UK corner shops and independent grocers ring up 63% rise in sales

Corner shops and independent grocery stores have reported a 63% surge in trade as shoppers turn to local outlets during the coronavirus crisis.

Sales at independently owned retailers, many of which trade under brand names such as Spar, Londis and Budgens, soared by more than double the pace of the fastest growing grocery chain, the Co-op, in the three months to 17 May, according to the latest grocery market data from the analysts Kantar.

The latest grocery industry figures show a marked change in behaviour by shoppers during the high street lockdown, with small local shops benefiting alongside online retailers. Online grocery sales leapt 75% in the last month of the period. Nearly one in five households bought their weekly shop online. Digitally ordered groceries represent 11.5% of the market – up from about 7% before the pandemic hit.

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Fraser McKevitt, the head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said more shoppers – 1.6 million – had switched to buying groceries online so far this year than in the previous five years.

He said: “While the gains made by online shopping are unlikely to be sustained at these levels, the crisis has certainly accelerated the move towards online. The grocers have attracted a new group of customers, in particular older demographics, and we expect some of them may continue using online services and enjoying the convenience that home delivery provides.”

He added that takeaway deliveries were also soaring ahead – up 250% year on year.

The closure of restaurants, cafes, workplace canteens and – until recently – most takeaways has led to a surge in demand for groceries as families cook more at home. Total grocery sales rose 14.3% during the three-month period, the fastest rate since 1994. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and the Co-op all achieved faster growth than the discount chain Aldi, which has led the market with the fellow German chain Lidl for several years.

The 75th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May was the biggest shopping day of the month, when £488m was spent on groceries as families stocked up for bank holiday barbecues.

With plans for the reopening of cafes and restaurants still uncertain, Kantar has predicted that sales of groceries could rise by 12% over the course of 2020 as a whole.

However, McKevitt said it was not all good news for the supermarkets. The figures do not include spending on takeaway sandwiches, drinks and other “on-the-go” foods sold by supermarkets, which usually add up to £1bn of sales over the three-month period. Sales of those items have sunk as commuting has been replaced by working from home or being furloughed.

“While these are bumper figures, it remains true that the overall picture for some grocers will be less positive as supermarkets continue to feel the impact of a considerable reduction in on-the-go spend on meals, drinks and snacks,” he said.

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