Robust demand for Champagne and party food has fuelled another period of record trading at Waitrose, the upmarket grocery arm of John Lewis.
The chain, which has 288 stores including four in Scotland with a fifth – in Stirling – due to open soon, said yesterday it had followed bumper Christmas sales with record trading in the run-up to the New Year holiday.
The employee-owned firm revealed its total sales rose 8.8 per cent year-on-year in the 12 days to New Year’s Eve, pushing through £300 million for the first time for that period. Sales at stores open for more than a year increased by 5.4 per cent.
The firm had already reported that sales rose 7.7 per cent between 4 November and Christmas Eve, with like-for-like sales up 4.3 per cent.
Waitrose has consistently achieved sales growth ahead of the wider UK grocery market, and its performance in the holiday season will put it firmly in the winners’ camp.
The biggest UK operator Tesco, number three player Sainsbury’s and fourth placed Morrisons are due to update on Christmas trading next week.
Waitrose said sales had accelerated as the big events of Christmas and New Year drew closer and customers bought fresh food, Champagne and party food for entertaining.
Managing director Mark Price said: “Our sales for the festive period as a whole have been record-breaking but the 12 trading days leading up to New Year’s Eve were exceptional as customers got ready for family entertaining and parties. The combination of our inspiring celebratory food and drink together with great value and offers proved to be a winning combination.”
Morrisons and Sainsbury’s were among the few blue-chip stocks to miss out on Wednesday’s market rally amid speculation that they had fared badly in the battle for Christmas trade.
Caroline Gulliver, an analyst at Espirito Santo Investment Bank, issued a “sell” note for Morrisons, saying: “It is commonly believed that UK food retail is a zero-sum game, but at least it has been a battle for market share in a low growth environment as the top four retailers have gained share from independents and non-food retailers.
“Now, consumer behaviour is changing, with growth coming from online, discount and convenience stores.”
Retail analysts at Oriel Securities said Waitrose and no-frills German operators Aldi and Lidl appeared to have come off best in the key Christmas period.
On Wednesday, John Lewis’ department store business reported record festive trading, with sales of £684.8m for the five weeks to 29 December, thanks to a last-minute rush before the holidays and a milestone online performance.
Total sales rose 14.8 per cent in the period, with extra trade coming from four stores opened during 2012.