Confusion reigns over the state of the UK grocery market after a number of surveys this week provided contrasting reads on the market for the second month running.

Kantar Worldpanel this week said British grocery was returning to slow growth after what it called a disappointing Christmas, delivering a take-home value sales increase of 0.2% - up 40 basis points from last month.

However, Nielsen said the volume of items purchased from the UK’s leading supermarkets fell year on year for the fifth consecutive month.

Nielsen found that sales volumes declined 0.8% in the four weeks to 30 January 2016, while sales values fell by 0.6%. The last time Nielsen’s volumes fell more than this was back in November 2014.

The BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor for January also released this week seemed to side more with the Nielsen figures, having recorded “slightly negative” food sales during the month to leave its three-month food sales like for likes at -1.1%. 

The mainstream grocery sector was widely expected to have a tough Christmas. But the sector had a more upbeat festive period, with January trading updates from the under-pressure listed grocers largely outperforming Kantar data for the period.

However, anecdotally grocery sources are suggesting that new year health kicks and in particular falling alcohol sales amid Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon has taken the gloss off the better than expected Christmas trading.

Shore Capital analyst Clive Black said the collective figures represented “a rather subdued” start to 2016.

“The UK grocery scene is still a tough market, very much so in fact, with deflation and considerable price competition evident,” he said. “Whilst this is so, volumes are more robust, mix is solid and there may be grounds to anticipate a stabilisation and easing of deflation in the year ahead.”

The Nielsen and Kantar market largely corroborated existing trends for the individual grocers, with Sainsbury’s the best performer of the big four, Tesco in recovery and Asda struggling to maintain market share.

The Co-operative Group has emerged as the fastest growing non-discounter for the first time in five years in Kantar Worldpanel’s data for the 12 weeks to 1 February. The Co-op’s 1.4% growth was higher than Sainsbury’s at 0.6% and Waitrose at 0.1%. Four-week data saw a 0.1% sales drop at Waitrose, while Sainsbury’s accelerated to 1.1% growth and Asda fell further to a 4.3% decline. Aldi and Lidl’s growth of 13.7% and 18.7%. respectively, was both up on last month and grew their market share to 9.8%.