The multiples are now dedicating buyers to seasonal fixtures and, as St Valentine’s Day nears, Rod Addy reports on their success

The festival that shows the slowest growth in seasonal non-food across the multiples is Easter. But Richard Vanstone, corporate event manager for Sainsbury, is not ready to give up on it yet. “Easter gifting grows as customers show diversity. There are now sales uplifts for DVDs, CDs and games.”

With Christmas and the January sales over, multiple grocers are gearing up for their next big date: St Valentine’s Day. According to consumer research from Logobrand, all the major food retailers, except Somerfield, had laid out the love hearts and teddy bears by the final week of January.
According to data from IRI, sales of toys, greetings cards and CDs peak in the weeks that run up to February 14, which is one of the specific seasonal events that are growing in importance for retailers.
Figures compiled for The Grocer by IRI show some categories almost triple in value at key times of the year other than Christmas. Note the huge swing in sales of greeting cards and wrapping last year, worth £10.4m in the week leading to Mothering Sunday in March, but dipping to a low of £3.6m one week after Easter, in April. The retailers’ back-to-school period produced stationery sales worth £4.4m for the week ending September 4. And sales of videos and DVDs and housewares show significant growth spurts around Easter.
All the major multiples say seasonal sales have grown in importance. Five years ago managers handled a limited number of seasonal events as part of their wider category brief. However, as seasonal categories have multiplied, dedicated buyers have been introduced for seasonal products, as is the case with Tesco or Morrisons. The top four supermarkets, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury and Tesco, have created seasonal aisles for food and non-food. Asda has even made the seasonal area one of the four core sectors in its Asda Living non-food stores.
Elsewhere it and other supermarkets sell related food and non-food seasonal items adjacent to each other to maximise sales. The core categories include Mothering Sunday, Easter, Father’s Day, summer outdoor and garden, back-to-school and Hallowe’en.
While there is no dissent among the multiples over the main categories, they differ over which are the most lucrative and fastest-growing. A Tesco spokesman says: “Back-to-school has grown enormously. Our range covers everything from computers and stationery to uniforms and healthy lunch boxes. Hallowe’en is also a growing category, driven by adults.”
Sainsbury and Asda have also watched Hallowe’en’s importance grow over the past five years, with Asda putting the most emphasis on the occasion. Janet Flaherty, Asda’s buyer for seasonal non-food, says: “Hallowe’en is the second biggest event for seasonal non-food sales in our year, after Christmas, and it has produced the largest growth: 50% in each of the last three years.” This has been partially driven by the importance of the festival in the US, home to Asda’s parent Wal-Mart, and many of the ideas come from the US.
Morrisons says some of its most buoyant sales for seasonal non-food - apart from the January sales - come from garden furniture and barbecues in the summer.
Generally, sales lifts for books and electrical items are confined to Christmas, according to IRI. Books, for example, reached £3.7m for the week ending December 25 and electrical goods hit £34.4m for the same week.
But for now, everyone’s focus is on St Valentine’s Day opportunities and which retailers will prove the most successful in wooing lovers young and old.