Independent retailers have seen soft drinks, confectionery and food-to-go sales increase with the return of schools across England.

This week, schools and colleges across the country reopened to all students as the first part of the government’s four-stage plan to gradually ease lockdown restrictions over the next three months.

It is the first time schools have been able to reopen since being closed in January for the third national lockdown.

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Ali Awan, of H & A Convenience in Gateshead, told betterRetailing he had seen a boost in soft drinks and confectionery sales as schools near his store returned on 8 March. “We’ve seen kids come back, but the difference is the parents have gone straight home, rather than spending more time near the shop. It’s the same faces as usual, though.

“Despite that, we saw sales overall on the morning increase by £30 to £40 compared with previous days at that time. Happy Shopper soft drinks were quite popular on the day.

“To manage the increase in footfall, we’ve put signs up outside reminding customers of social distancing, alongside having floor markers and hand sanitising stations inside.”

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Jai Singh, of MJs Local in Sheffield, said his sales during the morning period had increased by 3% to 4%. He said: “The most popular products were bottled water and snacks. We saw bread sales go up the night before because parents were getting lunches ready for their kids.

“We’re going back to the usual traffic seen when the schools were open before. We’ve not had to change much with regards to social distancing or Covid-19 guidelines, as the shop is quite big anyway.”

Similarly, Mike Nichols, of Costcutter Dringhouses in York, saw his food-to-go sales increase. “I’ve got two junior schools and a sixth form nearby,” he said.

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“There was definitely a noticeable increase in the sales of sandwiches and hot food such as pasties.”

However, other retailers across the country reported quieter mornings, despite expecting an increase in footfall.

Kiru Nadarajah, of Everydays in Hampton, told betterRetailing: “It’s more of a phased opening of schools in this area. I’m confident trade will pick up, though, especially towards Friday when parents want to buy children a treat after having to spend a week at school.”

Gail Watling, of Watling News in Norwich, said: “It’s been quiet at our store, but we’re not in an area where school children will really pass through.”

In an betterRetailing poll of 10 retailers, five said schools are back and their shop was busy, three said schools had returned but didn’t see usual levels of footfall. The others said schools hadn’t returned, or they didn’t usually get school trade.

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