COVID-19 sends supermarket meat and booze sales soaring – and Corona lager emerges as surprise winner in battle of the brands, Nielsen data reveals

Brits have put an extra £2.5bn worth of lager, wine, spirits and meat in their supermarket trollies this year as they were left unable to visit their favourite restaurants and bars, reveals new data from Nielsen for The Grocer’s annual Top Products survey. An extra £2.1bn worth of lager, wine, and spirits went through the tills, while meat sales grew £438.9m. And despite its name, Corona was one of the lager brands to see the largest growth – up by £68m. 

At the same time, personal care took a back seat as Brits spent more time at home. Cosmetics, hair styling, toothbrushes and deodorant were among the biggest losers of 2020, together shedding nearly £300m.

The fastest growing grocery category of 2020 was lager, up £791.9m to be worth £4.4bn. Wine and spirits also saw massive gains of £717.4m and £566.8m respectively. The overall meat category was another big winner, up £438.9m. Beef was the fastest growing product of the entire year (excluding tobacco), up £161.8m to £2bn. That was followed by sausages, up £125.9m, and chicken, up £120.4m. This is a marked contrast to last year, when fresh meat sales suffered – with beef showing the biggest decline of any category. Some of the shift this year is attributable to consumers taking the roast dinner and BBQs in-house, and with hot school meals on hold as schools were closed, these dining experiences transferred to the home environment.

At the same time, the increase in time spent at home and face mask regulations severely impacted cosmetics. It was the fastest falling category of 2020, down £182.8m to £648.2m. Other personal care categories to suffer were deodorants, down £47.1m to £433.2m, and hair styling, down £37.5m to £176.7m. Toothbrush sales also fell £28.5m to £260.1m.

Other notable trends include the decline in chilled ready meals, which suffered a £74.2m slump as Brits cooked from scratch more often. And despite the focus on health this year, tobacco sales grew £971.9m, with £684.4m of that figure coming from rolling tobacco.

Fastest-growing grocery products of 2020 (excluding Tobacco)

ProductActual growth (£ millions) Value % Rise
1Beef                    161.88.7%
2Sausages                    125.917.1%
3Chicken                    120.47.1%
4Stella Artois                    104.917.9%
5Bacon                      95.913.3%
6San Miguel                      92.062.7%
7Pepsi Cola                      80.813.9%
8Budweiser                      73.918.2%
9Cadbury Dairy Milk                      68.612.0%
10Corona                      68.040.2%

Source: Nielsen Scantrack 

Fastest-falling grocery categories of 2020 (excluding Tobacco)

CategoryActual decline (£ millions)Value % Decline
2Bottled Water-148.5-13.3%
3Chilled Ready Meals-74.2-3.6%
4Juice, Juice Drinks & Smoothies-50.2-2.9%
6Deodorants -47.1-9.8%
8Cereal bars-36.1-7.5%
9Sugar confectionery-29.8-2.7%

Source: Nielsen Scantrack 

Adam Leyland, Editor, The Grocer said: “The Top Products Survey underlines the impact of the coronavirus on the nation’s shopping habits and the nation’s health. A surprising trend we’ve seen this year is the rise in tobacco sales, and while some of those extra sales reflect the lack of foreign travel and duty-free purchases, it’s a step change from previous years. 

“Some of these changes can be attributed to a transfer of spend from out of home to in the home and there have been winners – as in the instance of the increased sales for lager, wine and spirits – and losers. As many consumers are leading a more sedentary and more isolated lifestyle as a result of the coronavirus, not only have sales of cosmetics have fallen but many other personal care items too, including deodorants and toothbrushes. In our care for hygiene, we’ve perhaps forgotten to care for ourselves.”

Rachel White, retail intelligence leader, UK & Ireland, Nielsen, said: “It’s been a rollercoaster year for grocery retail. The pandemic has shifted consumer shopping habits to the extreme. With limited opportunities to socialise or visit bars and restaurants, consumers turned to scratch cooking not just as a way to feed the family but also as a source of entertainment – as we saw with the huge trends for homemade sourdough and banana bread and other recipes that went viral this year. With more free time at home, consumers moved away from chilled ready meal options and focused instead on creating their own dining experience at home, cooking with fresh ingredients and enjoying a drink at home rather than at the pub.”

White continues: “It’s not just food that is being impacted by this shift in response to the pandemic either. Reduced interactions and events, coupled with the wearing of face masks in public places has meant that the cosmetics category became one of the fastest falling categories of 2020. We also saw declining sales for products consumers would normally purchase on the go, such as bottled water or confectionary. But with the first roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine underway, there is renewed hope of a return to some kind of normality and we will be keeping a close eye on how these shopping behaviours evolve.”