BRACKNELL: Grocery sales in the UK's major supermarkets were flat during the Christmas period and that was only because of a late surge in sales of alcohol and chocolate, according to new data.

An analysis of sales data by market and shopper intelligence firm IRI found that total sales across 12 Christmas super-sectors for the six-week trading period from mid-November to December 27 amounted to £4.07bn, a decline of 0.2% on the same period a year earlier.

A rise in sales of alcohol and chocolate contributed most to the upturn, with liqueurs and spirits performing best, but, said IRI, these sectors showed little year-on-year growth over the six-week period.

Over the six weeks, sales of non-cream liqueurs were up 4.5% while cream versions increased 2.3%. After-dinner confectionery grew 2.3%.

Of the 27 individual Christmas categories measured only six increased their sales. In addition to the above three, UK consumers also spent more on dates (+18.2%), Yorkshire puddings (+2.8%) and white fats (+0.8%).

Sales of turkey/chicken and beef, gammon and bacon in the final two weeks were down on 2013, although IRI noted that stock, stuffing and gravy grew, suggesting that consumers were not cutting down on meat but simply buying it outside of the leading supermarkets.

And since IRI data does not include information from discounters such as Aldi and Lidl, the implication is that more people were opting to shop there in a continuation of a trend seen throughout the year.

The worst-performing sector over the six-week trading period was frozen desserts and cream at -6.9%, with poultry close behind at -5.2%.

Cards, crackers and decorations performed best, with sales increasing 5.8%, and seasonal cakes, puddings and pies gained 1.6%.

The top performing grocery category overall in the supermarkets for the six weeks of Christmas, measured by absolute sales growth, was sparkling wine which grew by £25.4m. The worst performing was potatoes, on which consumers spent £28.7m less

Data sourced from IRI; additional content by Warc staff