Retailer Tesco has reported a sharp slowdown in underlying sales growth in its first quarter, reflecting a tough comparison with the same quarter last year when the world was in the grip of its first Covid-19 lockdown.
The group said UK like-for-like sales, excluding fuel and VAT sales tax, rose 0.5% in the 13 weeks to May 29.
This was ahead of analysts' average forecast of a fall of 1% but down from growth of 8.8% in the previous quarter.
Comparing the quarter with the same quarter in 2019 - before the pandemic impacted trading - UK like-for-like sales were up 9.3%.
Tesco said its Irish sales fell by 6.1% to £641m as the previous year's growth reflected the earlier lockdown and higher conversion of "out of home" consumption.
Comparing its latest quarter to the same quarter in 2019, it said its Irish sales were up 13%.
Tesco also today maintained its profit guidance for the full 2021-22 year.
It said its online sales were up 22.2% year-on-year and up 81.6% on a two year basis.
The group flagged particularly strong contributions from general merchandise and clothing, with like-for-like sales up 10.3% and 52.1% year-on-year respectively.
"While the market outlook remains uncertain, I'm pleased with the strong start we've made to the year and continue to be excited about the many opportunities we have to create value over the longer term," its chief executive Ken Murphy said.
"We delivered a strong performance in the first quarter, even as we lapped the high demand of last year due to the pandemic," he added.
Tesco has guided to full year retail operating profit on a continuing operations basis in 2021-22 to be at a similar level to 2019-20's outcome.
Meanwhile, Tesco said today that it was experiencing a shortage of HGV drivers but has a plan to deal with it and product availability in stores remains strong.
"In terms of labour availability, we've seen some shortages, specifically in HGV drivers, but we're working really hard to address that," Ken Murphy told reporters after Tesco's first quarter trading update.
"We've already got plans to address the shortfall and we're working closely with the suppliers," he said.
Mr Murphy said product availability in stores remains "really strong".
The UK's Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this week met government officials to highlight a "growing peril" to UK supply chains from a worsening HGV driver shortage.
Factors leading to the current shortage, which the RHA puts at 70,000, include reduced access to labour because of Brexit and Covid-19, and the loss of about a year of driver training and testing.
Earlier this month, Tesco announced plans to take on 225 new drivers for its home grocery shopping service in Ireland.
The supermarket group is adding 100 new delivery vans to its service and has begun an internal and external recruitment campaign to staff the routes.