British grocery sales fell 3% year-on-year in the four weeks to 21 March as supermarkets annualised the period just before the country's first COVID-19 lockdown, industry data has revealed.
Market researcher Kantar said the outcome compared to growth of 15.1% in its last monthly report.
This time last year, shoppers were adjusting to schools and offices closing and making extra trips to the supermarket to fill their cupboards for lockdown.
"To put that into context, shoppers made 117 million fewer trips to the supermarket this month compared with those fraught weeks in March 2020," said Fraser McKevitt, Kantar's head of retail and consumer insight.
Grocery spending remains considerably higher than pre-pandemic levels though. Kantar said online grocery growth slowed in the four week period.
"Online sales were 89% higher than this time last year, which is still impressive, but the channel's share of the market dropped back to 14.5% from the record of 15.4% in February 2021," McKevitt added.
He noted that 143,000 fewer over-65s, a sector of the UK population now largely vaccinated, made digital orders in March.
Kantar added that preparations are underway for the Easter weekend, which will see many people reunite with friends and family.
As of 21 March, shoppers have spent £37 million on hot cross buns and £153 million on Easter eggs – £48 million more than the same period last year.
McKevitt commented, "Warmer temperatures and lighter evenings mean many of us are planning outdoor get togethers over the long weekend. 61% of people are looking forward to socialising with friends again and 23% of households are planning to dust off the barbecue if the weather is kind to us.
"There are signs of people making a special, even symbolic, effort this year and grandparents might be showing up with additional treats after 12 months of restrictions."
In the 12 weeks to 21 March, Morrisons, Britain's No. 4 grocer, was again the best performer among country's four major supermarket groups with sales growth of 8.7%.
Sales growth at market leader Tesco was 8.5%, followed by No. 3 Asda with growth of 7.6% and No. 2 Sainsbury's with growth of 7.3%.
German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl again lost market share with sales growth of 1.5% and 2.9% respectively.
Kantar said grocery inflation over the 12-week period was 0.9%. It said prices are rising fastest in categories such as canned colas, chilled fruit juices and chilled desserts while falling in bacon, beef and vegetables.
News by Reuters, additional reporting by ESM. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: European Supermarket Magazine.