Nielsen: early Easter and increased advertising spend lifts supermarket sales

Despite a slow start to the Easter trading period and the cold weather, Easter falling early provided a welcome boost to March food and drink sales at the UK’s leading supermarkets, according to the latest retailer performance figures released by Nielsen.

The key driver of sales, particularly in the last two weeks of March, was a 24% year-on-year increase in TV and press advertising spend by the 10 supermarkets tracked by Nielsen – totalling £32.9m in the four weeks to 30 March 2013. The year-on-year ad spend increase reflects Easter didn’t fall within the four weeks ending 31 March 2012, as it did this year.

Aggregate sales value growth for the UK’s leading supermarkets during the four weeks ending 30 March 2013 was up +6.2% year on year. For the previous four-week period (ending 2 March 2013), year-on-year sales value growth was +3.2%. 

Unit sales (volume) increased +2.5% year-on-year, compared to +0.3% year-on-year during the previous four weeks.

The seasonal uplift in sales over the four-week period was driven by confectionery (+41% in value year-on-year), beers, wines and spirits (+12%), bakery (+10%) and packaged grocery (+8%).

Nielsen’s UK head of retailer insight, Mike Watkins, said: “Although ‘spend on offer’ moved up slightly to 34% of sales with ‘business as usual’ in-store promotions, the early Easter was the key factor in the March sales uplift supported by a robust increase in advertising spend. Although all the grocery multiples benefited, Waitrose was able to surf the rising Easter tide better and longer than its competition.”

Tesco was the highest spending supermarket on TV and press FMCG advertising in the four weeks ending 30 March, spending £6.6m – 41% more than during the same period last year, which didn’t include Easter – closely followed by Morrisons £6.4m (up 34%) then Aldi £5.0m (up 54%). 
Waitrose was responsible for the biggest year-on-year increase in spend – up 142% to £2.5m – followed by Sainsbury’s, up 82% to 2.7m. Asda was the only one of the top five to reduce TV and press spend (-19%) compared to the same period last year.Watkins said: “Waitrose’s significant increase in TV and press spend helped attract 11% more shoppers and contributed to stellar sales growths of +19.5% in the last four weeks. Sainsbury’s sales momentum +10.3% and growth in market share continues, with Asda +6.5% and Tesco +5.6% growing sales in line with the overall market over Easter. Sainsbury also just inched ahead of Asda again in market share in the last four weeks, although it remains to be seen if this can be maintained over the next quarter, when trading is so volatile.

“Three macro trends are shaping the performance of food retailing in 2013: shoppers remain under financial pressure, they are shopping around more and digital shopping is on the up as consumers get better connected. 

“The context is almost one in five (18%) shoppers now visit a convenience store two or three times a week and half (51%) at least once a week. Many shoppers now expect to shop “little and often” as well as chase promotions and voucher giveaways. Coping with less disposable income and disloyalty are the new norm.”

12 Week supermarket share