Coronavirus: Iceland stores to open early for older shoppers
Some Iceland stores will open one hour early to allow older shoppers to buy food when it is quieter amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Iceland said it was not a company policy, but it was allowing individual stores to decide how best to meet the needs of shoppers in their local areas.
The move comes as supermarkets continue to try to stop customers stockpiling.
Several supermarkets have limited the sales of certain products to avoid them selling out completely.
Iceland's Kennedy Centre store in West Belfast will let older customers shop on their own between 08:00 and 09:00 every day from Wednesday.
"We just want to make sure the experience is as stress-free as possible," store manager Danny Burke said.
Mr Burke said the idea had been prompted by suggestions on social media. He said the store was asking shoppers to "respect the dedicated hour", but said there would be no formal checks on shoppers' ages.
He told the BBC that the store had seen a "big uplift in sales" amid the coronavirus outbreak. Items including toilet roll, long-life grocery items such as noodles, and frozen foods had reportedly seen a boost.
Iceland's Food Warehouse store in Thanet will also open one hour earlier at 07:00 for older shoppers on Wednesday.
In a Facebook post, the store manager said that the early opening slot would only be for old age pensioners. It will be at the store's discretion as to who they let in.
The building society Nationwide is also trialling opening its branches one hour early for older people and those with underlying health conditions.
From 18 March, 100 of its branches across the UK will be open from 08:00 between Monday and Friday for those it says are at highest risk from the virus.
The BBC has requested comment from other supermarkets on whether they are planning any similar measures.
Supermarkets have called on customers to be "considerate" as panic buying has seen shelves stripped of some items including toilet roll and pasta.
In a joint letter on Sunday, UK retailers asked customers to be "considerate" when shopping, so that others are not left without much-needed items.
Speaking on behalf of retailers, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: "In the face of unprecedented demand as a result of coronavirus, food retailers have come together to ask their customers to support each other to make sure everyone can get access to the products they need."
The emptying of shelves has led some supermarkets to limit the sale of certain products.
Aldi has restricted customers to buying a maximum of four of each item, while Tesco shoppers are limited to buying no more than five of certain goods such as anti-bacterial gels or UHT milk.
'The industry is ready'
With increasing demand seen across UK supermarkets, retailers have been trying to reassure customers that there is enough food supply in the system.
Bruno Monteyne, senior analyst at European Food Retail, told the BBC that although food retailers face a "stretch", "the industry is ready for this".
He said that many retailers will already have plans in place to deal with added pressure.
Morrisons tweeted that it was increasing the amount of food being sent to stores from its warehouses.
Sainsbury's also recently sent an email to customers, saying that "we have more food and essential items coming to us from manufacturers". Meanwhile, John Lewis has moved 500 of its staff over to Waitrose to the help the business cope with huge demand.
Iceland store manager Danny Burke said: "There's plenty of food in the system. The supply chain is robust, and there is enough to go around if people buy sensible amounts."
He added: "I haven't stockpiled toilet roll or hoards of tinned food just yet."