MADRID, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Spanish supermarkets are expected to see a modest recovery in sales volumes this year, as shoppers respond to improving economic prospects, market researcher Kantar Worldpanel said on Thursday.
The outlook is brighter after one of the worst years for Spanish supermarkets in 2014, when a shrinking population and falling prices meant sector sales fell 2.9 percent, hitting listed operators such as Dia and Carrefour.
"After years in which the only issue was prices and special offers, now the general trend is to reduce the number of visits to the supermarket and spend more," Cesar Valencoso, Kantar's Consumer Insights Director, told reporters.
Supermarkets will now concentrate on winning market share in fresh produce and increasing wallet share by adding new products, he predicted.
The Spanish economy is expected to expand by at least two percent this year after a six-year crisis in which high unemployment and towering private debt levels have hampered spending.
Job creation, low oil prices and tax cuts should now benefit the consumer and some of that improvement was already showing in December retail sales data.
However, some challenges for supermarkets are here to stay.
"Many of the habits we acquired during the crisis will be with us for years to come. However the consumer is not prepared to sacrifice everything and in 2014 we have already seen how they have started to relax their discipline," Valencoso added.
Spaniards are now shopping less frequently than they were, modifying a habit acquired during the crisis to shop more often and closer to home to better control household budgets.
Retail associations say an improving economy has also started to trickle down via better sales for bars and restaurants, as well as sales of bigger one-off household goods. (Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Writing by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Mark Potter)