Food sales rising, ONS data reveals

basket of food

Food store sales volumes rose by 0.6% in September 2021 and were 3.9% above pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in February 2020.

Automotive fuel sales volumes rose by 2.9% in September, as panic buying caused by the driver shortage increased sales towards the end of September, and volumes were 1.8% above their pre-pandemic February 2020 levels.

Overall retail sales volumes fell by 0.2% in September, following a 0.6% fall in August, but volumes were 4.2% higher than their pre-pandemic February 2020 levels.

The data shows that in-store retail sales remain subdued despite the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in summer 2021; the proportion of retail sales online rose to 28.1% in September 2021 from 27.9% in August, substantially higher than the 19.7% in February 2020 before the pandemic.

Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, Head of Retail at Deloitte, said: “With many consumers unable to fill up their car as a result of empty forecourts, some may have turned to online grocery delivery instead, boosting online food sales by 0.2% this month – up 2.1% year-on-year – to take an overall share of 10.6%.

“Overall online sales also lifted this month, accounting for 28.1% of all retail sales. This figure remains high indicating that lockdown shopping habits are continuing, reflecting a new online base. Pressures on travel and convenience as we enter the colder months will likely sustain this online preference, putting Christmas 2021 on track to be the most digital Christmas ever.”

She added: “Consumers are keen to make up for last year’s lost Christmas celebrations and, those that can, will spend more money over the festive period. Public awareness of supply chain disruption means some consumers have already made a start on gift shopping amid concerns around the availability of some goods.

“However, many retailers have anticipated this, bringing Christmas lines in early to avoid a stock nightmare before Christmas. An extended Christmas shopping period should also ease the usual demand peaks, making it more manageable for retailers.”

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers will be concerned by the slump in sales, just as they begin their preparations for the all-important Christmas period. Fuel shortages, wet weather, and low consumer confidence all contributed to lower consumer demand this month, with household goods, furniture and books all hit particularly hard.

“Internet sales growth showed its fourth consecutive month of decline as digital businesses struggled to maintain the level of sales seen in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Nonetheless, internet sales still remain well above pre-pandemic levels as hybrid working made receiving parcels much more convenient than before.”