By Rupert Steiner
The closure of restaurants, bars and cafes meant a record number of consumers flocked to supermarkets for festive food, according to new figures for the U.K.
Grocery sales rose by 11.4% during the 12 weeks to Dec. 27, 2020, a period spanning both the November national lockdown and Christmas, the latest industry figures provided by research firm Kantar show.
December was the busiest month ever for British supermarkets, which include Tesco /zigman2/quotes/203761082/delayed UK:TSCO +0.71% , Sainsbury’s /zigman2/quotes/206038250/delayed UK:SBRY +1.99% , Morrisons /zigman2/quotes/205533138/delayed UK:MRW +1.53% and Asda, which is being sold by Walmart /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT -0.60% and is awaiting regulatory approval.
Consumers spent £11.7 billion ($15.88 billion) on groceries bought from shops in the past four weeks alone, and online sales have almost doubled to 12.6% of total spend in December, compared with 7.4% in 2019.
The boom in online grocery sales is being seen around the world. In the U.S., latest figures show 60.1 million households placed on average 2.8 orders during November, driving a record $8.1 billion in sales, data from the Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey showed.
Back in the U.K., 6½ million households still bought a turkey for roasting during December, despite more muted festive celebrations.
While this was a similar number to last year, the spend on whole birds was down 5% and some seized the opportunity to mix it up, with sales of pork roasting joints increasing by 19%, fresh fish by 20%, and whole chickens by 7%.
Brits spent £10 million on sprouts, 11% more than last year, and £22 million on Christmas puddings.
Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “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.
“This year, almost all those meals were eaten at home and retailers stepped up monumentally to meet the surge in demand.”
The U.K.’s fourth-biggest supermarket chain, Morrisons, which supplies groceries to Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.45% as part of a partnership deal, was one of the first retailers to reveal festive data and provide a snapshot of the health of trading.
It reported on Tuesday that sales from the same number of stores as the previous year, over the three weeks to Jan. 3, increased by a healthy 9.3%.
Morrisons Chief Executive David Potts said shopping patterns and customer behavior were different this year, as the COVID-19 restrictions made larger gatherings of family and friends more difficult.
Champagne sales were up 64% compared with last year, whole salmon up 40%, and “Free From” mince pies (which are gluten-free, wheat-free and dairy-free) up 14%.
Online was strong, with sales more than tripling over the fourth quarter to date. Potts noted sales growth continued to accelerate at both Morrisons.com and Morrisons on Amazon, the same-day delivery service newly available on Amazon.co.uk .
Separately, fashion chain Next /zigman2/quotes/200704121/delayed UK:NXT -0.12% , which is considered a bellwether for the high street (the place in the U.K. where citizens shop), said full-price sales in the nine weeks to Dec. 26 shrank -1.1% on last year, which was much better than its central guidance of -8%. The business, run by Chief Executive Simon Wolfson, almost offset a 43% fall in sales from shops with a 36% increase in online sales.