January sales? Pah! The run-up to Christmas saw the number of promotions offered reach record levels, with more than 10,000 deals in the four weeks to 23 December, exclusive research for The Grocer reveals.

But while the latest four-week period represents an 11% month-on-month decline, it’s still a record-breaking January, with the UK’s five leading supermarket chains running 9,147 featured space promotions - an 18% increase on the same period a year ago [Assosia, 4 w/e 15 January].

And the overall direction of travel is clear. Assosia MD Kay Staniland reports fixtures and fittings such as newspaper racks and free-standing bakery displays being pushed aside to meet retailer demand for more promotions. “As long as shoppers can make their way around them, promotions are being put just about anywhere in store,” says Staniland.

Strip own-label deals out of the picture, and the retailers’ passion for brand matching becomes even more apparent. While the number of own-label promotions dropped from 1,428 a year ago to 1,328, branded deals have rocketed by almost 24%, from 6,322 to 7,819.

Eight of the top 10 most-promoted brands increased the volume of deals year-on-year, with sharp rises from Cadbury, Heinz and Mr Kipling.

Promotions have also got deeper. In the four weeks to 15 January, McVitie’s promos offered an average saving of 45% - 6.5 percentage points higher than in January 2010. Six other top 10 brands increased the savings they offered - contributing to a typical 1.4 point increase across the retailers as the average saving rose to 35%.

“Although base prices may continue to rise, consumers are being offered genuinely better savings to compensate,” added Staniland.

By product category, the biggest year-on-year increase in saving was seen in chilled food and frozen, up 4.5 and 4.9 percentage points respectively.

The market has also seen a shift in promotional mechanics year-on-year, with a 3.3 point drop-off in x-for-y deals to 27% of all promotions, while half-price offers increased by a similar amount to account for 25.3% of deals.

Wholesale prices: red meat and poultry

After a year of substantial price inflation, wholesale meat prices have come off the boil. Even meats still showing month-on-month rises have slowed significantly compared with their annual inflation rates.

UK meats have generally held up better than counterparts abroad, with UK lamb, chicken and pork up month-on-month. Turkey is an exception with the post-festive sales slump largely behind a 10.7% month-on-month drop to about £2,500/t.

In contrast to UK lamb, New Zealand lamb has fallen nearly 5% month-on-month, although at £3,733/t its price remains high, up 32.2% year-on-year. The difference is down to seasonality - the NZ season kicked off this month, increasing supplies.

The long-term trend for both UK and NZ lamb is upwards, with prices rising year-on-year due to falling flock numbers in both countries, strong competition for land from NZ’s growing dairy sector, and higher demand from Asia.