Which retailer won the battle for Britain’s Christmas food shop?

January 18, 2016 by Leela Bozonelis

The past 12 months have been a difficult time for the big four UK supermarkets.  Increasingly threatened by discount grocers, they have seen market share and profits diminish.  Tesco announced it biggest loss ever in April 2015 and Sainsbury's announced its first loss for a decade just one month later. Despite the popular TV advertisements, Christmas 2015 threatened to be a major indicator for the traditional supermarkets of their road back to profitability.  So who did well out of Christmas 2015?  We decided to look at the winners and losers, not only focussing on the financial results but also the media profile they received in the run up to Christmas 2015.

Online and print news coverage follows a similar pattern

Between them, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons received more than 5,500 online and offline references in the UK media in the three months to mid-January 2016.  Sainsbury's and Morrisons led the way with more than half of all media references, whilst Asda was referenced in the media least – with little more than 10% of all mentions.
Perhaps surprisingly, the big four supermarkets all had a very similar mix of online versus offline profile, with each of the top four seeing between 34% and 38% of their media profile online whilst the lion's share was in print.  In contrast, discounter Aldi received more than 45% of all media profile online.  In such a competitive market it is surprising that none of the big four supermarkets are focussing more closely on blogs and other online news sites to build brand awareness.

Perhaps less surprising is the reliance of the top four supermarkets on disseminating news via newswires: as publically traded companies the big four are obliged to deliver news in this traditional way, with around 20% of all media profile coming from newswires.

Who had the largest slice of the share of voice pie?
Media references are often passing mentions around other media stories.  For example, a news item about the growth of the discount retailers may briefly reference the big four supermarkets by name.  We therefore decided to combine the Nexis database of thousands of sources of trusted news with Nexis Analyser to see what could be gleaned from the volume of media stories that included a reference to one of the top four supermarkets but not its competitors.  This gives a better indication of which companies are being most proactive in the run up to the festive season.


Of the 1344 national news articles written across the three months about one of the companies but not the others, almost half were about Tesco.  This peaked in late November around the Black Friday discounting event where Tesco dominated media profile, as can be seen in the graph above.  

In fact more than 80% of all media profile during the Christmas period referenced either Tesco or Sainsbury's, despite the fact that the two companies' combined market share stands at 60%.  Asda and Morrisons meanwhile struggled to generate any level of brand interest, generating only 16% of the media profile between them, despite having almost 40% market share.

Results confound expectations
Financially, it was a happy Christmas for the big four – or at least happier than anticipated.  Morrisons and Tesco posted growth in like-for-like sales, whilst Sainsbury's sales fell but not as much as expected.  

The big loser financially was also the company with the lowest media profile in the run up to Christmas: Asda's sales slumped by 3.5% in the three month period, largely losing out to the discounters Aldi and Lidl.  Asda's tiny share of media profile at 5% of all references to the top four in the media may not have been the primary reason for this slump, but it certainly did not help raise the company's profile at a time when its competitors were dominating share of media voice.

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