The boss of consumer goods giant Unilever has warned that the coronavirus crisis will spark an “inflection point” for online food shopping.

Unilever chief executive Alan Jope said the pandemic would accelerate the shift to ecommerce in the grocery sector and suggested that the increase in demand for cleaning products such as soap and hand sanitisers would persist long after the health emergency has passed, as consumers place greater importance on hygiene, health and wellbeing.

Unilever owns more than 400 brands, including Dove, Hellman’s, Knorr, Lipton and Surf, meaning it has been exposed to a number of grocery categories during the pandemic.

The manufacturing Goliath has experienced varying levels of demand over the past few months. As demand soared for products such as Pot Noodles and Cif surface spray, shoppers have spent less on items such as shampoo and deodorant as they spend more time indoors.

Although such items have fallen off shopping lists, Jope suggested that, off the back of the crisis, more people would be concerned about personal hygiene and that of surfaces within their homes and offices.

He added: “I think we will be able to look back and see this as a point of inflection for online grocery shopping.

“Good luck getting an appointment for a grocery delivery. I think that will persist and we will adjust our approach to reflect that.”

Speaking after delivering flat first quarter sales of €12.4bn (£10.8bn), Jope also took a swipe at larger businesses that were seeking financial support from the government.

Tesco became embroiled in a row earlier this month after paying a dividend to its investors, despite accepting a £585m business rates rebate offered to businesses by chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Other large businesses, including Virgin Atlantic, have received criticism for furloughing staff during the crisis.

Jope said: “We think that the government schemes to protect jobs and people’s livelihoods are intended for small businesses and sectors that are more under threat than Unilever’s.

“We don’t think they are intended for companies like ours. We would rather keep our destiny in our own hands.”