at-home trend is also helping affected businesses mitigate the economic toll of the pandemic, citing that there has also been a high demand for food deliveries from customers.

“The hotel occupancy rate went down, but all of a sudden, our entire residential side (of the business) was filled. So we went from a low-revenue performing [company] in the food and beverage [category] to becoming the main provider of breakfast, lunch and dinner of our residential units,” said Knippenberg during a recent webinar.

Kerten, which has a presence in the Middle East, operates boutique hotels, mixed-use properties  and a portfolio of F&B concepts.

Malls, retail stores and other commercial establishments are gradually reopening not just in the UAE but around the world, although the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. The global tally of infections has surpassed the 4.1 million mark, with the UAE accounting for more than 18,000.

(Writing by Cleofe Maceda; editing by Seban Scaria)


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