After years of strong growth, supermarket fuel sales hit a roadblock in 2012 despite a major programme of forecourt openings and heavy promotional activity.

The volume of fuel sold by the supermarkets remained virtually unchanged at 14,164 billion litres, according to new figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

This represents a considerable slowdown on 2011, when supermarket sales rose 5% and comes in the context of a big push from the big four.

During the year, the supermarkets opened more forecourts than at any time in the past 10 years, with total numbers rising by 39 to 1,306 [Experian Catalist]. Asda opened the most forecourts, adding 20.

Given the number of openings, the 2012 sales figures “would be classified as a disaster”, said Experian Catalist’s Arthur Renshaw.

Soaring fuel prices were partly to blame. The decline of big box retail was also putting pressure on supermarket fuel volumes, said Renshaw, adding that fewer people were going out of their way to buy fuel. “People are going local for petrol for convenience,” he said.

The poor performance came despite a sharp increase in promotions. Tesco and Sainsbury’s ran offers of ‘5p off a litre when you spend £50 on groceries’ and Morrisons started selling gift cards for other retailers that qualified shoppers for money off fuel.

But the activity had done little to grow total fuel sales, said Renshaw. “This infighting between the supermarkets is just moving volumes around the sector,” he said.