Lockdown shopping habits persist but UK consumers still seeking little luxuries, survey of the year’s fastest growing products shows

COVID-19 lockdown shopping behaviours are continuing to persist among UK consumers, but now two years into the pandemic, Brits are seeking little luxuries, with Little Moons ice creams and Hoppers cakes among some of the fastest growing products in 2021, reveals new data from NielsenIQ for The Grocer’s Top Products survey 2021.

As the UK dipped in and out of lockdowns, some consumer shopping habits from the previous year have persisted. This includes boozing at home, with sales of lager (+£198.9m), wine (£295.1m), sparkling wine and champagne (+227.4m), up significantly, with the biggest increase reserved for spirits (+393.9m), with Smirnoff vodka (+£65.1m) the biggest winner.

At the same time, the increase in home working, and reduction in socialising has continued to weigh heavily on sales of deodorant (-£37.8m) and cosmetics (-£40.0m).

However, sales of toilet roll – which was at the mercy of stockpiling and shortages in 2020 – have normalised at a higher level, and there has been a dip in sales of surface cleaner products (-£39.5m) and soap (-£32.1m)

With more time spent at home, shoppers are also looking to treat themselves more regularly, and sales of snacking items such as chocolate (+£147.7m) and bagged snacks (+£130.6m) have risen significantly. Brits are also purchasing more luxury treat items such as Little Moons (£+17.6m), the ice-cream dessert that has been popularised across social media. Energy drinks (+£205.6m) such as Monster (+£105.9m), Red Bull (+£79.8m) and Coca-Cola (+£83.3m) were among the fastest growing grocery products, as well as salmon (+£54.4m), a versatile, low price meal option that has been heavily promoted, and is suitable for ‘out of home’ style dining occasions at home.

Last year, UK shoppers began to embrace at-home cooking and eating to recreate the dining experience throughout lockdowns. However, with six months out of lockdown, consumers have shifted away from this trend. Sales of grocery products that are popular with cooking from scratch, such as potatoes (-£70.9m), bread, cooking sauces, rice and pasta have all declined within the last year, with Kingsmill (-£39.3) and Ben’s Original (-£21.1m) among the biggest declining brands. This is supported by a decline in hand dishwashing products, which suggests consumers are spending less time washing up at home.

With sales of potatoes falling, tomatoes (+£22m) are now the UK’s best-selling vegetable, worth £790.3m in retail value. There’s also a new no1 on the fruit side (for the third year running), with strawberries (+26.1m) overtaking bananas (-£42.4m) to become Britain’s favourite fruit, with sales reaching £614.5m as a bumper harvest this year resulted in keen prices to help boost sales.

Fastest-growing grocery categories of 2021 (excluding Tobacco)

 CategoryActual growth (£ millions)
2Table wine295.1
4Sports & energy drinks205.6
8Sparkling wine133.6
10Bagged snacks130.6

Source: NielsenIQ Scantrack

Fastest-falling grocery categories of 2021 (excluding Tobacco)

 CategoryActual decline (£ millions)
1Cold & flu remedies197.6
2Cider & perry63.1
5Sweet biscuits53.4
6Wrapped loaves52.0
8Surface care39.5
9Canned fish38.9

Source: NielsenIQ Scantrack

Adam Leyland, editor-in-chief at The Grocer, said: “It’s been a year of disruption, distraction and delay. Yet, by and large, the grocery sector has kept delivering the goods. While sales have unquestionably been lost due to driver shortages and other supply issues, particularly during the pingdemic in mid-summer, the industry has responded magnificently to the challenges. The industry has also continued to innovate. In our Top Products Survey, we’ve identified 48 top launches. Individually these are a brilliant addition to their categories. Collectively, they show an industry that continues to operate on the front foot, meeting new shopper needs while pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.

Leyland continues: “But the industry cannot afford to relax for one second. As well as the emergence of Omicron, a new and potentially dangerous Covid variant, there are new pressures on the sector, including soaring inflation, increased industrial action, new and onerous environmental and health-based legislation, and further threats to the resilience of supply chains from new Brexit processes. The food sector is a whirlwind right now, with obstacles flying in all directions. But among the chaos and confusion, grocery retailers, wholesalers and suppliers are doing their level best to plot a safe path.”

Rachel White, managing director UK & Ireland at NielsenIQ, said: “Now two years into the pandemic, shoppers are beginning to grow more accustomed to life in pandemic Britain, and this is reflected in our latest top products data, where we’ve seen sales of some of the biggest stockpiling items from the previous year, such as pasta, rice and toilet roll declining.”

White concludes: “Consumers are continuing to spend time working and socialising at home, but they are also now looking for more indulgences. This is evident in the supercharged growth of snacking products and confectionery, some of which have been popularised by social media trends. It’s evident that despite the uncertainty, shopper trends are still evolving and consumers are continuing to be inspired by certain brands and products and we’ll be monitoring this closely in the new year and beyond. ”