Alcoholic drink sales soared at UK supermarkets over Christmas

07 January, 2021

The alcoholic drinks category led the charge as UK supermarkets enjoyed their strongest ever Christmas trading period, according to Nielsen till scan data.

Brits spent a record-breaking £12 billion in the grocery channel during the four weeks to December 26, and Nielsen said beer, wine and spirits was the fastest growing category overall.

Champagne sales increased 18%, crémant sales were up 51% and there were also strong gains for spirits: tequila grew 59%, flavoured vodka increased 50% and spiced rum continued its upward march by increasing 47%.

Online accounted for 12.5% of sales, double the proportion it achieved during Christmas 2019, while the average basket spend also reached record highs.

On-trade venues across the majority of the country were closed due to a sharp uptick in Covid-19 cases, so Brits stocked up in the off-trade instead.

In terms of retailer performance over the 12 weeks to Boxing Day, Lidl led the growth by increasing sales 20.9% year-on-year, followed by Morrisons at 9.2%.

Morrisons also hailed Champagne as an in-demand category, with sales increasing 64% year-on-year.

Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight, said: “2020 marks the first Christmas where online shopping played a significant role in consumers’ shopping behaviours, with 85% of the incremental sales in food and drink made online in the last four weeks ending December 26.

“Although overall grocery growth was a little lower than in November, this takes into account the many challenges consumers faced around restrictions and cancelled Christmas plans.”

“It has certainly been an unusual Christmas for us all, and this has affected purchasing decisions.

“The pandemic has changed how we live, shop and consume and despite consumers celebrating the festivities in smaller groups, food and drink remained at the heart of celebrations.

“With fewer people to entertain and cater for, many households took the opportunity to enjoy less traditional meals.”

However, the party is now well and truly over, and industry-funded body The Portman Group expects this to be “the driest January on record”.

It commissioned YouGov to poll 2,100 UK adults on December 14, and found that 62.5% have tried no and low-alcohol products, while a quarter are semi-regular consumers of these products, which are apparently more popular in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.

Key reasons for choosing low and no alternatives include being able to drive home and not drinking excessively at social events.

Additionally, among those who say they are more likely to drink low and no products since the emergence of Covid-19, 43% say they are trying to live healthier and 41% say they are trying to moderate their alcohol consumption at home.

Simon Amor, interim managing director at Portman Group member Heineken, said: “In recent years we have seen a steady rise in the interest surrounding low and no alcohol alternatives within beer and cider, and demand from consumers has grown considerably.

“As part of our approach to responsible drinking and promoting moderation, it is important for us to be able to offer people a high-quality no or low alcohol option amongst the brands they enjoy.”

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