Supermarket sales figures have captured the way Covid has caused big changes in the way we live, from lager-fuelled barbecues and home-cooked roasts replacing nights in the pub and ready meals, to lower sales of makeup, deodorant and even toothbrushes pointing to people letting themselves go a bit.
With coronavirus restrictions often forbidding meals and nights out with friends, Britons put an extra £2.5bn of beer, wine, spirits and meat in their trolleys as the pandemic “shifted consumer shopping habits to the extreme”, according to The Grocer magazine’s annual Top Products Survey.
After years when similar exercises have turned up more wholesome lifestyle trends such as the rise of the plant-based diet, the star performer of 2020 was lager, with sales soaring by more than a fifth, or more than £800m. Supermarkets also rang up an extra £1bn of cigarettes and rolling tobacco at the checkout.
The survey, in conjunction with the market research firm Nielsen, underlined the “impact of the coronavirus on the nation’s shopping habits and the nation’s health,” said The Grocer’s editor, Adam Leyland. “A surprising trend we’ve seen this year is the rise in tobacco sales, and while some of those extra sales reflect the lack of foreign travel and duty-free purchases, it’s a step change from previous years.”
The flipside of the crisis in the UK’s pub and restaurant trade has been booming supermarket sales. November was the biggest month ever for grocery sales, with shoppers spending almost £11bn as the autumn lockdowns forced people to stay home.
The surprise winner of the supermarket lager boom of 2020 was San Miguel, with sales up more than 60%. Wine and spirits also had massive gains, of £717m and £567m, in the 52 weeks to 5 September tracked by the survey.
The Mexican lager brand Corona managed to defy the odds, with sales jumping 40%.
The curtailing of social lives and shift to homeworking led to an extra £440m spent on sausages, burgers and chicken to cook up at home. This was in contrast to 2019 when fresh meat sales, particularly of beef, were suffering. The figures reflect pub, restaurant and school closures, but as Britons found themselves with no excuses not to cook, there was a £74m hole in ready-meal sales.
Rachel White, Nielsen’s retail intelligence leader for the UK and Ireland, said the pandemic had “shifted consumer shopping habits to the extreme. With more free time at home, consumers moved away from chilled ready-meal options and focused instead on creating their own dining experience at home, cooking with fresh ingredients and enjoying a drink at home rather than at the pub.”
At the same time, with no one to impress at work or when out socialising, personal care regimes took a back seat. Sales of cosmetics, hairstyling products, toothbrushes and deodorant all slumped, cumulatively shedding nearly £300m in sales.
The biggest loser was the cosmetics aisle, with £180m knocked off sales as remote working coupled with face mask regulations meant people dropped their usual routines. Sales of deodorants and toothbrushes were down 10%.
Similarly sales of products that consumers tend to pick up on the go, such as bottled water and chewing gum, were also down sharply, because buyers were going nowhere this year.
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