Supermarket sales fall as commuters head back to the office

Supermarket sales have fallen compared with the height of the pandemic last year as the end of lockdown restrictions sees shopping habits return to normality, according to new data from Kantar.

Kantar said sales fell 1.9 per cent in the 12 weeks to September 5 compared with a year ago, although they remain 8.7 per cent higher than pre-Covid levels.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “There are big lifestyle changes on the horizon with commuters heading back to the office and the return to school this autumn, and we’d expect this to impact how people shop.

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“In the first week of September we measured the highest supermarket footfall all year outside of the Easter period with more people out and about picking up items as they go.

“That suggests a hint of change, and could see shoppers shun the ‘big shop’ in favour of more frequent top-up buying.

“But we shouldn’t expect to shift from habits learned in lockdown straight back to pre-Covid patterns overnight. It’s most likely that the needle will settle somewhere in between.”

He also revealed home cooking is starting to wane, with an 11 per cent rise in ready meal sales this month, and he expects spending in cafes and coffee shops to increase as more workers return to offices.

Online grocery shopping also continues to fall since lockdown restrictions eased, down from 13 per cent of the market four weeks ago to 12.2 per cent this month.

The average basket size was also down for online nearly £17 compared with the peak at the start of the pandemic at £78.28.

Inflation is also starting to impact the sector, with grocery prices rising 1.3 per cent in the past four weeks compared with a year ago.

Mr McKevitt said: “For much of 2021 shoppers have been shielded from price increases, with more being sold on promotion this year compared to 2020.

“But in the past month only 27.5 per cent of spending was done on deals.

“Other than the early days of lockdown last year, that is the lowest level recorded in the 15 years which we have tracked this data, with retailers aiming to offer everyday low prices instead.”

Prices are rising fastest for savoury snacks, cat food and ambient cakes and pastries while falling in fresh bacon, vegetables and ambient cooking sauces.

Co-op and Morrisons were the worst performing supermarkets, with sales down 5.6 per cnet and 4.9 per cent respectively in the 12 weeks to September 5 compared with a year earlier.

Mr McKevitt said: “Private equity interest in Morrisons has been driven in part because it was the fastest growing of the four major retailers in 2020, but it has fallen back this year because of a tough comparison with the success of 12 months ago.

"Asda meanwhile is looking at its role in the convenience market and recently announced its intention to launch its new ‘On the move’ garage forecourt stores.

"There is a huge opportunity in that sector to tap into the 3.7 billion take-home grocery trips of less than £20 made every year. Its market share now stands at 14.3 per cent."

Only Waitrose and Tesco saw sales rise, up 2.2 per cent and 0.2 per cent respectively.