NI prime livestock prices remain ‘strong’ despite Christmas lockdown sales slump

Northern Ireland turkey, lamb and roast beef sales were down this year as Christmas Covid-19 restrictions meant fewer gatherings over the festive period.

Lamb fared worst from Covid – with sales down by around 12.8% – and, despite being the main event on most Christmas tables, even turkey sales fell 1.4% according to the latest supermarket figures by Kantar.

However, despite lower than typical meat retail sales, Livestock and Meat Commission chief executive Ian Stevenson explained that had not translated into lower farm-gate prices.

“Cattle prices in Northern Ireland have performed strongly over the Christmas period and into early 2021 with the deadweight trade for prime cattle currently at its highest recorded level since 2013.

“The deadweight lamb trade has also strengthened over the Christmas and New Year period with current quotes for R3 grading hoggets around 75p-80p/kg ahead of this time last year.

The UK supermarket trade has been a key driver of red meat sales over this period as consumers spent extra money on groceries that some may have traditionally spent on eating out in pubs, restaurants, cafes and hotels.

“There were some very noticeable trends in household behaviours this festive period with much more online shopping for groceries and many smaller family gatherings opting for less traditional but high-quality meal items, such as beef fillets or steaks.”

Overall supermarket sales increased

Emer Healy, retail analyst at Kantar, said: “Growth in the Northern Irish grocery market accelerated to 12.9% in the 52 weeks to December 27, 2020.

“A remarkable uplift from last Christmas, when growth was just 0.4% year-on-year.

“Sales were stronger again over the most recent 12-week period, rising by 14.8% in the lead up to Christmas.

“Looking back over the course of an extraordinary year, national restrictions and various lockdowns saw shoppers visit supermarkets 18.5 fewer times while average basket sizes jumped by 17% in 2020.

Tesco maintained its position as Northern Ireland’s biggest grocer with 35.2% of the market this period. More than 9 in 10 Northern Irish households visited the store in 2020 to help it grow sales by 11.7%.

“Sainsbury’s saw the second-highest growth of the top four retailers, with sales up by 12.8%. Sainsbury’s shoppers bucked a wider trend of declining footfall and only made one fewer trip than this time last year, aiding growth for the retailer.

“Meanwhile, Asda sales rose by 8.3% this period. The retailer achieved growth through consumers making bigger trips, with basket sizes up 25.6%.

“Lidl, which increased sales by 19.7%, was the only retailer to grow ahead of the market this period. The grocer successfully recruited more shoppers and over three-quarters of the population visited the supermarket at least once in 2020.

Christmas was far from traditional this year and fewer seats around the table meant sales of turkey declined by 1.4% while sales of lamb and roast beef were down by 12.8% and 0.3% respectively.

“There was also a drop in spend on other indulgent categories like cheese, cakes, seasonal biscuits and smoked fish.

“However, shoppers still found small ways to treat themselves and sales of ice cream, crisps, chocolate, sweets, and nuts all grew this period.

“With the closure of bars and restaurants, alcohol was top of the shopping list this Christmas as sales [of wine, beer and lager, and cider] grew by 36.7% to add £100 million to the total market.”