Morrisons and Tesco are neck and neck as the fastest growing of the big four grocers, with both seeing sales growth of 2.7 per cent according to the latest Kantar Worldpanel data.
Bradford-based Morrisons has continued its run of form, entering its sixteenth consecutive period of growth during the 12 weeks to February 25.
Kantar Worldpanel said Morrisons’ premium own-label line The Best proved particularly successful, with sales rising 20 per cent year on year.
Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel, said: “Morrisons has been rolling out its The Best range. It’s an area that Morrisons has been historically weak in.
“Although money is tight, people are willing to spend money on premium items. Morrisons can now shout about the quality of its food.”
He said that Morrisons is also doing well with sales promotions.
“Morrisons has been cutting back on deals, but there is still a substantial proportion of the British population that love a deal,” he added.
Tesco, whose £4bn takeover of Booker has just completed, experienced particularly strong growth from its Extra superstores, with customers returning to bigger shops.
“I don’t think the weekly shop has ever gone away,” said Mr McKevitt.
“Around 40 per cent of sales are still big shops in trolleys. Nearly every household is making a big shop at least once a fortnight.”
Leeds-based Asda also put in a good showing with growth of 2.3 per cent over the 12 week period.
Mr McKevitt said: “Over the past 12 weeks Asda attracted an additional 309,000 shoppers through its doors, helping the grocer achieve its highest sales growth since June 2014.
“At odds with its traditionally brand-focused approach, Asda has also encouraged shoppers to choose own-label alternatives, which are up by 6.4 per cent year on year.“
Less than a year since its launch, Asda’s Farm Stores range is being bought by 30 per cent of all British households – with sales surpassing £50m – while its premium Extra Special line increased sales by 19 per cent.
“Asda is fixing some of the basic issues. Shifting its focus to own label lets it be keener on prices. It is a conscious effort to move to own label and there are benefits on margins,” said Mr McKevitt.
The data showed that February’s Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year celebrations resulted in a 26 per cent jump in sales of chilled ready meals over the month, while Chinese ready meals also rose by more than a quarter.
Mr McKevitt said: “The grocery market remains in good health, spurred on by February festivities such as Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year, which lend themselves to a focus on ready meals.”
Grocery sales overall increased in value by 3.2 per cent, the twelfth consecutive period that total sales have exceeded 3 per cent. Prices are rising fastest in areas such as butter, fresh fish and fresh pork, and are falling in only a few markets such as ambient cooking sauces and laundry detergents.
Aldi and Lidl once again battled to be crowned the UK’s fastest-growing supermarket, with Aldi narrowly taking the title as sales grew by 13.9 per cent and 13.3 per cent respectively.
Mr McKevitt said that both discounters are working hard to expand their store portfolio and have benefited from an increase in shopper numbers as well as growth in basket size.
Sainsbury’s showed the weakest growth out of the big four with sales growth up 1.1 per cent. Kantar said the UK’s second biggest grocer has shifted away from discounted products. Only 35 per cent of sales at Sainsbury’s were on promotion during the past 12 weeks, in stark comparison with 42 per cent for the rest of the big four.