Christmas share of voice; Which categories won Christmas 2017 online?

Main findings

  • Retailers need to understand the language of their shoppers at Christmas and the deeper needs that drive their meanings, then help to refine their search
  • Brands should contextualise their keywords to cut through Own Label dominance
  • Key categories should upweight their focus on eCommerce at Christmas to stay ahead of competitors

Out of the big four, Kantar reported Tesco to have outperformed the market over Christmas with a +3.1% sales rise, Sainsbury’s grew +2.0% and lost share as Asda grew +2.2%. However, Morrisons were the standout performer where like-for-like sales were concerned and Ocado more than doubled the rate of market growth with an increase +8.4%.  As online grocery continued to grow ahead of in-store (+4.9% yoy), making eCommerce a high priority for Sales and Marketing teams, E Fundamentals wanted to see whether brands and retailers were optimising this growing channel during the key trading period. 

From mid-December (on or around last online orders for Christmas delivery) we analysed the top three food related Christmas search engine keywords (according to Google) in six UK online retailers; Sainsburys, Asda, Tesco, Ocado, Morrisons and Waitrose.

These keywords were:

  • Christmas Dinner
  • Christmas Food
  • Christmas Party Food

Some of the results were as expected and others perplexing. Are brands doing enough to leverage the British public’s most popular key search terms in online shopping? The results are in. 

Searching for Christmas food online

The highest Christmas meal related search query was “Christmas Dinner” with 110k searches in December, uplifting at weekends and peaking on Christmas day. This suggested that this term was used broadly to search for ideas, inspiration and practical cooking help as well as for shopping ideas and information.



1. searching for christmas food online.JPG

Unfortunately, across retailers websites, the "Christmas Dinner" search largely returned jumbled results, which were a mix of pretty much anything Christmas related, with some household items, books, utensils and pet care items thrown in for good measure. 

Tesco’s search results stopped at five items, with three being pet food, the fourth a party game and the fifth an own label Christmas ready meal for two:

  • Sainsbury’s search comprised confectionery, Christmas ready meals and crackers (to pull, not to eat)
  • Asda focused on Christmas puddings, gift wrap and the ready meal here was a Christmas pizza 
  • Ocado returned only confectionery and candles

Candles arguably have a role in the Christmas meal occasion (perhaps more so than wrapping paper), but is that what the shopper really meant?  

On the other hand, slightly more relevant, the Waitrose search returned a mix of premium party snacks, soup and pate. Alternatively, Morrisons was the only retailer displaying entirely own label products and of the right categories (Meat, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables). CEO David Potts said he accounted Morrison’s success to “improving availability, range and customer service” and this was definitely reflected by their online strategy.  

Out of all the keywords, “Christmas Party Food” was the least searched term and the broader “Christmas Food” which was much more popular.  On grocery sites, the former was a fairly tight ship of Premium and Own Label finger foods or mainstream nibbles, but the latter allowed a range of books, pet foods and storage solutions to appear in key battleground, first page positions.    

Top 5 categories in search results

Given online shoppers are most likely to consider items on page one of the search results, we limited our analysis to a snapshot of the top products returned by each retailer. 

Chilled and frozen party foods dominated the first page, catering to the shoppers desire to turn out an impressive spread whilst spending time with friends and family. Retailers did well to not only put food that is quick and easy to put together at the forefront, but once again it was Own Label that dominated this category. 

*We limited our search to 24 products across all retailers to ensure comparability without clicking through to page two

*We limited our search to 24 products across all retailers to ensure comparability without clicking through to page two


Most of the categories that were visible on first page were as expected however, the inclusion of pet food at 6% across all retailers reinforced the growing need this category has for eCommerce understanding. Pet food manufacturers should prioritise eCommerce and focus on digital marketing campaigns, especially during the holiday seasons. 

Top 5 categories in search

Staging the celebration and overall occasion
As well as ingredients like meat, cheese, poultry and ready made foods, the search returned candles, crackers, napkins, party games and other celebratory items.

Preparing and serving the meal
As well as a range of ingredients and ready made foods, some relevant non-food items, such as utensils and recipe books appeared.

Convenient party preparation
Christmas Party Food returned all food items, mostly ready made, such as tempura, koftas, tartlet, crisps.

Search characteristics; Brand vs Own Label

*IRI Q3 2017

*IRI Q3 2017

Brands had more opportunity to compete in "Christmas Dinner" and "Christmas Food" vs Own Label. However, to cut through the still disproportionate Own Label presence and really stand out, manufacturers needed to focus on selling the benefits well and executing targeted eCommerce strategies over this key trading period to justify price premiums.     



Brand vs Own Label by retailer

Sainsbury’s & Ocado were the two retailers where brands had the biggest presence. However, the products showing up weren’t necessarily the products that would drive value for retailers. For example, despite having a strong brand presence, Sainsburys “Party Foods” category listed snacks such as crisps and nuts with an average price of £2.24 vs Tesco’s £3.30 and Morrisons £4.45, where both retailers focused on finger foods such as tempura, koftas and spring rolls. This would partially account for Tesco and Morrisons success; chilled and ready made items were amongst the most sought after when it came to hosting Christmas parties and gatherings.

The brands in Ocado under “Christmas Dinner” were mostly After “Dinner” Mints; a great example of how important contextual keywords are when it comes to your keyword strategy. Products must be tagged under keywords according to the intention behind the search as opposed to taking each word literally as it is.


Pricing and number of promotions   

Not surprisingly, there was a large proportion of products on promotion during the holiday - a staggering 54% of the first page. Ocado took the lead with having the highest amount (89%) and Asda the least (10%).

Out of our three analysed keywords, it was “Christmas Party Food” that had the highest amount of promotions across all retailers (62%) despite it being the least searched keyword as mentioned above. “Christmas Dinner” had the fewest promotions (38%) and was the most searched and presented the widest product range. There is room here for brands to take advantage of this keyword space and run relevant promotions.   

What retailers strategically did really well was introduce a range of promotions across Own Label that including ‘mix and match’ and ‘buy one and get one free’ to encourage cross selling. This approach would have enabled shoppers to bag all the ingredients / grocery they need for one meal without having to continue shopping around.

*IRI Q3 2017

*IRI Q3 2017


Top brands in search

Overall crisps and confectionery were the most visible categories in search taking up most of the first page. Christmas related brands were mostly nibbles, premium confectionery or pet food and naturally had a higher probability of being visible across most Christmas related keywords. Brands that operate in these categories would have done well to put extra focus on their digital marketing strategy to drive online sales.


Regardless of the amount of share you have in eCommerce, cross checking Kantar’s results with our own research into product representation online, reinforced that those who get online right truly do see the benefit.

However, it had also become apparent that retailers really drove their online channel during Christmas in comparison to the rest of the year. With Christmas shop, promotion and campaigns, there was a massive push towards Own Label to dominate first page.

Moving forward brands will benefit greatly to work with retailers to understand what their shoppers want from a Christmas range, and how to execute their category vision according to shoppers needs.

How are you working with retailers and what are you finding challenging? Let us know below and we can have a quick chat about the most effective approach to grow your categories online...

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Helen Thomas, Insights Manager portriat

Helen Thomas, Insights Manager

Helen has over 15 years of experience in researching consumer insights across the public, private and the third sectors. Prior to E Fundamentals she was part of the CMI team at Heineken where she managed the Off Trade Market and Genius Gluten Free insights. She lives in the Scottish Borders with her two young children and is also the Chairwoman of Border Women’s Aid and the local refuge for women surviving domestic abuse.

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