Biggest Christmas on record for UK supermarkets as online sales double in December

Kalila Sangster
·3 min read
A shopper wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, carries goods in a shopping basket inside an ASDA supermarket in Walthamstow in north east London on December 22, 2020. - The British government said Tuesday it was considering tests for truckers as part of talks with French authorities to allow the resumption of freight traffic suspended due to a new strain of coronavirus. Britain was plunged into fresh crisis last week with the emergence of a fresh strain of the virus, which is believed to be up to 70 percent more transmissible than other forms. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Visits to bricks-and-mortar stores fell by 10% in December, according to new data. Photo: Tolga Akman/AFP via Getty

December 2020 saw the biggest Christmas on record for UK supermarkets as the online share of grocery sales doubled to 12.5%, according to new data from Nielsen.

Online sales rocketed to in the four weeks ending 26 December 2020, up from 6.7% in the same period in 2019.

Some 8.5 million households did their Christmas grocery shopping online in 2020 — equating to just over 30% of all UK homes. This is an increase from 5.7 million over the same time the year before.

A huge 85% of the incremental sales in food and drink were made online in the four weeks ending 26 December, according to Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight.

Visits to bricks-and-mortar stores fell by 10% in December, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact consumers’ shopping habits.

UK shoppers spent almost £12bn on groceries in December, with £1.3bn spent online.

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The average spend per visit rose to £20, up from £17 a year before, the biggest ever spend per visit during the Christmas period, and only slightly below the all-time high of £22 recorded at the height of the first COVID-19 lockdown in May, according to Nielsen.

“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,” said Watkins.

With COVID-19 restrictions, including the closure of hospitality venues and social distancing restrictions, impacting social gatherings and large family celebrations, consumers spent more on less traditional Christmas fare, the data found.

Sales of frozen dumplings increased by 77%, beef fillets, medallions, and steaks were up 57%, and sales of fresh sea bass grew by 48%.

There was also a rise in demand for convenience foods, with sales of frozen croissants up 70%, coffee pods up 56%, and handheld ice creams rising by 45%.

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With fewer opportunities for socialising and the exchanging of Christmas gifts, sales of confectionery were subdued, rising only 2% in December.

Alcohol sales increased over the Christmas period, with beer, wine and spirits seeing the fastest growth overall. Champagne sales grew by 18% and crémant sparkling wine was up by 51%. Cocktail making was also a popular feature of Christmas 2020 for many UK households, with tequila sales rising 59%, flavoured vodka sales up 50% and spiced rum up by 47%.

Lidl saw the biggest growth over the 12 weeks ending 26 December, with sales rising 20.9%, followed by Morrisons (MRW.L) — up 9.2% — which led growth among the “big four” retailers, according to Nielsen.

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