Thursday, January 1, 2009

Retail Memo: Bloody Recession Be Damned - Upscale, Premium UK Supermarket Chain Waitrose Reports Record Sales For the Day Before Christmas

Bloody recession be damned -- it's Christmas.

The sentiment above appears to be what was on the minds of tens of thousands of British consumers who flocked to the United Kingdom's most upscale and premium-oriented supermarket chain, Waitrose, on the days leading up to Christmas, December 25.

And December 23, Christmas Eve, was the biggest day of all. In fact, it was the biggest day in history for upscale Waitrose [Web site:]

The specialty, premium, gourmet, fresh-prepared and natural foods-focused supermarket chain, which is owned by Britain's John Lewis Partnership, took in £34.4m from more than 879,000 transactions on December 23, beating the previous record of 754,000 set in December 2006, the company reported this week. Waitrose is a full-service general format supermarket in addition to its upscale focus.

Waitrose says it benefited from a "late shopping surge" in the last three days before Christmas, which resulted in a 12% rise in same store sales for the chain.

On Christmas eve, sales were 5% over Christmas Eve 2007, while in the week leading up to Christmas, same store growth was 3.5%, according to Waitrose managing director (CEO) Mark Price.

Chief executive Price says shoppers were filling their carts with Christmas holiday foods, along with buying lots of specialty foods items as gifts.

Waitrose tossed out some numbers regarding item sales during the week leading up to Christmas: It says it sold 231,000 fresh and frozen turkeys, 350 tons of British cooked meats, over 12 million mince pies and millions of boxes of chocolates.

It appears that despite the very severe economic recession in the UK, thousands of consumers decided to spend their money on a traditional Christmas when it came to food.

Our analysis, and this holds for our observations in the U.S. as well, is that numerous consumers decided that instead of spending the amounts of money they normally have in previous years on Christmas presents -- clothing, electronics, toys and the like -- that this year they would spend much less on such gift items, but spend more on food, as well as purchase more food items as gifts.

The percentage decreases among department, toy and other gift-oriented stores in both the UK and U.S. bare out our analysis, we believe. In contrast, numerous supermarket chains, including upscale grocers such as Waitrose in the UK and similar format retailers in the U.S., are reporting very strong Christmas holiday sales in their stores.

Additionally, it appears to us that many consumers who might traditionally have had Christmas dinner out at a restaurant (holiday restaurant sales in both the UK and the U.S. were down over last year) or travel away from the home for the holiday (hotel bookings were down considerably for Christmas this year), stayed home, and dined at home, thus leading them to spend more money at the supermarket, including on fancy holiday foods -- money they saved by not dining out or staying home rather than going away for the holiday; or both.

No comments: