How the stay-at-home routine is impacting the retail sector

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Now the panic-buying peaks have passed, how is coronavirus lockdown changing shopping habits? MI Director Phil Bicknell takes a look.

We know that the pre-lockdown panic generated some record-breaking retail sales figures for food.

Those peaks were never going to become the norm as we adjusted to a stay-at-home routine, but food and drink sales have notched some strong year-on-year gains in recent weeks.

Typically, our AHDB analysis looks at sales over a four-week time period. However, we are currently tracking GB retail sales of pork, beef, lamb, dairy and potatoes using data from Kantar on a weekly basis.

The big week for retail sales was the week-ending 22 March, with food and drink volumes up 39% on the same week last year. This was followed by a relative return to normal sales volumes in the first full week of lockdown.

Far from normal

The last three weeks of data record sales growth of 11%, 16% and 10% respectively. This might indicate a relatively stability for food sales overall. However, the year-on-year change in sales seldom gets beyond one or two percentage points, indicating that we’re still far from a normal situation.

There are some particular positives worth highlighting:

  • Cheese weekly sales are seeing largely consistent uplifts, and also ahead of the market – suggesting a level of expandability in this category. The latest weekly data show cheese sales generated an extra £13m in value vs the same week last year.
  • In the beef category, burgers and grills also remain in consistent growth, as seen for almost all weeks in 2020 so far.
  • Bacon and sausages remain strong performing categories, up 24% and 20% in volume respectively.

However, delving into the detail also gives an indication of the underlying volatility that supply chains and the farming industry are contending with.

With the dairy sector struggling to adapt to drops in foodservice demand, it’s positive that milk volumes were up 13% in the latest data (w/e 19/4/20). However, this is the first time that sales have been ahead of the market.

Fresh potato volumes showed a year-on-year drop in the latest data, but had been showing increases of 25% in the previous two weeks. By contrast, frozen potato product volumes notched 27% growth in the latest sales figures, up from 9% the week before.

Volatility in demand

Although the share of primary beef volume belonging to steak has edged up back to levels seen in February, sales of roasting joints face some challenges. Indeed, warmer weather and reductions of promotions seem to have impacted sales of joints across beef, pork and lamb.

The extent and speed of shifts in demand underline that we’re in unprecedented times. This volatility in demand has already had implications from a supply side perspective for agricultural commodities.

The weekly retail sales dashboards are valuable in tracking changes in the market. They are available online and will be updated every Friday.

Please note, weekly data is subject to revision.

Phil Bicknell

Market Intelligence Director

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