Supermarket sales have begun to slow in Britain since the easing of lockdown restrictions, as the introduction of compulsory face coverings in stores in England and Scotland initially deterred some shoppers.
Take-home grocery sales slowed by 14.4% year-on-year in the three months to 9 August, as more shops and hospitality venues reopened, making consumers less reliant on food retailers, according to the data analysis firm Kantar, which examined shopping trends in England, Scotland and Wales.
“It seems to have been an initial blip for shoppers to get used to the new regulations, and actually the trend suggests that they are now recovering back towards the expected levels,” said Charlotte Scott, the consumer insights director at Kantar.
“[Shopping] trips are now more planned than ever and we have an additional thing to think about and get used to,” Scott said. Just over half of shoppers told Kantar they felt safe when visiting stores.
Consumers spent £9.7bn on groceries during the four weeks to 9 August, the lowest amount since February, although still considerably higher than pre-Covid levels.
Scott said shoppers were making, on average, 14 shopping trips each month per household – fewer than in July but more than in April or May, when lockdown rules were tighter.
However, she added that localised restrictions and slower reopenings in some parts of the country had led to fewer shopping trips in the north of England, the Midlands and Wales.
“The relaxing of rules across much of the country means shoppers are less inclined to stock up their cupboards with regular large trips,” Scott said. “That has seen average spend drop below £25 for the first time since March. However, at £24, it is still a world away from the pre-Covid average of £19 per trip.”
Online shopping continued its upward trajectory, with a record 13.5% of all grocery sales ordered through the internet.
The online delivery firm Ocado, which will start a new contract supplying Marks & Spencer food instead of Waitrose products from 1 September, has been a significant beneficiary of the switch to online food shopping, according to Kantar.
Ocado had a 1.8% share of the grocery market in the 12 weeks to 9 August, up from 1.4% a year earlier. Its sales were up 45.5%, compared with the same period last year.
Early reports show the government’s “eat out to help out” scheme, designed to bring consumers back to restaurants and cafes by offering them discounted meals from Monday to Wednesday in August, has increased footfall at hospitality venues.
However, the exclusion of alcoholic drinks from the discount scheme also appears to have benefited retailers’ take-home alcohol sales, which rose 28% in the four weeks to 9 August.
The UK economy officially entered recession at the beginning of August, after the deepest contraction since records began, although Kantar said this did not yet appear to have impacted consumers’ buying choices.
“Early evidence suggests that most are not yet choosing to trade down, with brands and premium own-label lines currently performing well,” Scott said. “However, price cuts have increased compared with July as some people look for opportunities to save.”