Grocery sales at convenience stores were up by 0.6% year-on-year in the four weeks ending March 29 2014, despite last year’s early Easter. During the same period, consumers spent 4.3% less (measured in value) at the UK’s leading supermarkets than the same period a year ago and bought 4.8% fewer units.
Nielsen said falling sales were partly due to last year’s Easter build-up, which always boosts sales at out of town stores, occurring in the corresponding period.
Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight Mike Watkins said the figures supplied further evidence of the trend of shoppers moving away from larger to smaller stores. “Historically, traditional convenience stores were used for immediate or ‘distress’ purchasing, however, the huge investment by the major supermarkets has transformed this format,” said Watkins.
“The likes of Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local and Co-operatives now offer a greater variety of food and drink which can be purchased ahead for the next few days, so basket sizes and spend per visit are increasing.”
Grocery visits that involve buying up to five items account for more than half (54%) of trips. But they are becoming less popular at the expense of six–10 item baskets. Those now account for 20% of all trips – a rise of 2.2% on the same period last year.
‘New battle ground in convenience’
“It’s these six–10 item shopping trips that are becoming the new battle ground in convenience,” said Watkins.
Aside from location (selected by 51% of those surveyed), value for money (chosen by 43%) is the main reason why people choose where they do their “top up” grocery shopping. That motivation was identified by twice as many shoppers (or 21% of those surveyed) than low prices.
“Overall, trading momentum continues to be slow for all supermarkets ahead of Easter, particularly with slowing food inflation,” said Watkins.
But the recent round of price cuts by some supermarkets – initiated by Morrisons’ lower price pledge to stimulate sales – has not yet changed the retail landscape and is likely to take months to achieve.
“Waitrose and M&S [Marks & Spencer] continued their strong sales performance while Asda was the pick of the top four,” concluded Watkins. “The Co-operative is also benefiting from the shift towards convenience shopping, with trend figures better than all the top four. Shoppers continue to economise – but not compromise – and Aldi and Lidl still seem immune from weak consumer demand, entering the Easter trading period with even stronger momentum than last year.”