The age of austerity might not be over yet, but our food shopping habits over the festive period indicate that Britons are regaining a taste for the finer things in life.
Waitrose and Sainsbury’s saw shoppers hone in on their luxury brands over Christmas, while wine seller Majestics said customers were particularly fond of fine wines costing £20 or more a bottle.
Bryan Roberts, insights director at retail analysts Kantar, said: “Times might still be tough for people, but they don’t want their noses rubbed in it and want to enjoy quality food and time when they are with their families.
“It’s generally been the case historically that people save up for Christmas and will trade up from their traditional household supermarket of choice, to a more upmarket destination.”
But supermarkets have now got wise to this tradition and are attempting to lure customers back by improving their top-end ranges.
On Wednesday Sainsbury’s revealed it had a record Christmas, taking £17m in just one hour on 23 December. It said this was partly explained by its revamped Taste the Difference range. It sold more than 100,000 Taste the Difference turkeys and turkey crowns and said sales of its premium brand were up 10 per cent on last year, giving it a boost in sales for the ninth Christmas in a row. Over at Waitrose, bosses toasted their best Christmas ever with sales up 5.4 per cent to £736m in the five weeks leading up to the big day compared with 2012.
The upmarket grocer’s link-up with Heston Blumenthal continued to draw foodies in, with 2.25 million Heston chocolates eaten over Christmas, with Black Forest gateau, mandarin caramel truffles and thyme and rosemary-infused truffles the best sellers.
Even discount supermarkets Aldi and Lidl focused their advertising campaigns on taste rather than price.
Lidl said its deluxe range was expected to be up 50 per cent while Aldi used its TV ads to boast that it had won awards for its mince pies and was voted supermarket of the year.
Sainsbury’s chief executive, Justin King, said: “The discounters are very different to where they were five years ago. I know it’s easy to characterise it as hard-pressed customers going to discounters, but what was different was they advertised their quality.”
Asda and Tesco have also revamped their top-end ranges. Asda’s Extra Special range is developed with Leith’s School of Food and Wine and saw customers trading up with 750,000 bottles of own-brand champagne sold, and 70,000 packs of Extra Special Smoked Salmon flying off the shelves.
Meanwhile, Majestic saw sales jump 5.9 per cent in the last 10 weeks, with South African and Argentinian wines selling particularly well.
Chief executive Steve Lewis said: “This Christmas, helped by our knowledgeable staff, customers chose to treat themselves and we saw strong growth in sales of fine wine above £20 per bottle.”
Even Marks & Spencer, which had a dreadful Christmas in womenswear, had a solid time in food. However, not everyone on the high street has seen customers trading up for a bit of luxury and quality. The department store Debenhams admitted it had a terrible time and was forced to offer heavy discounts for its wares.
Over at Mothercare, bosses also said the festive period was a whitewash, with fewer toys being sold, its website failing to draw the necessary number of customers, and heavy discounting forcing profits downwards.