Despite cost-of-living pressures on consumers, demand for Christmas fare will bolster sales across all food categories, writes Donna Ahern.
Research conducted by NIQ showed that the boxed-chocolate market in Ireland (excluding Dunnes Stores and discounters) was worth €31.3 million in the eight weeks to 1 January 2023 – the lead-in period to Christmas 2022.
Overall, the research showed that brands drove incremental value during the Christmas period last year.
However, according to NIQ, brands experienced big volume declines.
This was likely due to inflationary pressures, as shoppers had to spend more to get less.
This meant that shoppers focused on purchasing the Christmas essentials and entertaining at home.
With inflationary pressures easing as we face into Christmas 2023, shoppers may loosen their purse strings over the next few weeks, with brands hopefully experiencing volume increases and shoppers taking a less restrictive approach to what they buy this year.
So, what does Christmas 2023 have in store?
Food photographer and digital marketing consultant Keith Mahon tells Checkout that while most consumers stick to the tried-and-tested traditional Christmas dinner spread, people are trying new things with food, thanks to the explosion of social media in recent years, as they take on simple and easy-to-follow cooking tutorials online.
“No longer are we reaching for cookbooks or sticking to the way Mum used to do it,” Mahon says. “People appear to be spreading their culinary wings, trying different cooking methods, dishes and sauces.
“Christmas is now a week-long celebration centred around food, with people willing to try alternative Christmas dinners, such as roast duck and beef, as well as vegan and vegetarian options.
“However, the main day is still a mostly traditional affair, with turkey, ham and all the trimmings to the fore.”
While most people are still opting for turkey-and-ham dinners, the approach to dining on Christmas Day has changed in recent years.
“Most people have now pushed the traditional bursting one course to a day-long event, surrounded by an array of delicious nibbles and bites, enjoyed from morning right through until the evening,” says Mahon.
“This gives the home chef time to prepare the main event while keeping family and friends satisfied.”
Allied to the shift in what and how we dine on the big day, there has been a significant expansion in pre-prepared party food and canapés on offer across all supermarkets.
“The selection and the quality is improving, year on year,” says Mahon.
“For example, the humble cheese board has now been elevated to an impressive, Instagram-worthy grazing board, with retailers stocking a multitude of cheeses, crackers, nuts and condiments to service this new festive favourite. For the host, this makes keeping ‘hanger’ at bay more of an assembly job, as opposed to additional cooking, which is a win all round.”
Advice For Retailers
So, what advice does Mahon give grocery retailers ahead of the busy shopping period?
“People truly want to spread the cost and not leave things to the last minute, so my advice would be to allow customers to book their food earlier and make more food packages available to book online,” he says.
“This is good for both the customer and the retailer. With delivery slots always going to be at a premium, increasing click-and-collect options will reduce the stress on both sides.
“I would also love to see one retailer pick up the mantle when it comes to helping those that will be on their own this Christmas, with carefully curated food packages that are priced competitively and bring the joy of the season to those spending the holidays alone – and, of course, it goes without saying that well-trained staff and an intensely regimented stock-ordering and rotation system is imperative for grocery retailers at this time.”
The first Christmas since 2019 with no Covid-19 restrictions saw shoppers spend an additional €119 million, making it a record-breaking month, with sales of €1.3 billon and the strongest growth since February 2021.
Grocery inflation stood at 15.4% for the 12-week period ending 25 December 2022, and it was even higher than the UK, where it stood at 14.2%.
A significant increase in the average price per pack saw shoppers spend an additional €95.31, compared to the same time in the previous year.
Commenting on Christmas 2022, Emer Healy, senior retail analyst at Kantar, said, “Christmas was certainly different this year. Even though 46.5% of buyers claimed they would spend less than previous years, the cost-of-living crisis didn’t stop Irish families from looking for ways to keep spirits high, with the average shopper spending €58 more on groceries during December than they did last year.”
The 2023 festive period brings good news for job-seekers.
British supermarket group Sainsbury’s announced in mid-October that it will recruit 22,000 temporary workers for Christmas – a 22% increase on last year – as it boosts its labour force earlier than usual in the season.
It noted that the jobs will mainly be in its large supermarkets, with roles in checkouts, store replenishment, and picking orders for home delivery.
The group will recruit 20,000 temporary workers, while its Argos general-merchandise business will take on 2,000.
Last year, Sainsbury’s recruited 18,000 temporary workers.
Sainsbury’s also announced that it had improved staff perks for the festive season, with an increased staff discount offer and free food during shifts.
Tesco, Britain’s largest retailer, is planning to recruit 30,000 temporary workers for the period.
More recently, on 16 October, Marks & Spencer announced that it would be recruiting 10,000 new customer assistants over the festive period.
The number of vacancies is more than a 40% increase on last year.
Customer service assistant roles will span both food and clothing & home, located all over the UK, with vacancies in every store.
Amazon UK has started recruiting for more than 15,000 seasonal roles, and supermarket groups Morrisons and Aldi noted that they are hiring 3,500 and 3,000 extra staff members, respectively, for the Christmas season.