Tesco wins battle of the supermarkets and lifts UK sales
London — Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket group, rode out a “subdued” Christmas to lift UK sales by 0.1%, enough to beat its main rivals amid the toughest high street conditions in years.
CEO Dave Lewis said Tesco’s UK stores delivered the best operational performance of his five-year tenure.
“That combination of a compelling offer delivered brilliantly well and helped us to outperform the market even against a challenging backdrop,” he said on Thursday.
Tesco sold more food on December 23 than on any other day in its 100-year-old history, Lewis said, with 890,000 customers served in a single peak hour of trading.
Britain’s biggest supermarkets — Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Walmart-owned Asda and Morrisons — recorded the lowest sales growth over the Christmas trading period for five years, industry data has shown. Shoppers were cautious in 2019 as wage growth slowed and political uncertainty gripped the country. A resounding election victory for Boris Johnson in December broke the deadlock, but it did not release any pent-up demand, Lewis said.
Tesco, which has a 27.4% share of Britain’s grocery market, also updated on trading in the third quarter period before Christmas, when like-for-like sales fell by 0.4%, before customers returned to stores for Christmas.
Shares in Tesco were trading up 2% in midmorning on Thursday, as analysts at Jefferies said the return to like-for-like sales growth was an encouraging sign of sustainable progress in the UK.
“The peak Christmas trading period in the UK has been a bit of a slog for the major grocers,” Shore Capital said, adding that Tesco had “given a solid report”.
The retailer said it performed well in fresh food and had seen a positive reaction to its new Clubcard Plus loyalty scheme, which entitles shoppers to discounts in return for a £7.99 monthly subscription.
Tesco’s fifth consecutive Christmas of growth sets it up for the year ahead, when Lewis will step down after he revitalised the retailer since taking over in 2014.
He will be replaced by Ken Murphy, a former executive at health-care group Walgreens Boots Alliance. Tesco said in December it had received interest in its businesses in Thailand and Malaysia, but on Thursday said it had no update on the process.