Shoppers shun pigs in blankets after health scare but stock up on booze instead

21 December, 2015

Pork's pain is whiskey's gain

Brits are set for a boozy festive period after spending £7 million more on spirits in supermarkets in the first half of December than they did in 2014.

Whisky, vodka, gin and rum have been the most popular drinks as shoppers stockpiled their favourite brands ahead of Christmas.

In the two weeks to December 12, supermarket shoppers spent £200 million on spirits, up 3.8% on the same period the previous year (IRI).

A total of £630 million was spent on the beers, wines and spirits category, up 3.3% on the 2014.

This is in contrast to declining food sales, which were down 1.3% to £3.5 billion, while non-food sales also dropped 2.1% to £1.4 billion during the first half of December.

Shoppers have been put off of buying bacon and sausages, according to IRI, in the aftermath of a World Health Organisation report linking them to cancer.

Officials said 50g of processed meat a day – less than one sausage – increases the risk of bowel cancer by almost a fifth, and the report led to a wide range of sensationalist headlines in the tabloids putting bacon and sausages alongside tobacco, arsenic and asbestos in the cancer-causing stakes.

Nutritional experts have since declared processed meat is fine in moderation, and the WHO backtracked after outrage from farmers, but it has not stopped shoppers shunning the products.

Sales of bacon, sausages and gammon are down 13.2% year-on-year.

But while they may be lacking pigs in blankets this Christmas, shoppers will have tumblers full of booze to cheer them up.

In the two weeks to December 12, shoppers spent £74 million on whisky and around £64.5 million on vodka and gin, up 5.6% in the two-week period, with rum also showing a slight increase of 2.3% over last year.

Sales of sparkling wines are also up by 11.6% over the two weeks to 12 December, including Prosecco, which, according to IRI data earlier this year, has now replaced Champagne as the nation’s favourite fizz, with sales growth of 72% over the last year, adding £142 million to the grocery sector.

While booze sales are up, certain traditional Christmas staples are struggling, with sales of Christmas cakes down 5.3%. 

“While consumers get into the spirit of Christmas, literally in many cases, it seems that some of the more traditional Christmas categories are in decline, including cakes and desserts, while Christmas baking items are also down,” said Martin Wood, Head of strategic insight, retail solutions and innovation at IRI.

“This could be down to people taking a more healthy approach to the big day, but it’s probably a little too early to say whether this trend will continue and we expect figures to bounce back during a busy Christmas shopping period this week.

“It’s interesting to see that sausages and bacon, Christmas staples, continue to decline sharply following the recent World Health Organisation report linking them to cancer. We revealed last month that the scare had wiped 10%, the equivalent of £10m million per month, off sales of bacon and sausages and it’s very clear that this decline is set to continue, perhaps even over the Christmas period.”

The UK’s largest retailer, Tesco, recently surveyed shoppers and found that three-quarters of UK households plan to leave something out for Santa this Christmas Eve, with 83% of them admitting that it would be a nip of something a little boozy.

This could be fuelling the popularity of spirits this festive period, as the top choice among Tesco shoppers looking to leave Santa something was whisky. A third of UK households will leave St Nick a dram, while 19% of homes will opt for sherry, 14% will leave beer and 10% will go for wine.

Simon Haithwaite, Tesco’s Christmas campaign manager, said: “It would appear that the annual sleigh ride taken by Santa and his team of reindeer is fuelled by more than magic. Even with the rise in the popularity of drinks like gin and vodka, the traditional festive tipple of choice – well at least for St Nick – continues to be a tot of whisky or sherry.”

Booze will continue to prop up the FMCG category and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association has teamed with pollsters at YouGov to produce a report on the drinks Brits are most likely to imbibe more of this Christmas.

The top ten alcoholic drinks, in order, that people are likely to enjoy more of this Christmas are: sparkling wine, red wine, white wine, lager, fortified wine, vodka, cider, rose wine, ale and gin.

Shoppers polled said red wine is the most popular choice of gift this Christmas, followed by sparkling wine and then Scotch whisky.

The WSTA used the occasion to reiterate calls for a 2% cut on wine and spirits duty in the next Budget in March, saying it would make Christmas 2016 cheaper for Brits but also benefit the Treasury as it would encourage shoppers to trade up and drink more.  

Chancellor George Osborne abolished the alcohol duty escalator in 2014 and froze duty on wine in 2015, but UK duty on wine is still the second highest in Europe. 

WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said: “Consumers are outraged that excise duty on wine and spirits is so much higher in the UK in comparison to our European counterparts. This isn't just unfair on UK consumers, it's also unfair on great British businesses, like those emerging right now creating export-friendly British gin and English wine.

“To support UK consumers and UK businesses, especially micro businesses and SMEs, we would like to see the Chancellor continuing his policy of redressing this gross imbalance with another 2% excise duty cut. We have proved it makes good economic sense and the UK’s wine and spirit sector is literally fizzing with potential.”




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