Sales volumes at UK supermarkets rise for first time in nearly 18 months, Nielsen reports

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The volume of items purchased from the UK’s leading supermarkets increased year-on-year for the first time since mid-July 2013, according to the latest data from global information and insights company Nielsen.

Sales volume increased +0.6% during the four weeks ending 3 January 2015 versus the same period a year ago – the first four-week year-on-year increase in volume since 20 July 2013.

“Much has been made of people spending less in supermarkets but little attention is paid to how much they’re buying,” said Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight. “The fact they’re starting to buy more – driven by confectionery, snacks, drinks, fruit and veg, and delicatessen – is a bright start to 2015 for the major supermarkets.”

“The relative improvement in the fortunes of the major supermarkets in December was helped by shoppers visiting in the few days before Christmas Day which tempered some of the momentum of the discounters.”

Sales value during the four week period was flat versus the same period a year ago.

Watkins said: “A combination of retailer price cuts and other deflationary factors, such as weaker commodity prices and falling oil prices, meant further savings for shoppers in December, and falling sales growths for the retailers, particularly in grocery (-2%), meat/fish/poultry (-2%) and fruit & veg (-4%).”

Morrisons had best Christmas of big four

Morrisons was the only one of the big four to experience higher sales (+0.4%) over the four week period compared to the year before. Asda experienced the biggest decline of the four (-2.4%).

Over the 12-week period ending 3 January 2015, Waitrose (+7.7%) and Marks & Spencer (+1.3%) were the only supermarkets alongside the discounters (Aldi, +20.2%; Lidl, +13.9%) to see a year-on-year increase in sales.

Tesco biggest spender on TV and press advertising

In the four weeks ending 3 January 2015, the leading supermarkets spent 13% more on TV and press advertising (£49.7m) than the same period a year ago. Tesco spent the most in the period: £8.4mnm, 29% more than last year. Following Tesco were Asda (£7.4m) and Aldi (£7.0m). Lidl increased spend the most – up 59% to £5.0mnm.

“Advertising continued to be dominated by messages around price comparisons, indicating how high the stakes had become in the Christmas price war,” said Watkins. “Alongside this, promotional spend on offers also remained high at 34% of sales, with most of the top four supermarkets close to 37%, which encouraged shoppers to spend on seasonal food and drink.”

Looking ahead Watkins said: “Despite the continued impact of deflation, we anticipate a return to positive (+1%) sales value growth in 2015 and volumes continuing to slowly improve throughout the year. However, there will be no let up to the intense competition between the supermarkets and the discounters.”

Share of sales by supermarket