Northern Ireland shoppers are falling out of love with "the big shop", it has been claimed, after new figures suggested that the grocery market has fallen into decline for the first time in 20 years.
Our three biggest supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda have all seen their UK sales fall in the 12 weeks to November, with total sales down 0.3%, according to research firm Kantar Worldpanel.
Experts say that consumers' grocery shopping patterns have changed during the recession with shoppers turning away from the big shop at out-of-town supermarkets towards top-up shopping at convenience stores.
Dr Karise Hutchinson, head of business and enterprise at Ulster Business School, explained that the majority of consumers no longer wanted the big format stores, and instead wanted somewhere "to stop off on the way home from work".
"There are now very few people who do a big shop, and within the grocery sector there has been a shift towards the importance of convenience," Dr Hutchinson added.
Northern Ireland has a deficiency of the major supermarkets' smaller format stores, with that gap filled by the likes of Centra and Spar.
Of Tesco's 56 stores here, only 16 are express stores, while it has 1,600 throughout the UK.
Sainsbury's has yet to open any convenience stores in Northern Ireland, with no future expansion plans in this bracket.
Out-of-town supermarkets will take another hit next April, with the revaluation of business rates.
Lewis Gordon, senior surveyor at Dunlop Heywood, said that last week's draft list confirmed that 'edge-of-town' retail parks would see an increase in value of at least 18%, and the largest food stores would show an increase in rateable value of up to 40%.
Mr Gordon added: "The supermarkets have been acquiring land in Northern Ireland. Some sites have been developed, but a number remain vacant, such as Tesco's ex-hospital site in Coleraine."