Britain’s on-trade overcame the cost of living crisis and rail strikes to substantially grow drinks sales year-on-year in December, but trading remained well below the last pre-Covid Christmas of 2019.
CGA by NielsenIQ’s Drinks Recovery Tracker reveals a strong last three weeks of the year, as consumers flocked to pubs, bars, and restaurants for the first ‘normal’ Christmas in three years.
Average drinks sales in the week to Saturday, 17th December, were 11% ahead of the equivalent period in 2021, while the next seven days to Saturday, 24th December, were 43% ahead. Consumers continued to spend between Christmas and New Year, with sales in the week to 31st December running 26% ahead of 2021.
It means the on-trade finished 2022 with 15 consecutive weeks of year-on-year growth. However, trading in late 2021 had been blighted by concerns about the Omicron variant of Covid, which kept many people away from venues.
December’s figures compare less favourably with 2019, when consumers were enjoying the on-trade as normal. Sales in the week to 17th December were 18% down on the same period in 2019, thanks in part to the impact of rail strikes on town and city footfall.
Sales were 2% behind 2019 in the week to 24th December, but up by 6% in the last seven days of the year, though these comparisons are skewed by the different positions of key trading dates in 2019 and 2022.
The data highlights some bumper trading days over the 2022 festive season, including year-on-year sales growth of 20% and 17% on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day versus the same date last year. Another key date, New Year’s Eve, finished 22% ahead. However, sales on all three days were behind 2019’s levels, by between 2% and 3%.
Category-wise, wine enjoyed a very good end to the year, with sales over the last three weeks up by between 23% and 40%. Beer, cider and soft drinks were all well ahead of 2021’s levels, but uplifts in spirits were more modest. Beer also finished ahead of 2019 in two of the last three weeks, but other categories struggled against the levels of three years ago.
“December trading followed the pattern of the second half of 2022: comfortably ahead of last year’s levels, but well behind pre-Covid figures after adjustments for inflation,” said Jonathan Jones, CGA’s managing director, UK and Ireland.
“Considering the cost of living crisis and the impact of rail strikes on Christmas parties, many operators did well over the crucial festive period — but the negative comparisons with 2019 show trading conditions remain very tough.
“With no respite to inflationary pressures in sight, the first few months of 2023 will be exceptionally difficult. Government support on energy and other costs is urgently needed to protect businesses that are fragile after three years of turmoil.”