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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Sarah Butler

UK shoppers spent £13.7bn on groceries in run-up to Christmas

A person holding a plate with a baked glazed ham above a festive table loaded with other dishes and deserts
Christmas dinner was strong, with heavy discounts on traditional vegetables. Photograph: GMVozd/Getty

UK shoppers spent £13.7bn on groceries in the run-up to Christmas – 7% more than a year before – as they sought out bargains and switched to discounters to try to offset price inflation.

The number of items bought rose by 2% in December as prices climbed by 6.7%, according to analysts at Kantar, although that was down from 9.6% in November – making it the biggest monthly drop in inflation the data firm has ever recorded.

Prices for sweets, eggs and frozen potato products rose fastest but prices fell for dairy items, including butter, milk and cream.

With household budgets tight and heavy competition for business among the major chains for the big festive shop, almost a third of all spending in the four weeks went on discounted items, the highest level since December 2020.

Britons made 488m visits to supermarkets in the month, making it the busiest festive period since 2019 as households made multiple trips in search of bargains – a way of shopping they had moved away from during the coronavirus pandemic.

Fraser McKevitt, the head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “As we expected, this Christmas was a whopper. Friday 22 December turned out to be the most popular shopping day, when just over 25m trips were made and consumers spent £803m in physical stores. That’s 85% more than the average Friday in 2023.

“The rate of inflation is coming down at the fastest pace we have ever recorded, but consumers are still facing pretty hefty pressures on their budgets. Retailers were clearly working hard during the festive period to offer best value and win over shoppers.”

The appetite for Christmas dinner was particularly strong as heavy discounts, including on bags of traditional vegetables for as little as 15p, drove volumes of parsnips, sprouts and potatoes up 12%, 9% and 8%.

Festive meats including pigs in blankets, sausages, hams and turkeys were also up by 6% collectively.

McKevitt said: “We’re creatures of habit when it comes to Christmas, and our data shows that the classic festive plate remains much the same. However, mince pies and Christmas puddings did buck the trend. They were less popular this year, with volumes falling by 4% and 7% respectively.”

However, McKevitt said Britons did not appear to have lost their sweet tooth as a 5% rise in cream sales suggested “dessert was still very much on the menu”, just in a less traditional form.

Kantar said Aldi and Lidl were the fastest-growing grocery chains, with sales up 13.8% and 9.9% in the three months to 25 December.

However, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, the UK’s two largest supermarkets, also took a share, with Sainsbury’s grabbing more than Aldi to claim a 15.8% slice of the market, its highest level since 2020 as sales rose 9.3%, making it the best performer among the traditional chains. Tesco’s share rose 0.1 percentage points to 27.6% as its sales rose by 7.6%.

Asda lost the biggest slice of market share – 0.4 percentage points – as its sales rose 3.4%. Morrisons had the lowest sales growth of the major chains, with sales up only 3.2%, well behind inflation, so that its slice of the market shrank by 0.3 percentage points to 8.8%.

Shoppers made 488m more trips to stores – 2.5% more than last year – but online’s share of the grocery market remained steady at 11.6%, as almost one in five households got a delivery in time for 25 December, another trend that helped the big supermarkets fight off competition from the discounters, which do not sell groceries online.

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