Taste for the finer life gifts Waitrose and Sainsbury's a record Christmas

Shoppers increasingly opted for luxury food and drink over the festive period

It was a Christmas of indulgence and extravagance for Brits - at least at the dinner table - as households splashed out more than ever on fine food and drink over the festive period.

Inspired by the likes of Heston Blumenthal, homes turned to luxury ranges and upmarket supermarkets to ensure their celebrations were marked by fare fit for royalty. 

Middle-class favourite Waitrose celebrated a record Christmas with like-for-like sales in stores up 4.1% on the previous year for the 12 days ending December 31. And the trend was echoed in spending at rival Sainsbury's - perhaps a further sign that the drawn-out recovery of the economy has finally turned a corner.

Waitrose was buoyed by a strong performance from its own brand range endorsed by Michelin-starred chef Blumenthal.

For the five week period ending on Christmas Eve, like-for-like sales were up 3.1%, while online grocery sales increased 33.4%.

Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference brand saw sales up 10% over the quarter, with 100,000 fresh turkeys and turkey crowns sold under the premium label.

The supermarket had its busiest trading week ever in the run-up to Christmas, with more than 28 million transactions, pushing like-for-like sales up 0.2% on the previous quarter.

Chief executive Justin King said the 14 weeks to January 4 had been a tough sales environment, with “customers saving up in order to treat their families over the Christmas period” but the supermarket had had its “best Christmas ever".

He also revealed that savvy customers redeemed £120 million worth of points under its Nectar card loyalty scheme, to help with the cost of their festive shop - a 9% increase on last year.

Both Waitrose and Sainsbury’s said the busiest pre-Christmas trading day was 23rd December. The busiest hour of that day saw Sainsbury’s customers spend £17 million, and its store in Stanway, Essex, became the first to record £1 million sales in one day. Waitrose said an average of 22,000 items were sold every minute on the day.

But it wasn’t a happy Christmas tale for all retailers. Discounting was at its heaviest level in seven years, according to a survey by the British Retail Consortium (BRC). And Debenhams and Mothercare have both posted profit warnings as a result of disappointing Christmas trading.

Jeremy Nicholds, commercial director at Visa Europe said it had been “a tale of Two Christmases”, with its customers spending increasing amounts with online retailers over their high street counterparts. 

“It was a tale of two Christmases in December as online and high street retailers looked to woo customers in the final weeks of the year,” he commented.

“Overall, consumer spending in December registered a +0.6% annual increase, with much of this rise attributed to online spending with the high street faring less well.”

Barclaycard said its customer spending was up 2.9% over the Christmas period on 2012. But shoppers increasingly looked for value, shopping on ‘discount days’ such as Black Friday and Mega Monday and using the internet to compare prices and save money.

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