Nielsen Insight: A Christmas like no other

It’s fair to say Christmas was different in 2020.

With the hospitality industry all but closed last year, it was the biggest ever Christmas for supermarkets as consumers spent £11.8 billion on groceries in the four weeks to December 26.

With tight restrictions and many on-trade venues shuttered, the off-trade saw an increase in BWS sales of more than £941 million (19%) during the festive trading season of the 12 weeks to January 2.

Beer saw strong value growth of 26% as consumers continued to shift some of their on-trade spend to drinks at home. Premiumisation persisted in the category, with value growth for world/discovery beer up by 41%, and craft beer up 44%, indicating that shoppers were still willing to trade up for festive celebrations.

Christmas is always an important time for the spirits category and this year was no different.

Spirits accounted for more than 30% of BWS value sales in the 12 weeks to January 2, an increase of more than £300 million on Christmas 2019. This growth was helped by a large increase in the number of households purchasing. In fact, in the 12 weeks to December 26, more than 1.5 million (9%) additional households bought spirits than a year ago.

After the recent success of flavoured gin, last year saw flavoured vodka up 84% and flavoured/spiced rum up 48%, showing there is still an appetite for new flavours in the spirits category. Flavoured vodka capitalised on the increased importance of the impulse channel during Covid-19 with new  listings contributing towards growth of over £8 million versus last year.

With increased at-home occasions, homemade cocktails look to be on the rise as consumers try to replicate the out-of-home experience. With the strong growth in spirits too, mixers were the fastest growing sector within soft drinks over the festive period, up 18%. This is a continuation of trends seen throughout the pandemic and it will be key for spirits manufacturers to understand which of these occasions will remain once we get back to normal.

Wine grew behind total BWS this Christmas, but still achieved sales of almost £307 million (15%) more than the 12 weeks to Christmas 2019. Compared to beer and spirits wine is less reliant on the on-trade so has not seen quite the same uplift as a result of the closures, but this is still significant growth. As out-of-home New Year celebrations were curtailed, Champagne sales surged in the last two weeks, growing at 47% to more than £12 million higher than 2019.

With the continued uncertainty around the reopening of hospitality, we can expect the off-trade to be buoyant throughout 2021. However, as we start to lap the first lockdown in March we anticipate growth will slow and decline towards the end of the year. Should Euro 2020/21 go ahead it offers an opportunity to drive sales alongside hopefully good news of a successful vaccination roll out.

By Rob Hallworth, Client Delivery Team Leader, Nielsen

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