May 28, 2021

Grocery shoppers in the UK are making more visits to supermarkets as concerns over the coronavirus fall, according to latest figures.

The research company Kantar said that British shoppers made 58 million more visits to supermarkets in the three months to May 16.

But the value of each individual visit has fallen, according to the research firm, something that reflects a dip in popularity of the big weekly shop, which had become the norm again for many consumers during the pandemic. Instead, shoppers appear happier to make several trips to supermarkets to pick up a few items at a time.

The increase in supermarket footfall ties in with high rates of vaccination in the UK, where a majority of adults have had at least one jab.

“As the vaccine rollout moves full steam ahead, UK consumers are getting more confident venturing back out to stores,” Fraser McKevitt, Kantar’s head of retail, said in a statement.

During the three months to May 16, UK supermarket sales, at £31.3 billion (€36.4bn), were up £3.8 billion on the same period in 2019, according to Kantar.

This figure is, however, 0.4% down on the equivalent three-month period in 2020, when lockdown in the UK was at its height.

This slight dip is likely to reflect the opening up of pubs, cafes and restaurants and other outlets selling food, many of which were subject to strict trading restrictions earlier in the year.

McKevitt said in a statement that the figures indicated that people were “returning to more normal habits” compared to earlier in the pandemic.

“Many of us this time last year were eating all our meals at home and we bought extra food and drink as a result,” he said.

“Now we’re seeing take-home grocery sales dip versus 2020 as people are able to eat in restaurants, pubs and cafes and can pick up food on the go again, grabbing a sandwich, for example, while they’re out and about at the weekend.”

He said that, over the next few months, on-the-go grocery sales would be “a significant driver of growth” for supermarkets, although he added that this was not reflected in the company’s figures.

Kantar also reported that in the three months to May 16, online grocery sales made up 13.4% of the total in the UK, two percentage points down on previous figures.

M&S sees spike in online food sales
Meanwhile, Marks and Spencer, the British department store retailer, reported a 7% increase in food sales in its latest figures, an increase credited with a tie-up with Ocado, the online retailer.

Overall Marks and Spencer reported heavy losses, however, and it plans to shut stores, reflecting the pattern that retail as a whole has suffered significantly during the pandemic.

While Kantar’s figures indicate that online grocery shopping in the UK has dipped – even if the long-term trend is upwards – results for the US from Coresight Research show no sign yet of a fall in web-based grocery sales.

In polling carried out in April, 59% of adults told the company that they had made online grocery purchases in the previous year. This is up three percentage points on last year’s figure and represents an increase of 22 percentage points on the result for 2019.

In comments from the report reported by US media, Deborah Weinswig, Coresight’s founder and CEO, said the pandemic was “a significant catalyst in accelerating online grocery adoption” both this year and last year.
Last year saw an 81.1% year-on-year increase in total online food and drink sales in the US, according to Coresight, a result that Weinswig said was “a vastly greater increase than any recent year”.

“We believe that the pandemic-induced channel stickiness will support further online growth among retailers,” added Weinswig.

“Grocers have a unique opportunity to capitalise on shifting trends and the still-evolving e-commerce consumer experience.”

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