PARIS: Shoppers in France increased their outlay on grocery goods during the first quarter of this year, but overall purchase habits remained highly varied.

According to Kantar Worldpanel, the research firm, sales of products in this category rose by 2% in both volume and value terms in Q1 2010, with similar growth now expected for the year as a whole.

Consumers under the age of 35 years old boosted their expenditure by 4%, while over-50 year olds posted a more modest uptick of 1% and their 35–39 year olds counterparts maintained their spending.

More specifically, national brands saw their overall share decline slightly from 33.1% to 32.4% year-on-year, although levels of demand for certain premium offerings did improve.

For example, some 22.5 million people bought organic goods in France in 2009 - an increase of one million from 2008 - and interest in this area is expected to develop further in 2010.

Elsewhere, Kantar reported that the hard discount sector showed its "first signs of fatigue" in Q1, with its share slipping from 14.4% to 13.9% compared with the same period in 2009.

This follows on from a contraction from 14.3% to 14.1% over the course of 2009, which came despite an expansion in both store networks and adspend among chains in this group.

Similarly, while popular approval ratings for hard discounters jumped to 6.4 points last year, scores have fallen by one point so far this year as the economic recovery begins to gain momentum.

The penetration rate of these outlets thus appeared to have reached a "ceiling" of 72%, Kantar said, with customers allocating just 20.4% of their outlay to these operators and cutting back on visits and spending.

Smaller hypermarkets like Carrefour Market, Leclerc, Système U and Intermarché have been the main beneficiaries of this trend, due to both the greater convenience and enhanced choice they provide.

Data sourced from La Figaro; additional content by Warc staff