Supermarkets enjoy a rare lift during summer

Kasmira Jefford
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THE RETURN of the warmer summer weather together with the Olympics and the use of vouchers helped grocers enjoy their best trading performance of the year last month, in a rare bright spot amid the gloom across the rest of the retail industry.

According to the latest figures from Nielsen, grocery sales in the four weeks to 18 August were 3.5 per cent higher than the same period last year.

A strong performance in so-called “sharing” categories such as soft drinks, snacks and confectionery helped boost sales volumes by 1.7 per cent, putting a stop to an 18 month trend of volume declines.

But in other grocery and household categories growth remain subdued. General merchandise sales fell back 0.3 per cent in value and 1.4 per cent in volume, which Nielsen said signalled weak underlying consumer confidence.

Upmarket and discount retailers continued to outperform the middle market, with Waitrose outpacing the rival big four supermarkets with a sales growth of more than nine per cent during the 12 weeks to 18 August.

Meanwhile discounter Aldi’s sales surged by an eye-watering 43 per cent in the period, while Lidl and Asda grew sales by 9.3 per cent and five per cent respectively.

Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket, continued its recent improved performance, increasing sales four per cent, as chief executive Philip Clarke’s £1bn fightback plan begins to gain traction.

Morrisons, however, continued to trail behind rivals with sales growth of just 1.4 per cent while Sainsbury saw basket spend rise by 3.4 per cent.

“Retailers have clearly looked to maximise the sales opportunity around the London 2012 Olympics,” Nielsen’s Mike Watkins said.

He added that the supermarkets’ continued use of money-off vouchers, coupons and special offers throughout the summer also helped to increase consumer spending.