Retail sales disappoint - but frozen chickens boost Waitrose

Waitrose continues to outperform the sluggish high street, as shoppers stacked up on freezer food.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

More red-hot figures from Waitrose, although it was the freezing cold that made the difference this time: its total sales last week were a whopping 16.6% up on the same period last year, thanks in no small part to people buying freezer food. Clearly we were all worried about the prospect of being snowed in. John Lewis also had another good week as the weather improved. Unfortunately that’s about the limit of the good news from the high street this morning: the Office for National Statistics says retail sales inched up a measly 0.3% in December, much lower than expected. And that was before the VAT hike…

Let’s start with the good news first: after the New Year snow affected numbers at the start of January, both Waitrose and John Lewis were back on the form they showed during a bumper Christmas period with another big week. Waitrose reported that frozen chicken sales were up 125%, while frozen pies were up 51% and frozen soya beans up 262% (now there’s a sign of people’s New Year health kicks if ever there was one). Waitrose will be delighted about this, not least because it’s about to introduce a new Frozen range. As you’d expect, this isn’t the kind of frozen food range Kerry Katona would front – it includes stuff like risotto and croissants (but of course it does). So it’ll be praying for a few more threats of snow in the coming weeks.

John Lewis also enjoyed an 11% sales boost, though it’s worth pointing out that the same week last year was an absolute stinker (a 32% drop on 2008). But with the weather clearing up, all those shoppers who stayed at home the previous week were back in the shops, with women’s outerwear (in preparation for the next snowstorm) and sportswear (those health kicks again) doing particularly well. So optimists may see this as proof that the snow won’t hurt overall retail sales too badly – it might just delay them a bit.

Other less-favoured retailers will certainly hope so. The ONS said today that total retail sales volumes rose just 0.3% in December, three times less than the City was expecting. Apparently higher prices were largely to blame, with retailers hiking prices for the first time in six months – and the increase in VAT presumably might mean the same thing happens again in January. These aren’t disastrously bad figures – but it does show that times are still pretty tough on the high street...

In today's bulletin:

Barack's bashing batters British banks
Retail sales disappoint - but frozen chickens boost Waitrose
Law firm unveils plan to retain top women
NI hike will cost companies £14bn, say business groups
Recession fraud provides rich pickings for private dicks?

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