UK shoppers

UK shoppers return to supermarkets as Covid lockdown eases

Shoppers have flocked back to supermarkets in the past three months, buying more often and moving away from ordering groceries online as fears of the Covid-19 pandemic eased.

People in Britain made 58m more visits to supermarkets in the 12 weeks to 16 May, compared with the same period in 2020, as the vaccination programme gave people added confidence to venture out.

The return to more usual habits hit sales at local convenience stores, which fell by just over a quarter compared with last year – when the UK was in the midst of lockdown restrictions to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Online grocery sales slipped back to 13.4% of the total in the three months to 16 May, from more than 15.4% reported in March, according to the latest data from market analysts Kantar.

Overall sales for groceries for the home slipped 0.4% in the three-month period after restaurants and pubs reopened their doors and fewer people worked from home or remained on furlough.

Fraser McKevitt, the head of retail at Kantar, said: “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 cafes and can pick up food on the go again, grabbing a sandwich, for example, while they’re out and about at the weekend.”

The changes in behaviour were also reflected in what people bought: sales of hairstyling products were up by 26%, shoe care products such as polish increased by 50% and mouthwash rose 16%. Busier social schedules increased uptake of ready meals by a fifth.

The change in behaviour was bad news for the Co-op, Iceland and independents, where sales slid. In contrast, the discounters Aldi and Lidl gained market share, reversing the trend of recent months, as shoppers felt safer about shopping around for a bargain, rather than sticking to one large store or online delivery.

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