Covid: Christmas comes early as grocery sales 'hit record' in November

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Grocery sales hit a record in November as people spent more during lockdown and started their Christmas shopping early, research indicates.

Some £10.9bn was spent as eating and drinking out was restricted in England, market research firm Kantar said.

It also found sales of goods such as turkeys jumped as people said they were determined to make this the "best Christmas ever after a tough 2020".

But another analyst said some would cut back in December due to money fears.

'Early eye on festivities'

Kantar said the three days before non-essential retail and hospitality closed in England on 5 November were "especially busy" for grocers, with sales up by 17% that week.

"Limited opportunities to drink in pubs and restaurants, as well as an early eye on festivities, pushed alcohol spend 33% higher than in the same four weeks last year," added Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar.

Mr McKevitt said many people had also "begun the countdown to Christmas 2020 already, using more time at home to go big on festive revelry".

"Sales of turkeys, both whole birds and ready-to-roast joints, are up by 36% on last year, while more than £11m was spent on Christmas puddings."

However, he said mince pie sales were down by 8%, reflecting "fewer opportunities to share a treat with friends and colleagues".

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Kantar said more than six million households bought groceries online in November - the highest number to date.

Underlining this, in the 12 weeks to 1 December, sales at online grocer Ocado climbed by 38% from a year earlier, making it the fastest growing of all the UK grocers.

Its next closest competitors were Iceland, with sales up 21%, and Morrisons, up 13.7%.

Supermarkets, which have remained open throughout the lockdowns, have seen their sales boom this year as people spend more time indoors and splash out on food. Sales have also been helped because many other retailers were closed.

However, the supermarkets have faced criticism for taking government support while also paying dividends to shareholders, leading some of the biggest retailers to repay hundreds of millions of pounds each in business rates relief.

'Festive revelry'

Like Kantar, Nielsen forecasts even stronger grocery sales in December, with £1bn more spent on shop food and drink than last year.

But it said one in four shoppers intended to spend less on Christmas groceries than usual, with half saying it was because they were entertaining less, and more than a third citing financial concerns.

Mike Watkins, Nielsen's UK head of retailer and business insight, said: "With the peak Christmas period fast approaching, there are limited opportunities for shoppers to entertain this year and any gatherings that do take place will be smaller.

"We can see that shoppers are preparing for this where they can - buying packaged grocery, alcohol and frozen food - and many have planned their online orders early."