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BWS sales growth slows on lockdown anniversary

Published:  30 March, 2021

Alcohol sales continued to grow in March in the grocery sector boosted by lockdown but this is likely to change as the on-trade reopens, Kantar has predicted. 

Overall for the four weeks to 21 March 2021 alcohol sales were up 11%, or £122m, on the same period in 2020. This means that overall sales for alcohol hit £1.24bn for the month. 

Despite the growth this was lower than previous months during the pandemic. 

According to statistics from Kantar, sales of alcohol in the grocery channel grew by 33% in the four weeks to 21 February 2021, while alcohol grocery sales were up by 29% in the four weeks to 24 January. 

However, this is the first comparative month since the country first went into lockdown and March 2020 marked the biggest single month ever for grocery sales with people were panic buying as lockdown hit.  

Overall grocery sales were down 3% year-on-year in this most recent four weeks, as the market annualised against the record-breaking spending of March 2020, Kantar revealed. 

“The growth rate has massively dropped but for alcohol to be growing at 11% it is doing really well and it is still one of the best performing markets,” said Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar. 

He added that as lockdown eases there is going to be an “inevitable difference” in purchasing habits especially as the on-trade reopens. 

“The better the public health situation and the more willing people are to go out you will see sales drift away from the off-trade,” McKevitt added. 

Outperforming the category, sparkling wine sales grew by 36% in March. This, according to Kantar, could be due to the fact that in March 2020 sparkling wine was not considered an essential part of a grocery shop, while this year people could be considering celebrating the lockdown easing. 

These latest figures from Kantar show that take-home grocery sales rose by 7.4% during the 12 weeks to 21 March 2021. This was a marked slowdown compared with previous months as supermarkets start to annualise sales against the extraordinary spending in 2020. 

McKevitt added: “Spring’s arrival signals the start of a really interesting period for the grocery market. The anniversary of the first national lockdown means we begin to compare grocery sales against the record-breaking levels seen in the early days of the pandemic and growth has perhaps not surprisingly dipped over the past four weeks as a result.”