Households shunned pubs, restaurants and bars in December as the rise of the Omicron variant saw people spending near-record amounts in supermarkets and celebrating the festive period at home, according to new supermarket data.
Researchers at Kantar found that sales hit £11.7 billion in December – just 0.2% down on the record-breaking same month a year ago when strict restrictions were in place.
However, part of the impressive sales results was due to rising inflation, with supermarket prices now 3.5% up – a rate of food price inflation not seen since January 2018.
Sales in the 12 weeks to Boxing day were also up 8% on the same period in 2019 before the pandemic, although compared with a year ago over the 12-week period they were down 3% to £31.7 billion, Kantar said.
Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “People seized the chance to enjoy Christmas with friends and family after last year’s muted festivities, and grocery sales hit £11.7 billion over the month of December alone.
“This lofty spend figure is down just 0.2% on record 2020 sales when several areas faced restrictions and the data suggests that while there weren’t formal rules in place across the UK this year, many people celebrated at home again due to Omicron.
“We can really see just how much spending accelerated in December compared with earlier in the year by looking at the average trend during March to November when sales were down by 2.5% against 2020.”
Sales of mince pies hit £62 million – up 7% on 2020, and £61 million was spent on Christmas chocolates – a jump of 21%.
Managing all that extra food also led to an 8% rise in sales of indigestion remedies.
Some traditional products were shunned, however, with sprout sales down 3%, Kantar added.
There was also a shift towards more vegetarian Christmases, with chilled vegetarian ranges increasing in sales by 6% and frozen equivalents up 4%, Mr McKevitt said.
He added: “The appetite to celebrate and splash out that little bit more this year pushed sales of luxury own-brand products up across the board.
“Sparkling and still wine sales grew 22% and 18% respectively, while crisps surged by 31%.
“Tesco’s Finest and Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference are easily the largest premium own-label ranges, but we saw the fastest growth from other ranges such as Asda Extra Special and Iceland Luxury.”
Despite the rise of the Omicron variant, in store shopping remained popular, with the largest number of in-store visits since before the pandemic in December.
Mr McKevitt said: “Shoppers clearly trusted that supermarket shelves would remain well stocked and they didn’t feel the need to rush out much earlier to get their favourite festive treats.”
Online sales fell in December by 3.7% against 2020 and accounted for 12.2% of sales.
On a store-by-store basis, all major grocery businesses failed to increase sales during the 12-week period to Boxing Day compared with a year ago – when restrictions were in place that saw the hospitality sector and non-essential retailers closed.
Aldi performed best, with sales flat, followed by Lidl with a 0.3% fall – although both saw their market share fall. The worst-performers were Co-op down 6.6%, Morrisons down 6.5% and Iceland down 6.1% – but all three saw market share increase.