Aldi store exterior

Supermarket sales are still above pre-Covid times despite falling against their lockdown peak.

The latest take-home grocery figures from Kantar show sales fell by 0.4 per cent during the 12 weeks to 16 May 2021. The year-on-year decline reflects a tough comparison with exceptionally high sales during the first three months of the pandemic last year. However, sales remain stronger than they were before coronavirus and shoppers spent an additional £3.8 billion at the supermarket in the past three months compared with the same period in 2019.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, explained: “As lockdown eases, people are returning to more normal habits and we can see that reflected in grocery sales. Many of us this time last year were eating all our meals at home and we bought extra food and drink as a result. Now we’re seeing take-home grocery sales dip versus 2020 as people are able to eat in restaurants, pubs and cafés and can pick up food on the go again, grabbing a sandwich, for example, while they’re out and about at the weekend.

'While not captured in these take-home figures, on-the-go grocery sales look set to be a significant driver of growth for supermarkets over the next few months.'

There are signs that the big weekly shop, which made a comeback last year while people tried to reduce time spent outside of home, may be on its way out. Basket sizes have fallen for three months in a row and the average price of a trip to the grocery store over the month to 16 May is £22.82, the lowest since March last year.

The proportion of supermarket sales made online – another hallmark of shopping habits last year – remains much higher than 2019 levels but fell back from 13.9 per cent in April to 13.4 per cent in the latest month. Convenience stores, both independents and smaller formats of the major chains, are seeing some of their market share gains unwind too. Collectively these smaller stores now account for 12.5 per cent of sales, down from 14.9 per cent in May 2020.

Strong period for discounters

Aldi and Lidl both grew ahead of the market and gained market share in the latest 12 weeks, with take-home sales up by 5.2 and 4.6 per cent respectively. Sales at the discounters had been impacted by shoppers favouring online and cutting back on the number of stores they visited last year, but the tide has turned this period. Aldi’s share increased by 0.4 percentage points to 8.1 per cent and Lidl’s by 0.3 percentage points to 6.2 per cent.

Ocado is the fastest-growing retailer, gaining 0.2 percentage points of share this period. However, its sales substantially slowed year on year to 15.4 per cent.