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Supermarkets enjoy biggest ever month as coronavirus cannot dent Christmas spending

Online orders accounted for 12.6% of grocery spending during the month compared with 7.4% a year earlier

Ocado Group PLC -

A coronavirus-affected Christmas led to December 2020 witnessing a new record level of spending in supermarkets, with Ocado Group PLC (LON:OCDO) and Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC (LON:MRW) the winners among the big names.

British grocery chains saw their cash tills ring up to the tune of £11.7bn during the four weeks to December 27, 2020, up from £10.6bn a year earlier, according to data from Kantar, topping the previous record set in November of £10.9bn.

Online orders accounted for 12.6% of grocery spending during the month compared with 7.4% a year earlier.

For the past 12 weeks, supermarket sales reached £32.7bn, up 11.4% compared to the same period last year, with spending boosted by a November lockdown and tightening of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions in many areas over the festive period.

Consumer cash was diverted from the closure of most pubs and restaurants, where £4bn is usually spent during a more normal December.

The busiest day was the Monday before Christmas when £819mln was spent as around 15mln households, more than half the entire population, visited a grocer at some point that day, and the outlay was up from the previous record last year of £798mln.

“Uncertainty around a deal and images of lorries sat at Dover meant consumers shopped earlier than usual and Monday 21 December was the busiest shopping day of the year,” Fraser McKevitt, Kantar’s head of retail and consumer insight in a statement.

“This is a real step-change from recent years when consumers have typically completed their ‘big shop’ closer to Christmas Day.”

The research found that while most families pared things back for the big festive day itself, with no guests to feed, many seized the opportunity to go for a different meat dish, with sales of pork roasting joints increasing by 19%, fresh fish by 20% and whole chickens by 7%, though spending on Brussels sprouts was up 11% to £10mln.

Among the big grocery groups, growth of 36.5% for Ocado’s UK joint venture with Marks and Spencer Group PLC (LON:MKS) over the 12-week period was the fastest in the industry.

Despite this growth, Ocado still only sells to less than 3% of households, Kantar noted, though its loyal customers buy more than half their groceries through the retailer.

Iceland was the second-fastest-growing at 20.8%, reflecting a strong year for frozen food.

As for the big four, Morrison's increased sales by 13.1% to give the Bradford-based grocer its highest market share in a year and a half.

The next fastest growth was for Tesco, up 11.1%, with Sainsbury’s sales growing 10.7% and Asda’s 7.8%.

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