Late boost in supermarket grocery sales but Christmas spend in 2014 still down, IRI reports

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Supermarket grocery sales finally ramped up in the final two weeks of the Christmas trading period (13-27 December 2014), bringing relief to retailers at the end of a difficult year. This is according to analysis by market and shopper intelligence firm IRI of sales data for the UK’s major supermarkets.

Total sales for the six-week trading period (16th November -27th December) across the 12 Christmas super-sectors were down on last year, but only by -0.2% (£7.8m), to a total spend of £4.07bn. Whereas spend declined by -2.5% compared with 2013 in the first two weeks of the period, and by -1.2% in the middle two weeks, sales in the final two weeks were up by 2.1%, growing £35.7m compared with last year to a total of £1.73bn.

A rise in sales of alcohol and chocolate contributed most to the upturn, with liqueurs and spirits performing best, but these sectors have shown little year-on-year growth over the six-week period. Sales of turkey/chicken and beef, gammon and bacon in the final two weeks were still down on last year, although stock, stuffing and gravy grew, along with cooking fats. Rather than shoppers cutting down on meat this Christmas, this suggests that some were buying it outside of the supermarkets.

The worst-performing sector over the six-week trading period was frozen desserts and cream at -6.9%, with poultry close behind at -5.2%. Cards, crackers and decorations performed best, with sales increasing 5.8%, and seasonal cakes, puddings and pies gained 1.6%.

Only six categories of the 27 individual Christmas favourites measured increased their sales over the full six weeks compared with 2013, while the rest declined -5.2% in total. We spent more on dates (+18.2%), non-cream liqueurs (+4.5%), frozen Yorkshire puddings (+2.8%), cream liqueurs (+2.3%), after-dinner confectionery (+2.1%) and white fats (+0.8%). However, sales of Brussel sprouts declined -19.1%, Stilton and blue cheese -12.1%, pickled onions -9.5%, champagne -8.0% and whole turkeys -7.2%.

The top performing grocery category overall in the supermarkets for the six weeks of Christmas, measured by absolute sales growth, was sparkling wine which grew by £25.4m. The worst performing was potatoes, on which we spent £28.7m less.

Christmas super-sectors % change in sales value for 2 weeks ending 27 December 2014 compared to same period in 2013
Wine & champagne 4.7
Liqueur & spirits 4.8
Chocolate & xmas selection/novelty packs 4.4
Beer & lager 0.9
Poultry -4.2
Gammon, beef, bacon -4.1
Crisps, snacks, nuts, dates -0.2
Cards, crackers, lights, wraps, trees, decos 10.6
Speciality cheese 3.1
Seasonal cakes, puddings, pies 4.5
Frozen desserts & cream -6.0
Stocks, stuffing, gravy 2.3

Tim Eales, strategic insight director at IRI, said: “The timing of Christmas Day 2014 may have been a significant factor in the way that grocery sales in the supermarkets ramped up towards the end of the Christmas period. Last year we spent 18.4% of our six-week spend on the 12 Christmas super-sectors – worth just over £4bn – in the final week. This year that rose to 21.7%, with the big day late enough in the week for us to get much of our shopping done in the three days before, particularly for our turkeys. All in all, looking at the sectors and categories most associated with Christmas, sales in supermarkets recovered to put retailers in a better position than it looked like they might end up in four weeks ago.”

Year-on-year comparison across the six-week Christmas trading period

Christmas super-sectors % change in sales value compared to same six-week period in 2013
Wine & champagne 0.0
Liqueur & spirits 2.1
Chocolate & xmas selection/novelty packs 1.5
Beer & lager -0.3
Poultry -5.2
Gammon, beef, bacon -4.1
Crisps, snacks, nuts, dates 0.0
Cards, crackers, lights, wraps, trees, decos 5.8
Speciality cheese 1.4
Seasonal cakes, puddings, pies 1.6
Frozen desserts & cream -6.9
Stocks, stuffing, gravy 0.9