Sainsbury's sees shoppers spreading out cost of Christmas

Chief Executive Officer of Sainsbury's Simon Roberts poses inside a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Richmond, west London

LONDON (Reuters) - British consumers are trying to spread out the cost of Christmas by buying products earlier as they try to manage household budgets in the face of record inflation, the boss of supermarket group Sainsbury's, said on Thursday.

"One of the key things that we're clearly seeing is customers wanting to spread out the cost of Christmas, shopping earlier where they can, buying little and often as they plan for Christmas," Chief Executive Simon Roberts told reporters after Sainsbury's published first half results.

He said cash-strapped Britons were also moving much more towards eating at home rather than eating out, which is bad news for the country's beleaguered hospitality sector.

"There's been quite a marked move in recent weeks back to eating at home and I think that trend is likely to continue," he said.

Roberts also highlighted a marked shift towards demand for own brand food products, which are generally cheaper than branded products.

As regards general merchandise sales, he said the big step-up in Christmas sales that the group would normally see is still to come.

"It's too early to see how demand in general merchandise is going to play out ... That's the big unknown," he said.

He added that he was "not over optimistic" about the impact of the soccer World Cup on trading, given consumers were watching budgets closely.

(Reporting by James Davey and Sarah Young; editing by Michael Holden)