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Record December for supermarkets as Brits splurge on sprouts, cheese & booze

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There was record demand for groceries in the run up to Christmas, with shoppers spending £11.7bn in supermarkets in December alone.

Take-home grocery sales rose 11.4% during the 12 weeks to 27 December which spanned the second national lockdown in November and Christmas.

According to Kantar, December was the busiest month ever for British supermarkets as restaurants, bars and cafes across most of the country were forced to close their doors.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight, worldpanel division at Kantar UK, said December is always an incredibly busy time of year for supermarkets, but it’s usually coupled with celebrations in restaurants, bars and pubs.

“£4bn is spent on food and drink, excluding alcohol, out of the home during the normal festive month. This year, almost all those meals were eaten at home,” he said.

McKevitt added: “The government’s announcement of tighter restrictions across much of the country coincided with freight delays at Dover and ongoing Brexit trade deal negotiations in the final days before Christmas. Uncertainty around a deal and images of lorries sat at Dover meant consumers shopped earlier than usual and Monday 21 December was the busiest shopping day of the year.

“Fifteen million households, more than half the entire population, visited a grocer at some point that day and spent a collective £819m. This is a real step change from recent years when consumers have typically completed their ‘big shop’ closer to Christmas Day. We had expected 23 December to be the most popular date in 2020, based on where the holiday fell in the week this year.”

However, with Christmas get-together restrictions, overall spending on festive dinner staples was muted and growth was well behind the market at 4%, according to Kantar.

Six and a half million households still bought a turkey for roasting during December, a similar number to last year, but spend on whole birds was down 5% while sales of pork roasting joints increased 19%, fresh fish 20% and whole chickens 7%.

“Of course, some favourites endured, and we spent £10m on sprouts, 11% more than last year, and £22m on Christmas puddings, in line with 2019,” McKevitt said.

Kantar data also revealed that cheese sales surged 17% while chilled dessert sales rose 15%. Alcohol sales rose by £310m.

Online supermarket sales also rocketed, with digital orders accounting for 12.6% of grocery spend during December, compared with 7.4% last year.

Supermarket sales

Ocado was crowned the UK’s fastest growing retailer with sales over the past 12 weeks rising by 36.5%, followed by Iceland’s 20.8% growth.

By comparison, Tesco sales rose 11.1% in the period, driven by success of its premium Tesco Finest brand, which found its way into more than a quarter of shopping baskets.

Meanwhile, sales at Sainsbury’s increased 10.7% year-on-year and at Asda by 7.8%. Sales at Morrisons increased 13.1% compared with the same time last year as its market share climbed to 10.4% – its highest level since June 2019.

Off the back of its recent voucher scheme encouraging shoppers to spend more than £40, sales at Lidl increased by 15.2. Waitrose’s share remained flat at 5%, while total sales rose by 11.7%. Co-op sales were up by 9.8% and Aldi by 6.3%.

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