Much of the talk from economic commentators is that the economy is back in growth and about to take off.

GDP figures for the third quarter of 2013 should reveal growth of about 0.7%, which is leading to a series of upgrades to expectations. Indeed, some recent forecasts for 2014 anticipate 3% GDP growth for the UK. While such an expectation is set against an economy that has struggled to return to the days of the credit binge, it would still represent very strong growth indeed.

”Households continue to reduce the amount of food they waste”

The drivers of the growth to date have largely been British businesses, particularly small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), in manufacturing and business services. Put another way, growth has not been driven by increasing government expenditure, the banking sector (anything but) or North Sea oil.

Additionally, headwinds from Europe in particular have meant that the export component has been muted, so any recovery in the EU could further stimulate British economic activity.

What of the consumer and the food market in these brighter times? Well, much of the data from the retail trade as a whole points to a recovery too.

The stronger housing market has undoubtedly sparked activity levels in homewares and furniture, while the new car market has stepped up too. What really struck us about the September data, though, was the 0.6% decline in food volumes against a 2.2% overall industry increase.

What this suggests to us is that there are enduring features from the deep consumer recession that are likely to condition behaviour and spending patterns in food for some time to come. Such behaviour is most acutely important with respect to volumes rather than values, as we see little evidence of trading down and so a dilution of mix.

Rather, households continue to reduce the amount of food they waste, to manage the stock levels in their larders and to shop more frequently, reducing basket size. Sustained recovery and a rapidly rising population may yet drive volumes up against a backdrop of nearly four years of decline, but the overall context for the major British supermarkets remains tough and the battle for share is likely to remain a tectonic one.

Dr Clive Black is head of research at Shore Capital Stockbrokers