Glimmerings of cheer – what’s set to be popular this Christmas?

Glimmerings of cheer – what’s set to be popular this Christmas?

Neighbourhood Retailer takes a look at how Christmas 2021 will be different – and there are plenty of reasons for good cheer.

It’s been the second tough year in a row with no sign of the pandemic disappearing any time soon, but that’s no reason to despair.

In fact, with grocery stores on the frontline when it comes to providing comfort and joy for homebound consumers over the past couple of years, Christmas 2021 will be no exception.

This time last year we were all facing another lockdown and non-essential retail and hospitality businesses were having to shutter their doors all over again, yet the grocery sector was about to prove surprisingly buoyant.

This Christmas grocery retailers will be hoping to emulate the Covid bump that we saw last year, which saw growth in the Northern Irish grocery market accelerate to 12.9% in the 52 weeks to December 27 2020.

Meanwhile, the lead up to Christmas proved unusually busy, with sales surging by 14.8% in the 12 weeks to December 27 as families navigated constantly changing restrictions and turned to the supermarket to provide some sorely needed festive cheer.

Store cupboard snacks

Over the next month or so, consumers will be seeking out extra comfort during the festive season and finding pleasure in the innocent delights of the selection box.

Last year sales of treats like ice cream, crisps, chocolate, sweets and nuts all surged in the run-up to Christmas, and we can expect a similar pattern this year – Halloween have shown us the shape of things to come with sales of confectionery growing by 5.4%.

Many retailers are reporting brisk sales a little earlier than usual as shoppers stock up ahead of time on store-cupboard treats like boxes of biscuits and tubs of chocolates.

“Everyone’s anxious about the ongoing pandemic and potential lockdown, so we’ve found it’s definitely affected shopping habits and seen a lot of customers stocking up early on key lines,” says Emma Rice, marketing manager at Springisland Supermarket in Coalisland.

Meanwhile, Kieran Sloan, managing director of Sawers Belfast, says the Christmas rush came earlier this year.

“We’re seeing a different trend. Usually in October people are going around browsing, but this time they are browsing and buying, so we’ve had to up our orders,” he says.

Festive feasts

Last year, with the Christmas restrictions on family gatherings, there were fewer seats round the table and that had a definite impact on the big Christmas dinner menu, with sales of turkey declining by 1.4%, according to Kantar.

The company also reported that sales of lamb were down by 12.8% and roast beef sales dropped by 0.3%.

But with fewer signs of last-minute restrictions in sight this time round, it seems unlikely that this year will replicate that pattern, and we can expect families who missed out on their traditional Christmas last year to splash out on the big roast and all the trimmings, especially as the very welcome Spend Local cards arrived just in time to invest in the Christmas meat package deals at our high street butchers’ shops.

In fact, with most people staying put instead of jetting off elsewhere, we can expect increases in the big Christmas feasts, the foods that typically fill our plates, along with the drinks and snacks we munch on into the evening time.

According to polls, roast potatoes are consumers’ favourite savoury Christmas food, followed by traditional turkey. Yorkshire puddings, pigs in blankets and stuffing are also hugely popular, while most would happily leave cranberry sauce and Brussels sprouts off their plates.

Yuletide cheer

Christmas often has a double pronged approach to indulgence, with families curling up on the sofa to feast on chocolates from a tub while revellers head to the pub to toast the season.

While some hospitality restrictions have returned, we’ll still be seeing office parties and Christmas nights out, but we can still expect to see plenty of customers recreating the party atmosphere at home.

Last Christmas, with the closure of bars and restaurants, alcohol was top of the shopping list, with sales growing up 36.7% to add £100 million to the total market, and as we grow more accustomed to the new normal, we can expect lots of clinking of glasses around the fire.

We can also expect to see an increase in demand for alcohol-free alternatives, with consumption expected to grow 31% by 2024, according to the IWSR.

Over 2019/20, the no/low spirits category increased volume sales by +32.7%, and it is this segment that the IWSR expects to grow most rapidly from 2020 to 2024, with a CAGR of 14%. There are enticing new products coming onto the market all the time, from zero Guinness to light new gin alternatives.

Indulgent treats

When it comes to sweet treats, it’s mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and classic trifle that are consumers’ favourites.

We can also expect to see lots of that party food coming home as well, with customers alternating the big roasts and feasts with simple and festive treats, such as the ever popular cocktail sausages, mini sausage rolls, mini quiches, mince pies, garlic mushrooms, cheese platters and chicken goujons that prove ever popular.


Sales of over the counter medicines are expected to increase as shoppers aim to stay well over the festive period.

Consumers will stock up on heartburn and indigestion remedies in a bid to beat the inevitable overindulgence and they’ll also look to painkillers to help soothe any hungover heads or aches and pains.

We’re already seeing people focusing firmly on their health, with remedies for coughs and colds rising in October thanks to more mixing and socialising and a rise in seasonal bugs.

Sales of flu treatments soared by 56% and cough lozenges by 36% respectively in October.