British supermarkets were boosted by an early Easter as the sector grew at the fastest pace registered so far this year, data released by consumer research group Kantar Worldpanel on Tuesday (5 April) showed.

According to the figures, supermarket sales in the UK grew 1.1% year-on-year in the 12 weeks to 27 March, marking the fastest rate of growth so far in 2016, as retailers benefited from customers splashing money on chocolate and other food items in the run-up to Easter.

An early Easter gave the market a sales boost of £152m ($217m, €190m) compared to last year, adding 0.6% to the overall growth rate, the report added, indicating 63% of British households bought at least one chocolate egg during March, spending an average of £12 over the month.

The Co-operative was the standout winner during the period, as sales increased by 3.9% – its fastest growth since the Somerfield acquisition in 2011 – increasing its market share by 0.1 percentage points to 6.1%.

"Heeding the retailer's call for a 'little and often' approach to shopping, consumers have been visiting the Co-operative's stores more frequently, especially for fresh food and own label products," said Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel.

"Many of its shops remained open on Easter Sunday, providing an additional opportunity to shop when many larger supermarkets were closed."

Among the "big four" of Britain's supermarket industry, Sainsbury's continued to lead the way, with sales growing 1.2% from the corresponding period in the previous year. However, spend on deals in Sainsbury's which require consumers to buy two or more items together fell by 73%, with shoppers instead purchasing a price-cut promotion or paying full price.

Tesco saw sales decline 0.2% year-on-year, although that marked the fourth consecutive month the embattled retailer has seen its performance improve from the previous month. Tesco's market share declined 0.3 percentage points to 28.1% but McKevitt said the retailer could well return to profit in the short-term future.

Meanwhile, Morrisons saw sales fall by 2.4%, an improvement on last month, while its market share decreased by 0.4 percentage points to 10.5%. Elsewhere Lidl retained its place as the fastest growing supermarket, increasing sales by 17.7% to capture 4.4% of the market, while Aldi grew sales by 14.4% to reach a new record-high market share of 6.0%.