Shoppers spent £11.7bn on take-home groceries during record-breaking December

Library image of Christmas shoppersLibrary image of Christmas shoppers
Library image of Christmas shoppers
December was the busiest month on record for British supermarkets, with shoppers spending £11.7 billion on take-home groceries during the past four weeks, according to new data.

The research from Kantar found that changing tier restrictions, Brexit negotiations and reports of delays at Dover meant British consumers shopped earlier than normal and the busiest day of the year was 21 December, when 15 million households hit the supermarkets.

Kantar said: "Celebrations were pared back but still merry, with families buying a similar number of turkeys and Christmas puddings as last year, treating themselves to cheese (up 17%), chilled desserts (up 15%) and spending a record £584 million on premium own-label ranges.

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Online grocery sales accounted for 12.6% of total spend in December, compared with 7.4% in 2019, and Ocado ended the year as the country’s fastest growing retailer, according to Kantar.

Ocado ended the year as the country’s fastest growing retailer, according to KantarOcado ended the year as the country’s fastest growing retailer, according to Kantar
Ocado ended the year as the country’s fastest growing retailer, according to Kantar

The latest figures from Kantar show take-home grocery sales rose by 11.4% during the 12 weeks to 27 December 2020, a period spanning both the November national lockdown and Christmas.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “Whether we were able to spend it with all our loved ones or not, we had to find different and smaller ways to mark the festive period this year and we once again relied on supermarket staff up and down the country to feed our families and support our communities.

“December is always an incredibly busy time for supermarkets, but take-home grocery shopping is usually supplemented by celebrations in restaurants, pubs and bars – with £4 billion spent on food and drink, excluding alcohol, out of the home during the normal festive month.

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"This year, almost all those meals were eaten at home and retailers stepped up monumentally to meet the surge in demand. Recognising this, a number of grocers took the unusual decision to close on Boxing Day and give their teams a well-earned break.”

The Government’s announcement of tighter restrictions across much of the country coincided with freight delays at Dover and ongoing Brexit trade deal negotiations in the final days before Christmas.

Mr McKevitt said: “Uncertainty around a deal and images of lorries sitting at Dover meant consumers shopped earlier than usual and Monday 21 December was the busiest shopping day of the year. Fifteen million households, more than half the entire population, visited a grocer at some point that day and spent a collective £819 million.

"This is a real step change from recent years when consumers have typically completed their ‘big shop’ closer to Christmas Day. We had expected 23 December to be the most popular date in 2020, based on where the holiday fell in the week this year.”

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Fewer people around the table meant that overall spending on Christmas dinner staples was muted and growth was well behind the market at 4%. according to Kantar.

Mr McKevitt added: "Cementing an extraordinary year in terms of sales and capacity growth, digital orders accounted for 12.6% of grocery spend during December, compared with only 7.4% last year.

"With sales over the past 12 weeks rising by 36.5%, online specialist Ocado finished the year as it started – the UK’s fastest growing retailer. This impressive growth has come despite only selling to less than 3% of households and is driven by the loyalty of its customers, who buy more than half their groceries through the retailer.”

Rounding out a year of strong performance for frozen food, Iceland achieved growth of 20.8%, Kantar said. While the freezer aisles account for 39% of Iceland sales, its performance has been bolstered by other parts of the store like fresh fruit, vegetables and confectionery.

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Tesco sales rose by 11.1% this period, driven by the continued success of its premium Tesco Finest brand, which found its way into more than a quarter of shopping baskets during the 12 weeks. Meanwhile, sales at Sainsbury’s increased by 10.7% year on year and at Asda by 7.8%, with shares standing at 15.9% and 14.3% respectively. Sales at Morrisons increased by 13.1% compared with the same time last year as its market share moved up by 0.1 percentage points to 10.4%, its highest level since June 2019, according to Kantar.

Off the back of its recent voucher scheme, which encouraged shoppers to spend more than £40, sales at Lidl increased by 15.2% and it gained 0.2 percentage points of market share. Waitrose’s share remained flat at 5.0%, while total sales rose by 11.7%. Co-op sales were up by 9.8% and Aldi by 6.3%, according to Kantar.