UK grocery sales faded after Englands exit

UK grocery sales faded after England's exit

Now that the football World Cup has come and gone, Tim Eales, director of strategic insight at IRI, examines whether it provided a much-needed boost to UK retailers and food manufacturers, or if England’s early demise meant they lost out too.

The dust has settled on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Some things were as predicted – England didn't last beyond the group stage, penalties meant prizes and Suarez couldn't keep his mouth shut.

For retailers and brands predicted sales were up too. A sports tournament like the World Cup is generally a boost for supermarket sales, especially during a long hot summer and when games are scheduled for evening kick-offs. Shoppers get into the party spirit and spend more on food and drink.

Over the whole period of the tournament, the impact on party food and soft drinks was evident, but the increase in sales was mostly from the first two weeks before England got knocked out. Sales were up over the previous year by over GBP30m in those first two weeks, but by the last week sales were GBP30m lower than the previous year.

Week one of the competition saw the most dramatic effect with the perfect storm of football fever and hot weather putting people in a carnival (and buying) mood. Shoppers filled their baskets with snacks so they could watch the England vs. Italy game on the first Saturday night. The game was not a cause for celebration, but for retailers it meant an extra GBP3m through the supermarket tills.  

Easy-to-eat party food also proved popular with items like coleslaw, dips, quiche (not normally associated with hardened football fans) and sausage rolls benefitting the most, and moving from a year-on-year decline to growth. British shoppers also spent an extra GBP28m on beer and cider during the first week, helping to revive a flagging beer industry, and even soft drinks saw a 17% boost in unit sales.

Some sectors went down, including confectionery, but overall the mood was an optimistic one. But by the second week, the peak sales of most party food couldn’t match the first week. Perhaps England's poor performance was a step too far for most fans, although they did continue to fill up with pizza and bread rolls as well as hot snacks, which benefitted from an earlier kick-off time. Predictably, beer and cider drinkers continued to push up sales by GBP18m compared to the same week last year.

However, things started to go rapidly downhill – and not just on the pitch. Over the next two weeks, the value growth for soft drinks reduced significantly, from 18% in week one to half that figure (9%) in week two and just under 6% in week three. Soft drink sales were GBP5.2m lower in week three of the World Cup than they were in week one. 

Other party food showed the same lacklustre performance of what was a buoyant party-driven trend. Altogether, value sales of bagged snacks, pizza, chilled party snacks, bread rolls, baguettes, coleslaw, chilled salads and dips, were GBP3.3m lower through the major supermarket chains in week three than they were in week one. 

Only Scotch eggs grew by almost 5%, seemingly matching the egg on the faces of the England football team. Bread rolls took one of the biggest hits with unit sales up year-on-year in the first week by 6%, up by 14% in the second week by 14% - but down in the third week down by 2%. Sausage rolls were similarly affected with week three unit sales down year-on-year by 6%.

So what does this tell us about shoppers? Football dictates what we buy and how much of it? The weather has as much to do with sales as penalties and red cards?Our mood dictates what we put in our shopping baskets? All of the above in fact.  

There are a range of factors dictating what consumers buy and the impact on sales. But it's clear that during sporting and seasonal events, retailers and manufacturers need to react immediately and take advantage of opportunities to increase promotional activity and drive awareness and excitement among shoppers. In simple terms, it's about knowing what to put on the shelves and when.

The IRI data, which tracked the week by week impact of the World Cup on sales, suggests certain food categories do well during these times - party food and easy-to-eat snacks in particular - so this is where retailers need to be focusing their efforts. Plus, manufacturers can work with retailers in a more holistic way with instant joint sales planning depending on the previous weeks' results.

So roll on the European Championships in France in 2016. It may be another boom time for retailers - but let’s not hold our breath about England's chances.