Chris Martin: SuperValu success

It seems Irish people decided to splash out on their Christmas dinners last year, with total grocery spend for the last quarter of 2010 up 2.1%, according to new figures from Kantar Worldpanel. However, customers still sought value for their money, with the discounters doing well compared to the likes of Superquinn.

Tesco continues to be the star performer, benefiting the most from the growth, with Kantar Worldpanel saying it now controls 27.2% of the grocery market, up a full percentage point, when compared to last Christmas. SuperValu though was the most improved performer over the festive season, with its market share now standing at 19.9%, up from 19.6% on the fourth quarter of 2009. That increase marked the first time in nine months that the Musgrave Group's brand grew ahead of the market.

"SuperValu performed well over the festive season and this is reflected in the strong performance in the final four weeks before Christmas. Supervalu may have benefited from its local stores as the adverse weather conditions encouraged many people to shop locally rather than risk getting stuck further afield," said David Berry, commercial director at Kantar Worldpanel.

The discounters had a mixed experience. Aldi's sales were up 22.9% and this boosted its share of the total market to 3.6% in the final quarter, up from 3% the previous year. That sales increase was worth €15m in turnover, Kantar Worldpanel said, and perhaps most impressively it recorded strong sales across the alcohol, ambient food and fresh and chilled sectors.

On the other hand, Lidl's growth has started to slow, with sales up 6.7% on the final quarter of 2009, giving it a total market share of 5.6% as compared to 5.4% the previous year.

The premium end of the market continues to suffer, with no sign of an arrest in the decline in market share at Superquinn, which recently announced the closure of its store in Naas, Co Kildare. Its market share dropped from 6.4% to 6.1%.

"Traditionally shoppers trade up to premium ranges in the run up to Christmas and Superquinn would usually benefit from this trend," said Berry. "However, household incomes in Ireland were increasingly squeezed towards the end of last year, which impacted on Superquinn's sales at Christmas."

This move away from festive "premiumisation", as Kantar Worldpanel calls it, was "also echoed in the battle between branded and own-label products as shoppers continued to prioritise value for money at Christmas. Sales of branded products are usually boosted at Christmas but this trend was reversed in December with own-label ranges growing in value by 5% and branded lines remaining flat."

Dunnes remained relatively steady at 23.5% in the final quarter of the year, but the big losers were Asda and Sainsbury's, which saw their share of the market plummet 25.5% to 2.1% of the market from 2.9% the previous year.

A major contributor to the increased grocery spend was the drop in inflation. This meant that fewer customers traded down in December itself.

Grocery inflation in the final quarter was 3.9%, Kantar Worldpanel said. Its figures are based on more than 75,000 identical products which are compared year-on-year in the proportions purchased by Irish shoppers. It is a 'pure' inflation measure because shopping behaviour is held constant between the two comparison periods, whereas individual shoppers are likely to achieve a lower personal inflation rate if they trade down or seek out more offers.