UK supermarkets' sales of general merchandise dip ahead of festive season -NIQ

People shop inside an ALDI supermarket near Altrincham

LONDON (Reuters) - Sales of general merchandise, such as Halloween items, toys and clothing, fell 4.9% on the year at major UK supermarkets in the four weeks to Nov. 4, as shoppers preserved their spending power ahead of the festive season, industry data showed on Tuesday.

Market researcher NIQ said total supermarket sales rose 8.7% over the same period, against a backdrop of slowing inflation and an increase in promotional activity - 24% of sales, up from 21% last year.

Sales on a volume basis, or the number of items sold, fell 0.2%, continuing an improving trend after a 0.4% drop in NIQ's October report.

The NIQ sales data going into November provides the most up-to-date snapshot of UK consumer behaviour.

Echoing data from rival market researcher Kantar last week, NIQ said market leader Tesco, no. 2 Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer had strong sales growth over the 12 weeks to Nov. 4, up 9.6%, 10% and 14.4% respectively.

The researcher said discounters Aldi and Lidl continued to grow market share with sales growth of 17.7% and 19.1% respectively.

According to NIQ, food price inflation in October fell for the sixth month in a row to 8.8%. Food prices rose slightly in month-on-month terms after the first such fall in more than two years in September.

Despite recent macro data and a raft of consumer surveys being downbeat, retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Next, Primark and M&S have all made confident comments about prospects in the so called "Golden Quarter".

NIQ estimates that over the 12 weeks to Dec. 30, Britons will spend more than 37 billion pounds ($45.4 billion) at UK supermarkets, a 6.5% increase on last year.

($1 = 0.8155 pounds)

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Jan Harvey)