adam leyland

It’s hysterical. The new Kantar Worldpanel results come out and the Mail declares Tesco’s barely new CEO is now ‘under more pressure’. ‘The honeymoon is over,’ adds Some honeymoon Dave Lewis had! 

The Mail in particular has form when it comes to hysteria. And not just in its finance pages. Along with other national and international media (but not The Grocer), it fell hook line and sinker for a hoax story on the nutritional benefits of chocolate, exposed last week - proving once again that while scientists generally are ‘boffins’ in the media’s eyes, the utterances of nutrition-based ones are treated with an unquestioning obeisance.

Which leads me back to Kantar. I’m not suggesting its read is a hoax, but it’s extraordinarily influential. And not just with the nationals. Share prices shift markedly on the back of its monthly updates. At least one of the big four, who used to ‘correct’ inaccuracies in Kantar’s read due to the damage it caused, has now stopped doing so as it was tantamount to privileged information.

Still, the Kantar results are a reminder of how tough the market is for the big four (while the slowdown in sales at both Aldi and Lidl in recent weeks proved short lived as trade at the discounters picked up again). And it provides plenty of talking points. Indeed, while the Mail declared the David Potts turnaround at Morrisons a ‘success’ thanks to a 0.1% increase in till-roll sales, the four-week figures suggest Tesco - after a shaky few weeks - is reversing the negative trend of the first quarter at the same rate Morrisons is accelerating. It’s Sainsbury’s and Asda (and Waitrose) where the picture is demonstrably worsening. In the meantime, M&S and - most intriguingly - Iceland, have seen a marked acceleration in growth.

In his column analyst Clive Black is comforted by Kantar’s reported 2.3% increase in overall volumes. What Kantar can’t tell us is why - when Asda’s own Mumdex income tracker shows disposable income up 10.1% - they’re not picking up any faster.

Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe recently suggested sluggish growth was due to consumers eating out more. An alternative explanation comes from another report out this week. Mintel’s British Lifestyles 2015 demonstrates how tough consumers are still finding it. And eating out is a good example: while 15% of consumers had spent more in the past year eating out, 36% spent less. Indeed of the 13 spending areas in which consumers were polled, in only one - food consumed in the home - had the number of consumers who spent more exceeded the number who spent less.

The contrast in leisure and entertainment (34% vs 8%) was greater still, with home and garden (30% vs 10%); in-home alcoholic drinks (27% vs 11%); technology and comms (30% vs 14%); holidays (28% vs 14%); and beauty products and toiletries (19% vs 8%) also showing a marked negative differential. It’s not just that new recessionary habits have died hard. For a lot of people it’s still plain hard. If there are savings to be had, the evidence suggests they’re being pocketed.