Retailers forecast to enjoy festive season warm front

November BWS sales in multiple grocers saw an early pre-Christmas boom in drinks sales and give hope for a healthy Christmas for the off-trade.

Early promotional deals on beer and spirits saw an 8.5% spike in BWS value sales and 5% in volumes in grocery multiples in the four weeks to November 27, according to Nielsen figures.

Total off-trade sales rose 6% by value and 4% by volume on November 2009.

Multipack deals on beer, cider and RTDs, as well as keen promotions on spirits, drove November growth, said Nielsen drinks analyst Stewart Blunt.

“People are stocking up early,” he said. “The expectation might be that once they’ve got it home the temptation will prove too much and they will have to go back and get some more in December.

“It looks pretty good – I’d anticipate that Christmas will at least match last year.”?The down note in November was a hit on light wine where sales were flat, including rosé which has been one of the fastest growth categories of recent times. Blunt said wine’s performance may hint at “some sort of saturation point”.

The initial real-life Christmas 2010 sales figures appear to pour cold water on a gloomy prediction by market research firm Mintel that a 9% fall in the drinks market –including the on-trade – in the last quarter of 2009 could be exceeded this year.

“The Mintel report is a tad pessimistic,” said Blunt. “You’ve got to assume that the on-trade will be the fall guys in all of this. The weather will also have kept people in which will potentially have helped the off-trade.”?The multiple grocers’ promotional thrust to date seems to be deep but short and tactical. Sainsbury’s litre price for Baileys shifted up to £15 in the first week of December after being slashed to £9.39 during the previous month.

Other notable offers in the first week of December included 25% on any six bottles of wine or Champagne at Sainsbury’s, half-price classic wines in Morrisons and half-

price own-label 2005 Vintage Champagne in Tesco.

Bargain Booze joint managing director Matthew Hughes was optimistic about the month ahead and said: “Christmas is always an important trading time.”?The chain’s experience in the recent bad weather suggests the take-home trade will cope well if the snow and ice of the past two weeks makes a reappearance in the run-up to Christmas, as some reports have predicted.

Bargain Booze didn’t have any store closures, despite much of its estate being in the worst affected areas of the country. Hughes said: “We had a couple of wagons that were a little bit later than we would normally have liked but we managed to get things out on time and in full in most cases.

“One lorry got stopped on the M62 overnight. We had one delivery that was more than 12 hours late and the rest of them were all within two to three hours, which was not too bad under the circumstances.”