UK shoppers turning to meat-free meals and alcohol to start the New Year
By Josie Clarke, Press Association Consumer Affairs Correspondent
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UK consumers ate 150 million more meat-free dinners last year than in 2017 while Dry January failed to stop alcohol sales growing by 10% over the last four weeks, supermarket sales figures show.
The supermarket sector remains in growth - up 1.7% compared with this time last year.
Aldi and Lidl continue to lead the field after 18.3 million households shopped in at least one of them over the past 12 weeks, latest market share figures from Kantar Worldpanel for the quarter to January 27 show.
The healthy results were boosted in part by the strong performance of fresh produce for 'Veganuary', but overall sales were down £1.5 billion compared with December as shoppers kept a watchful eye on bills following their record-breaking Christmas grocery spending.
Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel, said: "Looking back on 2018 as a whole, one of the most notable consumer trends is the shift to a more plant-based diet.
"Today, 1% of all households include a vegan, 5% have a vegetarian and 10% have flexitarians in their ranks. This move has contributed to consumers eating a total of 4.4 billion meat-free dinners in 2018, an increase of 150 million meals on the year before."
Cucumbers, carrots and berries in particular proved to be shopper favourites, rocketing by 26%, 22% and 13% respectively.
Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of customers bought an item labelled Free From - either dairy or gluten free - over the past month, with dairy alternatives like plant milks making up a quarter of total Free From sales.
However, the health focus appears not to have extended to alcohol, with total sales seeing growth of 10% in the last four weeks.
Just over half of households (53%) bought alcohol in January. Sales of non and low-alcohol beers jumped by 79% but gin sales also increased by 23%.
With the exception of the discounters, Co-op was the only retailer to gain market share over the quarter at 5.9% - up 0.1 percentage points on this time last year - boosted by an additional 346,000 consumers visiting its stores and sending sales of its top-tier Irresistible range up by 9%.
Tesco increased sales by 1% - its fastest rate of growth since September 2018 - but its market share is down 0.2 percentage points on this time last year at 27.7%.
Figures from analysts Nielsen also show growth in fresh produce was up 1.5% over the four weeks to January 26.
Shoppers spent £900 million on fresh fruit and vegetables, over £27 million more than this time last year.
That sent sales of broccoli up 15%, beetroot up 14% and blueberries up 10%, while Free From ranges were up 17% in January.
Mike Watkins, Nielsen's UK head of retailer insight, said: "The increase in grocery spend in the fresh and frozen food categories are a testament to evolving shopping trends.
"In the new year, consumers are focusing on positive diet changes which are not just healthy, but convenient, cheap and are less wasteful overall."