Supermarket sales fall from pandemic peak a year ago

·3 min read

Supermarket sales have fallen from the peak highs seen a year ago when stores were stripped bare in panic buying as the Covid-19 pandemic first descended on the UK, new data shows.

Take-home grocery sales fell 1.6% during the 12 weeks to June 13 compared with 2020, according to Kantar, although they remain £3.3 billion higher than the same period two years ago.

The number of shoppers heading to supermarkets also fell in the four weeks to June 13 by five million trips compared with May as customers took advantage of the reopening of indoor hospitality, spending their cash in restaurants and cafes instead.

Kantar data
Kantar sales data in the 12 weeks to June 13 (Kantar/PA)

Average basket sizes also fell – down 13.6% – although on a 12-week measure, the number of trips to supermarkets increased as shoppers preferred to go more often, rather than big weekly shops.

But despite pubs and bars reopening, customers still flocked to supermarkets to buy booze for picnics and home barbecues, with sales of drinks up £29 million compared with May.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “While it’s encouraging to see shoppers returning to the habits of old, there is still a way to go before the market entirely returns to normal.

“That’s demonstrated by the fact that sales in the past 12 weeks were still £3.3 billion higher than in 2019 before the pandemic hit.

“Retailers will also be benefiting from sales of goods consumed on-the-go, such as picnics and lunches eaten at work, which are not captured in these numbers.”

Coronavirus – Mon Apr 26, 2021
The reopening of the hospitality sector dented sales in supermarkets (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Online grocery sales stuttered during the period, having soared in the past year, and were flat in the four weeks to June 13, taking 13.4% of the total market.

Mr McKevitt added: “A really interesting recent development in online shopping is the rapid growth of fast-track delivery services for smaller top-up shops.

“Tesco launched its Whoosh platform in May to compete against start-up disruptors including Gorillas, Getir and Weezy which are moving into the market for smaller trips, with baskets under £25 currently worth £41 billion online and in-store each year. It’s definitely a case of ‘watch this space’.”

Recent concerns around inflation also failed to filter through to the cost of goods in supermarkets, the data suggests, with grocers focusing heavily on promotions.

Kantar found that prices paid fell by 19% year on year, due to 29.6% of all grocery spending done via a deal – up from 26.4% a year ago.

Aldi enjoyed the biggest boost in sales among the individual supermarket chains, with a 6.6% rise – having struggled against its rivals during the pandemic due to the lack of an online presence.

It was followed closely by discounter rival Lidl, up 4.9%, and a 3.3% rise at Waitrose.

The hardest-hit was Co-op, which saw sales down 15.8% in the period compared with a year ago, and watched its market share drop from 7.4% to 6.3%. Iceland followed close behind with an 8.2% fall in sales.

Meanwhile, of the Big Four supermarkets, only Sainsbury’s saw an increase in sales on a year earlier. Along with Tesco and Asda it also saw its market share rise.