Record month for UK supermarkets as consumers spend extra £1.9bn

UK supermarkets had their best month in history as panic shoppers rushed to stockpile before the country’s coronavirus lockout, spending an additional £ 1.9 billion on supplies.

Market data provider Kantar said Tuesday that overall sales had increased 20.6% in the four weeks leading up to March 22. Kantar and his rival Nielsen, who estimated a similar uprising for the period until March 21, measure the data “down to the roll” which includes food and non-food purchases in supermarkets.

The increase from an increase of about 1.4% in the previous four weeks.

Although images of carts loaded with rolls of toilet paper proliferated in the media, Kantar and Nielsen said the increase was mainly due to people shopping more and spending a little more each time. Kantar said the average household spent £ 63 more over the period.

Nielsen said the week ending March 21 was the peak, with supermarket sales increasing 43%. This included a 67% increase in alcohol sales while pubs closed and an 84% increase in frozen food sales.

He said the increase was equivalent to an additional £ 1.9 billion spent on groceries in the month, with consumers making an additional 79 million errands.

The closure of pubs and restaurants and the closure of schools and universities meant that many families had additional mouths to feed. “Those with children over the age of 16 spent £ 508 on average this month, £ 88 more than in March 2019,” said Fraser McKevitt of Kantar.

While all supermarkets took more from the checkout, the winner among the “big four” traditional grocers was J Sainsbury with an increase of 22.4% over the four weeks according to Nielsen data.

Bruno Monteyne, European food distribution analyst at Bernstein, attributed this in part to his strong position in London and the south-east, which was at the center of storage observed during the month.

Waitrose also posted a solid performance, up 28%, for similar reasons. Sales in Iceland increased by almost a third in the four weeks – the largest increase of any supermarket – reflecting the increase in purchases of frozen food.

Discounters Aldi and Lidl continued to grow rapidly, although the margin of their outperformance compared to traditional retailers narrowed – partly due to their lack of an online grocery offer.

Online grocery spending increased by about 14%, with capacity constraints keeping its growth below that of the sector as a whole. However, Nielsen estimates that 600,000 households have tried online shopping for the first time and that 1.2 million additional orders have been placed in the past four weeks.

Monteyne said peak sales are likely past, but the closure of the leisure sector means sales will still be about 10% higher than last year in the coming weeks.

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