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Waitrose said sales fell 0.9%, excluding fuel, for the week ending 12 September.

Marketing director Rupert Thomas blamed the fall on tough comparisons against the same week last year. The retailer’s Autumn Half Price event which features more than 250 products, which kicked off this week started a week earlier last year.

Thomas said Waitrose saw the impact of back to school during what was the first full week of terms time.

“With autumn term now in full swing, quick and easy family meals were the order of the day. Sales of pizza increased by 13%, ready meals like lasagne and moussaka were up 26% and curry sales rose by 10%,” he said.

“Pre-prepared fish dishes, including butterflied sea bass and sea bream are enjoying strong sales, rising by 36% overall, as shoppers look for convenient and tasty midweek meals.”

Thomas also said the switch to autumn was also impacting spirits sales.

“As the darker evenings draw in, drinks trends are moving towards classic cold weather spirits like rum, (up 44%), imported whiskey (up 29%) and cognac (up 9%),” he explained.

The extended stone fruit season has meant that customers have been able to enjoy nectarines and plums in the same week, which the retailer said is a rare occurrence. Perfectly Ripe Nectarines sales rose by 110% compared to 2014, and British plums were up by 85% due to new varieties on shelf, as well as the extended availability.


Morning update

Poundland (PLND) said it was now clear to complete the acquisition of 99p Stores by the end of this month after the UK Competition and Markets Authority gave its full clearance for the deal.

The CMA today published its final report in relation to its Phase 2 review of the deal. It had previously given its provisional decision on 25 August to clear the acquisition.

Poundland said further information on its plans for 99p Stores will be given in conjunction with its interim results on 19 November 2015.

“We welcome the CMA’s decision to clear the merger. We believe that the acquisition of 99p Stores will be great for both customers and for shareholders and we will now move to completion by the end of the month,” said chief executive Jim McCarthy.


Yesterday in the City

London’s leading share index gave up gains made on Wednesday – when it benefited from SABMiller’s (SB) surge in value as it confirmed an approach from AB InBev – as grocery stocks slipped.

The latest retail data from the Office for National Statistics showed volumes at food stores fell 0.9% in August as large numbers of consumers went on their summer holidays.

Sainsbury’s (SBRY) shares fell 2.2% to 226.2p – one of the worst FTSE 100 performers of the day – followed by a 1.7% hit for Tesco to 176.3p and more pain for Morrisons (MRW), down 1% to 158.5p.

Ocado (OCDO), however, benefitted from two positive broker notes to surge 8.4% to 346.4p. Morgan Stanley it preferred the stock to other UK listed food retailers and added the customer proposition was “best-in-class”. Deutsche Bank also upgraded the stock from ‘sell’ to ‘hold’ despite some concerns about the impact of a launch from Amazon Fresh in the UK.

Value meat retailer and food-to-go operator Crawshaw (CRAW) also had a good day, with shares up 5.3% to 69p after a trading update announced it expects to exceed market expectations for the year ended January 2016 thanks to “particularly strong” recent trading.