Christmas cheer lacking in the food aisles



Mince pies




Pickled onions


Christmas has got off to a slow start in Britain’s supermarkets - with sales of many key goods down on this time last year. suppliers have said shoppers appear to be holding back their spending, while IRI data shows value sales of core festive categories including alcohol, frozen desserts and stuffing have been lower in the two weeks ending 29 November this year than in the same period in 2013.

Among the hardest-hit categories, in percentage terms, are Brussels sprouts (down 23.3% in value year on year), Champagne (down 11.8%) and frozen party food (down 7.5%). But there are areas of Christmas cheer, including cards, crackers & decorations (up 3.3% year on year) and Christmas cake (up 2.5%).

“Christmas sales begin to ramp up six weeks before the big day,” said IRI strategic insights director Tim Eales.

“This year we are seeing a slower pick-up of sales in the first two weeks in the grocery multiples.”

Factors contributing to the lower figures include spend switching to the discounters - which are not included in the IRI data - and the effect of the ongoing price war.

“The grocery sector has been struggling all year against the growth of the discounters and prices have been reduced, which will impact money through the tills,” said Eales.

He added it was early days for many products - sales of Brussels sprouts are typically three times higher in the two weeks before Christmas than in the last two weeks of November, while sales of turkey joints (down almost a quarter year on year in November) can increase tenfold in late December. “There are four weeks still to go and for many of these categories, sales will more than double in the final week.”

With the overall mince pies category down 11.8% year on year [2 w/e 29 November], Mr Kipling owner Premier Foods said consumers were “firmly holding on to their money in the early run-up to Christmas in the hopes of securing great deals at the last minute.” This, coupled with mild weather, had delayed the start of the Christmas period, added marketing director for sweet treats Phil Ellis. “We’re predicting sales will increase significantly over the next two weeks.”

Lorna Kimberley, marketing head at Haywards pickled onion owner Mizkan, said: “Christmas shoppers seemed to be purchasing food and drinks items later in December than we have previously seen.”

But the BRC insisted sales volumes were normal for this time of year. “Any changes in sales of cheese and poultry may be due to the weather being mild, rather than changing shopping habits,” said a spokesman.