After a challenging 2020, the supermarket making the most headway during the festive period in 2021 and making a stunning comeback was M&S. According to data from NielsenIQ, it saw sales grow 9.4% in the final quarter of the year.
Only two other UK retailers saw positive gains across the same 12-week period compared with 2020 figures. Lidl’s sales jumped 8.5%, while Aldi’s rose 4.8%. The Big Four all slumped, with Tesco the only grocer to see near-level sales at minus-0.1%.
Asda (-3.1%), Sainsbury’s (4.2%) and Morrisons (-5.6%) saw significant drops. The numbers were even lower for all three among Kantar Worldpanel’s data, although UK retailers remain well ahead of targets across the past two years. Tesco’s sales, for example, are still up 10% from pre-pandemic levels.
“We are delighted that we were able to help our customers have a great Christmas,” Tesco CEO Ken Murphy said. “Despite growing cost pressures and supply chain challenges in the industry, we continued to invest to protect availability, doubled down on our commitment to deliver great value and offered our strongest ever festive range. This put us in a strong position to meet customers’ needs as, once again, COVID-19 led to a greater focus on celebrating at home. As a result, we outperformed the market, growing market share and strengthening our value position.”
Consumer spending for the two-week period prior to Christmas was £7.1 billion, which beat last year’s totals by more than 9% and 2019 spends by more than 14%. As the UK enjoyed being far more open during the pandemic in 2021 than in 2020, store visits saw a 6.3% increase while online sales this time fell by 1.7%. Still, experts say consumers’ omnichannel approach is still high.
For Aldi, the combination of new stores, clever marketing with the return of its Kevin the Carrot campaign and lower prices – even against other retailers trying to match their discounts on fresh veg – were key to its strong performance. It expects to be a major player again in 2022 as shoppers continue to shave their spend in a tight economy.
“As we look ahead, the top priority for most families this year will be managing their household budgets in the face of rising living costs,” said Aldi CEO Giles Hurley. “As the cheapest supermarket in Britain, Aldi will always offer the lowest prices for groceries, no matter what, and continue to support our British farmers and producers.”
One fresh item that saw big returns during the period was Brussels sprouts: Aldi saw 118 million of them sold.
Lidl GB noted its position as the fastest-growing retailer in 2021 during the key Christmas month, with sales jumping by more than 21% since the pandemic started. It said foot traffic was up 14% on Dec. 23, its busiest day of the season.
“Despite ongoing challenges with the pandemic, customers continued to find ways to celebrate this Christmas,” Christian Härtnagel, Lidl GB CEO, said. “Our high quality, low priced festive ranges proved a hit, helping us achieve a record Christmas with footfall and sales beating the previous two years. As inflation continues to rise, I want to reassure each and every one of our customers that we remain resolute in our promise of being the destination for the lowest grocery prices in the market.”