Early Easter Boosts March Sales

MINNEAPOLIS — Comparable-store food sales at Target Corp. [3] rose in the “mid-teens” in March, the retailer here said last week, as retailers around the country reported strong sales ahead of the early Easter holiday this year.

"March sales were well above our expectations, reflecting a healthy underlying trend combined with the benefit of an earlier Easter and favorable weather this year,” said Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and chief executive officer.

For March, overall comps were up 7.3% at Target, with just over half driven by increases in basket size.

The favorable results led the company, which has been aggressively expanding its food offering, to increase its forecast for first-quarter comparable-sales gain to a range of 5% to 6%, up from a forecast in February of 4% comps for the first quarter. The increase reflects a “low- to mid-single-digit increase” in April comps.

For March, overall comps were up 7.3% at the retailer, with just over half driven by increases in basket size.

Meanwhile Costco Wholesale [4], based in Issaquah, Wash., said inflation persisted across both shelf-stable food and sundries and fresh foods in March. Comps in food and sundries were up in the “mid to high” single digits, with inflation in the low single digits, year over year, while fresh-food comps were up in the mid-single digits. Inflation in fresh foods also rose in the low single digits.

Overall Costco said its U.S. comps, excluding gas, rose 5% in March and were up 6% for the 31-week, fiscal year-to-date period.

Apparel and other retailers around the country also reported favorable trends, reflecting what some analysts said was renewed confidence in the economy, in addition to the early Easter this year and the warm weather, which led consumers to invest in spring fashions.

Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, projected that April same-store sales would be up 3% to 4% for the retailers tracked by that organization, following March’s estimate of a 4.1% increase.