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Easter supermarket sales slow as UK shoppers rebalance basket spend

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Total Till sales at UK supermarkets fell -1.8% over the last four weeks ending 23rd April, with spending during the Easter period helping to lift sales up from the -4.1% seen in March.

According to data from NielsenIQ, UK shoppers spent £10.1bn on groceries in the last four weeks ending 23rd April. This is down from £10.5bn in the same four-week Easter period in 2021, but it is above the £9.6b1 in sales recorded during the same period in 2019, highlighting a rebalancing of basket spend as UK shopping habits return to pre-pandemic levels.

Data from NielsenIQ shows that in the last four-week period there was a slight decline in the number of items in the basket (11.2 items compared to 11.5).2 This data suggests that shoppers are now more cautious of how much they are spending and are making trade-offs around the number of items purchased.

Basket spends normalise as shoppers resume lifestyles

Whilst online sales fell 18.5% compared to a year ago, shopper penetration is holding at 26.5% of households. This further highlights the rebalancing of basket spend; as shopping behaviours normalise, this is reflected in smaller online basket spend.

Meanwhile, in-store sales are growing (+0.8%) and visits to stores are up 5.1%, this has impacted the online share of grocery spend, which has now fallen to 11.8%, the lowest since April 2020 (with the exception of Christmas 2021 when it was 11.2%).

The strongest category in the last four-week period was confectionery (+35%) which was aided by the timing of Easter. This was closely followed by petcare (+13.6%), health and beauty (+8.3%), soft drinks (+3.3%) and delicatessen (+2%) as normal lifestyles resume. Within these categories, mineral waters (+11%), deodorants/sprays (+16%), sandwiches (+21%) and suncare (+29%) all reflect the return to pre-pandemic lifestyles as shoppers prepare ahead for holidays and more activities on the go. Following concerns over cooking oil shortages, NielsenIQ data also shows that the value sales of oils increased by 29% within the same four-week period.

However, the data also reveals that there was a decline in sales for beers, wines and spirits (-15.9%), meat, fish and poultry (-7.8%) as well as frozen food (-7.5%). In particular, volume sales fell 13% in meat, fish and poultry, which could indicate that shoppers are moderating their purchasing in this category.3

In terms of retailer performance, Aldi (+6.4%) and Lidl (+9.1%) led the market in terms of growth, which were helped by new comparative advertising campaigns that focussed on the prices of their overall shopping basket. Tesco was the only retailer of the ‘big 4’ supermarkets to have gained market share and M&S’ performance remains strong.

Mike Watkins, NielsenIQ’s UK Head of Retailer and Business Insight, comments: “Easter is a catalyst for sales growth and if a later Easter lands with warm weather, this can really help drive footfall. This was the case last year, which also coincided with the end of the final lockdown, giving a one-off boost to supermarket sales. Although sales this year are more subdued, they are still above levels recorded pre-pandemic in 2019, and further indicates a return to normal shopping behaviours, where shoppers no longer need to be concerned about stock levels and shortages.”

Watkins continues: “However, it is clear that as cost-of-living increases continue, retailers will be under pressure to ensure they have consumer mindsets front of mind, which are set to focus more on economising on the number of items purchased. Promotional spend has already moved up to 21.5% of value sales, and whilst in this instance this reflects seasonal promotions, this could also herald the start of more overt pricing activity in the weeks ahead, such as via private label price cuts and more targeted promotions through loyalty schemes. With this in mind, it will be important for retailers and brands to adapt ranges and prices to help maintain sales momentum in Q2 and into the start of summer.”

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