Surging demand for non-alcoholic drinks and the increasingly popular Veganuary trend failed to halt sales declines among Britain's biggest supermarkets, new figures have shown.

The latest data from Kantar Worldpanel revealed muted sales growth of 0.3% across the UK supermarket sector in the 12 weeks to January 26, with the Big Four players all suffering declines.

The report found that sales of non-alcoholic beer rocketed 37% in the past three months, with a 3% rise for adult soft drinks as many shoppers abstained for Dry January.

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Despite this trend, it said more than 15 million households still bought alcohol during the past four weeks.

Subdued overall consumer demand saw the major grocery chains lose market share, with Tesco down to 27.3% from 27.7% a year earlier, Sainsbury's falling to 15.8% from 15.9%, Asda dropping to 14.9% from 15.3%, and Morrisons tumbling to 10.3% from 10.6%.

It follows the slowest festive growth since 2015, when supermarket sales rose by just 0.2% in the 12 weeks to December 29.

Kantar said upmarket online supermarket Ocado showed its rivals a clean pair of heels over the recent quarter, with sales jumping 11.2% and its market share increasing to 1.4%.
It even beat fast-growing discounters Lidl and Aldi, which saw sales rise 11.1% and 5.7% respectively.

Separate figures from Nielsen also showed sales grew by a "subdued" 0.7% in the most recent four weeks to January 25.
This marks a significant decline on the 3.3% growth seen a year earlier, Nielsen said.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said supermarkets were keen to tap into the growing popularity of vegan ranges, launching a number of new product lines, including Gro from Co-op, Plant base' from Asda, and Waitrose & Partners' new vegan lines.

He said: "It's clear the Veganuary campaign is having an impact.

"More than twice as many consumers bought one of the supermarkets' explicitly labelled plant-based products in January 2020 compared with the festivity-filled December 2019."

Kantar found sales of meat substitutes such as soya mince or vegetarian burgers and sausages were 14% higher than January last year, while sales of lentils were up 6%, lettuce 10% and aubergine 14%.

Outgoing BP chief Bob Dudley beat expectations in his final set of results as chief executive, allowing him to give shareholders an increased dividend as a parting gift.

The oil giant's underlying replacement cost (RC) profit, its most watched measure that is a proxy for net profit, reached $2.6 billion (£2 billion) for the fourth quarter.

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It is a major fall from $3.5 billion (£2.7 billion) in the same period last year, yet still beat brokers' forecasts of $2.1 billion (£1.6 billion).

On a reported basis, RC swung to a loss of $4 million dollars (£3.1 million) for the three months. However losses narrowed from $351 million (£271 million) in the quarter before.

Underlying full-year RC profit was nearly $10 billion (£7.7 billion), a reduction from $12.7 billion (£9.8 billion) a year earlier.

On a reported basis, the full-year RC profit fell by 65% to $3.5 billion (£2.7 billion).

It means the company weathered a drop in the price of oil better than many of its rivals, with production rising 3% to compensate slightly.

As a result Mr Dudley was able to increase his shareholders' dividend by 2.4% to 10.5 cents (8.1p) per share, which will be paid at the end of March.

The finalised figure in sterling will be published in mid-March.
"BP is performing well, with safe and reliable operations, continued strategic progress and strong cash delivery," Mr Dudley said.

"This all supports our commitment to growing distributions to shareholders over the long term and the dividend rise we announced today."

Shares rose 16.8p, or 3.7%, 469.5p as markets opened on Tuesday morning.

Plumbing giant Ferguson has confirmed it is considering switching its stock market listing to the US as it spins off its UK arm, Wolseley, this year.

The group insisted the US is its "natural" home for a listing and is kicking off a further round of talks with shareholders over a switch away from London.

Ferguson, which is soon to demerge the Wolseley business, is considering two options - a dual listing on Wall Street while maintaining its existing listing in London, or switching its primary listing to a US stock exchange and losing its coveted place in the FTSE 100 index.

It said it believes the cost of either option would not be "material" and could go ahead by summer 2021.

The group will give an update after shareholder discussions in the spring.

Ferguson also separately announced a 500 million US dollars (£386 million) share buyback.

Chairman Geoff Drabble said: "The board believes that Ferguson's natural long-term listing location is the USA but it is mindful that this is a complex issue for many of our existing shareholders.

"We will now commence a period of further consultation with our major institutional shareholders and will listen carefully to their feedback before setting out any firm proposals in the spring."

In September last year, Ferguson announced plans to split off its UK operations following a lengthy strategic review of the group.

The UK division has been suffering sliding sales amid challenging trading conditions.

It also came under scrutiny from US hedge fund and activist investor Trian Partners, run by billionaire entrepreneur Nelson Peltz, which bought a 6% stake last June.

The group has recently seen a changeover at the top, with chief executive John Martin - at the helm since 2016 - stepping down in November and replaced by its US chief, Kevin Murphy.