Sales of wine & Champagne were up 4.8% in the two weeks before Christmas

Christmas came late to Britain’s supermarkets - with a last-minute surge in sales bringing a little festive cheer to the industry.

IRI sales figures in the run-up to the festivities had brought concerns that the price war and shift in spend to the discounters – not included in IRI data – had taken a heavy toll on the traditional grocers.

But a late boom in sales of festive fayre has resulted in the mults’ overall value sales across 12 core Christmas product categories being just 0.2% lower than a year ago.

Analysis of Christmas grocery categories – such as beer & lager, poultry, and festive confectionery – had shown sales of some down by as much as 8% year-on-year in the run-up to the big day. Total sales across the 12 categories were down 2.5% in the two weeks to 29 November, and 1.2% in the following two weeks.

However, the last-minute surge has resulted in total sales across the 12 categories up 2.1% year-on-year in the two weeks ending 27 December – and down just 0.2% across the six weeks to that date.

“Supermarkets recovered to a better position than it looked as though they might four weeks ago,” said IRI strategic insight director Tim Eales. 

Supermarkets recovered to a better position than it looked as though they might four weeks ago - Tim Eales, IRI strategic insight director

“The timing of Christmas Day may have been a significant factor in the way sales ramped up this year, with the big day late enough in the week for much of our shopping to be done in the three days before,” added Eales. “In 2013, we spent 18.4% of our six-week spend on 12 Christmas categories worth just over £4bn. In the final week this year that rose to 21.7%.”

Categories contributing to the growth included spirits, wine & Champagne and festive confectionery – all up around 4.5% year on year – while among the worst performers were poultry and beef/gammon. Sales of whole turkeys, for example, were down 7.2% year on-year.

“With sales of gravy, stock, stuffing and cooking fats holding up in the supermarkets while turkey, chicken, beef and gammon were all down, it seems some shoppers were not cutting back this Christmas but buying their meat outside of the supermarkets,” added Eales.

IRI also looked at sales of specific festive products in the supermarkets – which highlighted many areas where the mults have lost trade this Christmas. From the list of 27 lines, only six showed year-on-year growth in the six-week period. Strong performers included dates (+18.2%), frozen Yorkshire Puddings (+2.8%), and cream liqueurs (+2.3%), while the weakest products included Brussels sprouts (-19.1%), Stilton & blue cheese (-12.1%), and pickled onions (-9.5%).


Key Christmas categories (% change year-on-year)

Category2w/e 29 November 20142w/e 13 December 20142w/e 27 December 20146w/e 27 December  2014
Wine & champagne -4 -2.3 4.7 0
Liqueur & spirits -1.4 1.5 4.8 2.1
Chocolate & xmas selection packs -0.2 -0.3 4.4 1.5
Beer & lager -1.6 -1 0.9 -0.3
Poultry -5.7 -6.3 -4.2 -5.2
Gammon, beef & bacon -5.1 -3.1 -4.1 -4.1
Crisps, snacks, nuts & dates -0.5 0.7 -0.2 0
Cards, crackers & decorations 3.2 2.2 10.6 5.8
Speciality cheese -0.1 -0.5 3.1 1.4
Seasonal cakes, puddings & pies -0.9 -1.1 4.5 1.6
Frozen desserts & cream -7.8 -8.4 -6 -6.9
Stocks, stuffing & gravy -2.8 2 2.3 0.9
Total of above categories -2.5 -1.2 2.1 -0.2

 Source: IRI