Spending on essentials soars as spring lifts spirits

basket of food

Consumer spending fell 13.8% year-on-year in February as lockdown restrictions continued, yet some sectors saw record growth as the first signs of spring lifted the nation’s spirits.

Data from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, revealed that spending on essential items grew 5.3%. Boosted by food and drink specialist stores – including butchers, greengrocers, fresh food box and meal-kit services – the category saw record growth of 63.3%, 7.5% higher than reported in January.

Supermarket expenditure was up 17.4% overall, with online grocery spend surging 115.2% as many Brits continued to rely on home deliveries for food shopping. Fuel spend, however, declined 30.2%, as travel restrictions and working from home kept commuters off the roads.

As much of the high-street remained closed, spending on non-essential items declined 22.1% year-on-year. The hospitality and leisure sector also had another challenging month, with overall spend down 68.9% compared to February 2020. Within this category, pubs and bars saw a 95.7% decline, while spending at restaurants fell 84.6%.

Online retailers continued to see strong growth, with online sales accounting for 53.7% of all retail spend in February.

Confidence in household finances held up at 68%, with more than two-fifths (42%) of consumers saying they have saved more money than usual since the pandemic began. Confidence in the wider UK economy rose 4.0% from last month to its highest point in the past 12 months (28%).

Raheel Ahmed, Head of Consumer Products, said: “Despite a very challenging environment, it’s inspiring to see many retailers remaining resilient and doing what they can to maximise online sales while physical stores remain closed. In addition, as we all spend more time at home, we’ve seen home subscription services, fresh food boxes and meal-kit services become a popular mainstay of life in lockdown.

“The start of Spring, the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, the vaccine roll-out and the extension to the stamp duty holiday are contributing to a lift in the nation’s spirits. With consumers generally feeling more optimistic, there is a strong indication of a more prosperous period to come as the long-awaited recovery and life after lockdown begins.”