Shoppers are returning to supermarkets in greater numbers as confidence in going out increases, new figures indicate.

The latest analysis from Kantar shows take-home grocery sales rose by 5.7 per cent during the 12 weeks to 18 April, numbers that suggest consumer confidence is increasing as the vaccine rollout and relaxation of social restrictions have encouraged more people to visit physical stores. In the four-week period to the same date, growth accelerated to 6.5 per cent.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “There is a growing sense that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and people are becoming more comfortable with venturing out to the supermarket. The past four weeks have been the busiest in store for the grocers in more than a year, as the number of trips made in April increased by four per cent compared to March. With much of the over-65 community now vaccinated, older shoppers accounted for nearly half of the increased footfall.

“The return to overall sales growth in the latest four-week period also reflects what was happening in April 2020, a highly unusual month for grocery shopping. After the initial pre-lockdown rush, this time last year was comparatively quiet. Shoppers chose to buy locally and limit their trips to store where possible, which is reflected by strong growth a year later. While the market may fluctuate between growth and decline in the months ahead, depending on the year-on-year comparison being made, the fact that trip numbers are up and basket sizes down suggests that habits are slowly returning to normal.”

Online and c-store slowdown

The number of people shopping online in the past month fell for the second time in a row, with the share of groceries ordered via the internet slipping to 13.9 per cent, down from a peak of 15.4 per cent in February. While online is still growing strongly, at 46 per cent, the rate is half what it was at the height of the pandemic.

Convenience stores – both independents and those owned by major retailers – were particularly popular during the first lockdowns, but they have seen sales fall by 19 per cent in the past month. Co-op, the most prominent convenience retailer, saw sales decrease annually by 3.1 per cent over the 12 weeks, following its particularly strong performance this time in 2020. In comparison with a more normal 2019 however, sales are up 16.2 per cent.

It’s a similar story for independent stores and symbol retailers, with year-on-year decline of 13.3 per cent masking the fact that sales are considerably higher than two years ago.

Asda leads the charge

Asda is the fastest growing of the big-four retailers for the first time in nearly two and a half years. Its larger stores were visited less often by shoppers looking to stay local in the early days of the pandemic, but footfall has now returned strongly. Asda’s share of the market increased by 0.4 percentage points to 14.8 per cent this period, on the back of eight per cent growth.

Tesco also gained market share, moving to 27 per cent from 26.8 per cent last year. Its sales rose by 6.4 per cent over the 12 weeks. Meanwhile, Morrisons grew by 7.2 per cent, with its share increasing by 0.1 percentage points to 10 per cent.

Sainsbury’s share remained at 15.3 per cent, as sales climbed six per cent. Aldi’s share grew for the first time in a year, to eight per cent, as it boosted its sales by 6.6 per cent. Lidl’s growth of 6.1 per centwas enough to hold its share of the market steady at six per cent. Waitrose’s share remained consistent as well, at five per cent, and its sales grew by the same amount. Iceland enjoyed overall growth of 6.8 per cent, while in line with the wider online market, Ocado’s growth slowed to 27.5 per cent, but the retailer still held on to its position as the fastest-growing grocer.