Easter is an important time of the year for the grocery retail sector, presenting a huge sales opportunity for stores as people shop for food and drink to entertain the family at home, as well as additional chocolate gifts for relatives and friends.

For the independent sector, there is an opportunity to capitalise on shoppers who don't have time to travel to a larger store, or who need to top up in between a weekly shop. The shorter opening hours of the supermarkets over the period can also drive traffic their way.

So how did the independent sector fare over the holiday weekend this year?

SalesOut has analysed the data for more than 11,000 independent stores, 5,000 of which are in symbol groups, for the 10-week period February 5 to April 16, 2010. Comparing this with the equivalent period (February 13-April 24, 2009), we can see strong growth in the chocolate category (up 3.2%) and Easter egg sub-category (+11.3%) for local shops.

SalesOut reports that chocolate, sugar confectionery and mints & gums all saw an increase in sales.

There is a noticeable trend towards sharing packs and larger pack sizes, with strong performers including Cadbury Milk Tray 600g, Malteser Pouch 135g, Cadbury Caramel Bag 288g, Mars Duo 85g, Maltesers Box 360g and Milkybar Block 100g.

This suggests that people are choosing more home-based entertainment to save money in the current difficult economic climate, and also that they are looking for better value for money.

Total sales across the independent sector fell by 0.6% over the Easter period, but this can be attributed to the poorer weather this year compared with last, and some aggressive marketing by the multiples.

SalesOut saw 'fair weather' categories such as beer, soft drinks and ice cream losing sales while, conversely, soups and ready meals are among the fastest growing categories and are in double-digit growth.

The effect of the weather should not cloud the fact that the independent sector is still in growth at 5.7% on a moving annual total basis.