Record month for UK supermarkets as Covid brings dinner back home

December was the biggest month on record for British supermarkets as shoppers spent nearly £12bn stocking up on cheese, fresh fish and pork for a very unusual Christmas.

Consumers spent £11.7bn on take-home groceries in the four weeks to 27 December, up from the previous record of just under £11bn in November, according to analysts at Kantar, as many pubs and restaurants were forced to close during the key trading period.



Fraser McKevitt, the head of retail 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 £4bn 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.”

However, sales of whole turkeys slid 5% and Christmas pudding sales were flat year on year as most large family celebrations were called off under strict rules to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

McKevitt said: “Without guests to host, it seems many families decided to pare things back slightly and the performance of traditional dinner items reflects this.”

While total grocery sales rose 11.4% in the three months to 27 December, spending on Christmas staples was up just 4%, despite fewer opportunities to dine out. Sprouts remained popular with sales up more than 11% but other winners were cheese, with sales up 17%, fresh fish up 20% and pork roasting joints up 19%. Alcohol sales were up by £310m – as the closure of pubs and bars led to a switch to drinking at home.

Monday 21 December was the busiest shopping day – earlier than the expected surge on 23 December – as households secured festive supplies amid the uncertainties of tiered lockdowns and problems at the Channel ports which disrupted deliveries of fruit and vegetables.

However, Morrisons was the only one of the big four supermarkets to gain market share as local independent stores, discounters Lidl and Iceland and online specialist Ocado all outperformed the major chains.

Sales at independent stores rose by 17.4% while Iceland was by far the fastest growing chain among those with high street outlets with sales up by more than a fifth. Ocado’s sales rose 36.5% according to Kantar, more than three times the pace of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda. That reflected a market-wide shift towards online shopping with 12.6% of grocery sales made via the internet in December compared with just 7.4% a year before.

Aldi continued to lose market share with sales up 6.3% as it lost out to businesses with the capability to deliver online orders.

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