Grocery sales growth slows as market begins to compare with record spending last year

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A shopper wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pushes a trolley past empty fruit and vegetable troughs inside an ASDA supermarket in Walthamstow in north east London on December 22, 2020. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Grocery sales growth slowed to 7.4 per cent over the past 12 weeks to 21 March 2021, latest figures from Kantar show, as market starts to annualise sales against the extraordinary spending in 2020.

Sales were down 3 per cent year in the most recent four weeks versus the same time last year, which has seen a record-breaking spending in March 2020.

“This time last year, Brits were adjusting to schools and offices closing and making extra trips to the supermarket to fill their cupboards for lockdown. To put that into context, shoppers made 117 million fewer trips to the supermarket this month compared with those fraught weeks in March 2020,” commented Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar.

McKevitt added that grocery spending remains considerably higher than pre-pandemic levels though: “It’s important to look at these numbers within the bigger picture, and two-year growth figures allow us to examine retailer performance amid these moving parts. While grocery growth has slowed against 2020, sales are still much higher than the same 12 weeks in 2019 – up by 15.6 per cent. As restrictions on dining out continue, the average household spent an extra £134 on take-home groceries compared with this period two years ago.”

Sales growth at symbols and independents slowed to 5.5 per cent year on year, but the comparison with the same period in 2019, with a huge 22.5 per cent growth, underlines the increased custom at convenience stores following the pandemic.

Online grocery growth, which has been rallying since the pandemic restrictions began, has also slowed in the past four weeks, with the first signs that shoppers are returning to physical stores.

Online sales were 89 per cent higher than this time last year, but the channel’s share of the market dropped back to 14.5 per cent from the record of 15.4 per cent in February 2021.

“Overall, households made 13 million additional trips to the supermarket this month and we’re seeing growing confidence among older shoppers in particular, with 143,000 fewer over-65s making digital orders in March. Now largely vaccinated, this age group increased its trips to bricks-and-mortar outlets by 6.8 per cent – more than double the national rate,” McKevitt noted.