Sales 'Surprise' Coming for the Holidays in Food, Beverage Categories

Nielsen shopping survey expects 2.3% dollar sales uptick to add $100 billion to U.S. economy

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. -- Higher consumer confidence levels, increased impulse buying and consumer intent to spend more could all lead to an upside surprise in 2012 holiday spending, according to Nielsen analyses.

For sales in 89 categories across five key departments (food, beverages, alcohol, health/beauty and homecare), Nielsen is forecasting spending for November and December, 2012 to reach $98.3 billion. Nielsen expects dollar sales to increase 2.3% and unit sales to remain generally flat (0.1%).

"With nearly a quarter of consumers indicating they have already started their holiday shopping by mid-September, I expect 'pragmatic enthusiasm' to inch spending levels higher than last year," said James Russo, vice president of global consumer insights at New York-based Nielsen. "Overall, this could be a season to celebrate. Nielsen's Consumer Confidence Index is the highest since before the recession. Planned shopping-list usage is down so impulse buying could be up, and shoppers across the income spectrum say they plan to spend more in multiple areas."

Within the five departments and 89 categories examined, items projected to do well over the holidays include:

  • Alcoholic Beverages: Wine is expected to lead the category with 6% dollar and unit growth, followed closely by liquor and beer rounding out the top three with 3% gains.
  • Food: The continued success of fresh produce (expected holiday sales and unit growth of 4.6% and 3.7% respectively) seems to signal more health-conscious consumers and home cooking this holiday season. Traditionally popular holiday food categories could do well also, including nuts (7.5% dollar growth and 15.1% unit growth) and jams/jellies/spreads (7.1% dollar and 1.1% unit growth expected).
  • Beverages: Coffee will lead all beverages with 10% dollar and 7% unit growth, but bottled water could have above-average dollar (4.4%) and unit (3.8%) growth as well.
  • Health & Beauty Aids: Vitamins will be a bright spot in this department with dollar (9%) and unit (9.2%) growth figures better than most items in the five-category analysis. Cosmetics could do well also, with an expected boost of 4.8% dollar and 2.3% unit growth.
  • Homecare: Pet care will be the darling of the category with "spare-no-expense" pet owners expected to drive 5.9% dollar and 3.1% unit growth. The rest of home care, including cleaning and households products--even holiday wrapping paper--will see modest, price-driven dollar gains and unit sales declines.

Most respondents from all incomes identified $100 to $250 as the ideal spending range for holiday food and household items. Gift-giving spending estimates hovered in the $250 to $500 range.

On the topic of gift-giving plans, Nielsen's Holiday Shopping Survey revealed gift cards and technology products tied for the lead (11% each) as products respondents plan to spend more on this year. Except for jewelry, every category including toys, apparel, video games, books, cookware/kitchen and sporting goods showed modest improvements in consumer plans to buy more than in years past.

The number of respondents saying they plan to spend more with online retailers leads all channels at 18%, up from almost 13% last year. Consumers saying they will spend more at mass merchandisers doubled this year to 12% in 2012, from 6% in 2011 and 2010.

Although almost six out of every 10 consumers (59%) reported plans to spend the same as last year, there is a 10-point drop (from 37% in 2011 to 27% in 2012) in the number of people expecting to spend less; 8% of respondents reported plans to spend more this holiday season, up from 5% in 2011 and 2010.

Nielsen's survey of more than 25,000 demographically representative households throughout the U.S. was fielded in mid-September, 2012. Weekly consumer surveys of 1,100 shoppers, beginning the week of September 10, tracks planned spending for the holiday season. Nielsen sales forecasts are derived from an analysis of 89 categories across the five departments using Nielsen Scantrack-syndicated data. Forecasting is for November and December 2012.