UK grocery sales up 6.9% in October ahead of new English lockdown

LONDON, Nov 10 (Reuters) - British grocery sales increased by 6.9% in October year-on-year and were up 7.2% in the last week of the month as consumers in England prepared for another lockdown, industry data showed on Tuesday.

With COVID-19 infections rising at an alarming rate the British government imposed a second national lockdown for England, starting last Thursday and running until Dec. 2.

All non-essential shops must close, along with pubs, cafes and restaurants, except to offer takeaway food. People have also been encouraged to work from home if possible. All those factors help supermarket sales.

Market researcher Nielsen said over the four weeks to Oct. 31, UK shoppers spent an average of 17.70 pounds ($23.25) per basket at stores and online, which was 20% more than the same period last year.

However, the number of store visits continued to remain low, down 12% year-on-year, as consumers limited unnecessary travel and visits to stores. Online sales were up 87%.

Beers, wines and spirits, up 15%, frozen food, up 16%, and packaged grocery, up 11%, were the fastest growing categories over the month.

Of Britain’s “big four” supermarket groups, No. 4 player Morrisons was the best performer with growth of 8% over the 12 weeks to Oct. 31.

Market leader Tesco saw growth of 6.2%, followed by Sainsbury’s on 5.7%. Walmart-owned Asda was again the laggard with growth of 3%.

Nielsen forecast UK shoppers would spend 2 billion pounds more in supermarkets for the full quarter to Dec. 26, a record high and an expected sales growth of 7%.

$1 = 0.7614 pounds Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Jan Harvey