Asda saw its smaller stores perform strongly during the period as customers preferred to shop locally

Asda has reported a 3.5% rise in like-for-like sales for the first quarter on the back of coronavirus stockpiling and a “surge” in demand for its online delivery services.

The results, which exclude petrol, for the period  1 January to 31 March 2020, reveal received more than 3,500 visits per minute during the week beginning 18 March.

The results followed a 1.3% decline in like-for-like sales in the fourth quarter in February, after Asda struggled over Christmas.

However, CEO Roger Burnley said despite the initial boom in sales, consumer sentiment was now being dominated by fears of a financial depression. He vowed Asda would continue to concentrate on fighting inflation and keeping prices down in a period he warned would continue to be dominated by Covid-19 for months to come.

During the period, the supermarket said it had seen its smaller stores, located in the heart of communities, perform strongly as customers preferred to shop locally and avoid travel during the early weeks of lockdown.

However, there was a big decline in demand for non-essential items, such as fashion, fuel and general merchandise, he added. It was also required to close 33 of its Asda Living stores in March in response to government guidance on non-essential retail.

Burnley also stressed the work Asda had done to support colleagues and customers during the crisis.

It was the first retailer to confirm it would provide full pay to any colleague that needed to self-isolate, has offered more than 150,000 home delivery slots to extremely vulnerable customers, and donated £5m to FareShare and The Trussell Trust.

The supermarket has also extended the capacity of its ‘Food Box’ delivery service for vulnerable customers to 10,000 boxes per day.

“Reflecting on the last quarter - to 31 March feels a lifetime ago in the ever-changing landscape we find ourselves currently operating in,” said Burnley.

“But, first and foremost, I want to extend my absolute and heartfelt thanks to our colleagues who have risen to the challenge of this pandemic and served our customers so well in unprecedented circumstances.

“It has become increasingly clear that Covid-19 is set to be part of our lives for months to come and we know that customers have moved on from an initial worry about the virus, to more longer-term concerns about the implications of lockdown on their family, wellbeing and finances. And, as more people return to work, they are juggling the demands of cooking more and having less time to shop for groceries. Our latest income tracker data shows that household incomes declined 0.6% in March, the first drop since 2017 and 90% of customers told us they are worried about a depression in the economy.

“Whilst safety is still a major focus for customers, three quarters tell us they are also increasingly concerned about the price of groceries and are looking for value - and we can reassure them that Asda will meet their needs on both. However long Covid-19 is with us, we will continue to offer great value to customers, as well as investing in doing the right things to protect our customers, our colleagues and our communities - and fulfil our vital role in feeding the nation.”