From coronation quiche to Caramac – what set the tills alight in 2023?

From tomato shortages and the end of the Caramac to KitKat cereal and ‘Bistro Greggs’, the year was one of highs and lows for the British consumer.

Josie Clarke
Wednesday 27 December 2023 02:45 GMT
(Nestle/PA) (PA Media)

UK shoppers had to contend with a variety of issues across 2023 – from shortages on supermarket shelves, to the ever-looming spectre of inflation and the impact on the cost of living.

Here the PA news agency looks at some of the factors consumers had to deal with over the last 12 months.

January:Grocery price inflation hits a record 16.7% to add a potential £788 to annual shopping bills. Despite, or perhaps because of, the price rises, consumers maintain new year’s resolutions and a commitment to Dry January with sales volumes of no and low alcohol beer up 3% on last year.

A survey finds almost a third of consumers plan to return, re-gift, sell or donate Christmas presents, with a fifth doing so to help manage cost-of-living pressures.

February:A shortage of tomatoes affecting UK supermarkets following a combination of bad weather and transport problems widens to other fruit and vegetables.

Supermarkets introduce customer limits of as little as two packs of tomatoes, following with restrictions on peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, salad bags, broccoli, cauliflower and raspberries – if there are any to buy in the first place.

March:Succession, the show following the trials and tribulations of the Roy family, draws to its highly-anticipated finale, with John Lewis connecting its popularity with a 70% increase in sales of tailoring and half-zip jumpers of the style favoured by patriarch Logan Roy and outselling crew neck pullovers by 62% since the start of the season.

The episode when son-in-law Tom Wambsgans lampoons a character’s “ludicrously capacious bag” saw searches for large bags jump by 20%, the department store reported.

April:Nestle causes near hysteria among fans of the KitKat chocolate bar when it announces the launch of KitKat cereal. Ten health groups – including Diabetes UK, the British Dental Association and British Heart Foundation – promptly write to The Times to claim Nestle has made “misleading nutritional claims” that the cereal, which contains 420 calories, 24.7g of sugar and 10.9g of fat per 100g as well as being a source of five vitamins, calcium and iron, is “nutritious”.

Former health tsar Henry Dimbleby tweets: “Tasty and nutritious. This really is taking the p@@@.”

May:Consumers spend an extra £218 million on groceries during the week leading up to the coronation on May 6, with sales of wine and quiche soaring.

The official coronation quiche recipe featuring spinach, broad beans, cheese and fresh tarragon had “lots of people” giving it a go, grocery analysts Kantar noted – except that no-one anywhere could find any fresh tarragon.

Regardless, sales of ingredients such as chilled pastry surged by 89%, while fresh cream sales jumped by 80% and frozen broad beans were up 57%.

June:Shelves ran bare again, this time at Waitrose. The upmarket grocer apologised to customers after IT issues left shelves bare of some fresh products for days and deliveries disrupted. Branches across the country saw shelves completely bare of bakery, fruit and other fresh items, with essentials not being delivered due to a slow-running system update.

The shortage saw some customers use Twitter to complain, with one writing: “Waitrose in Cheltenham has no fruit or veg – they’ve filled their baskets with wine. Heading to Tesco instead, as you can’t grill Chardonnay.”

July:Sales of Taylor Swift and Foo Fighters concert tickets helped to boost card spending by 4% year-on-year in July despite consumers’ ongoing battle with the cost of living, Barclays reported.

Barbie the film arrived in UK cinemas on July 21, becoming one of the biggest-ever hits at the British box-office. John Lewis reported sales of its Barbie range was up 31% on last year – although poor old Ken was outsold by Barbie by five to one. Sales of pink handbags were up 70%, and searches for the pink Arizona Birkenstocks up 67%.

August:The Lionesses’ success at the World Cup sees sales of England shirts and other merchandise rocket by more than 700%. Online sales soared by 710% above average daily levels on the Wednesday after England’s 3-1 semi-final victory over Australia, according to figures from Adobe Analytics.

However Nike faces a widespread backlash for not selling England keeper Mary Earps’ shirt. After mounting pressure, the sports brand releases Earps’ green long-sleeved Lionesses shirt for sale, with the product selling out twice after a matter of minutes.

On the day of the final between England and Spain, which fell on a Sunday morning here, many pubs had to wait until the second half to be able to serve alcohol. Regardless, millions headed to their local to watch the game, and the British Beer and Pub Association reported trading increases of between 14% and 28%.

September:“Skimpflation” enters the lexicon of British shoppers, with more than half noticing a downgrade in the quality of ingredients in their favourite products while the cost remains the same or has increased.

Among those who had noticed changes, 44% had noted a change in the quality of crisp products, 43% had seen the same for sweets and chocolate, and 36% thought that their favourite cakes or biscuits were inferior to before.

October:Holiday company On The Beach reports a 26% surge in bookings for autumn breaks on a year earlier after the UK’s “washout” summer.

Former TV weatherman John Kettley said: “This summer has been a complete and utter washout,” before listing hotspot destinations to book, adding: “Brits can still enjoy some sun before the year is out.”

November:Every remaining Caramac bar across the land gets snapped up overnight when maker Nestle confirms it is discontinuing the caramel-flavoured bar after 64 years.

Nestle said falling sales are behind its decision to stop producing the confectionery, which was launched in the UK in 1959 by original manufacturer Mackintosh.

The firm said in a statement: “We are very sorry to disappoint fans of Caramac. There has been a steady decline in its sales over the past few years and unfortunately we had to make the difficult decision to discontinue it.

December:The year ends on a festive culinary high with the announcement that high street bakery Greggs is launching its first “fine dining” bistro, with a menu combining its popular festive bake alongside duck fat roasties, smoked pancetta, chestnuts and sprouts.

Bistro Greggs, a “Parisian-inspired” pop-up within Fenwick’s Newcastle department store, begins serving an a-la-carte, multi-course menu of “enhanced interpretations” of the chain’s bakes and sweet treats.

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