The Year Christmas Went ‘Dark’ – Farewell to Seasonal Grocery Shopping as We Know It

Christmas is traditionally not a season for low-fat, low-calorie, low-sodium, or for that matter, low-anything products, but come Christmas 2022, you may suddenly find that you have non-consciously made subtle changes to the overall contents of your Christmas trolley (shopping cart for those in the States). Why is that? Well, if HFSS legislation (for more background on HFSS, click here) is finally passed and the timetable for implementation remains unchanged, 2021 is the last Christmas when retailers can still promote High Fat, Sugar, and Salt products without a care in the world. 

If you have visited a UK retailer since Halloween, you would have come across scenes such as these:

Christmas and holiday-themed endcaps and displays at a U.K. grocery store.

Such special/promotional fixtures have been a key vehicle for retailers and manufacturers to promote their seasonal offering and has been a mechanism that we all – consumers, retailers, and manufacturers alike – have come to rely on. The additional, high visibility space, often combined with promotions, has been a proven way to shift additional volume, but as of 2022, this strategy faces major hurdles in mainstream retail.

So, what can you expect from key seasonal events from Christmas 2022 onwards?

  • More varied range of categories taking this space. Some perhaps with seasonal cues – think of Ground Coffee with Cinnamon flavoring, but potentially also resulting in less prompts to drive shoppers to think of the seasons. Shampoo on a gondola end may not instinctively trigger you to think of Rudolph.
  • Healthier formulations of our traditional seasonal fayre. Where products can be reformulated below the nutritional threshold, we may see these being used to drive seasonal impulse shopping, the intended consequence of the regulation.
  • More non-food categories such as gifting and other seasonal accessories being allocated high traffic space, a strategy that remains limited to larger stores with sufficient non-food offerings. Given the ease at which these categories can be bought from some of the e-commerce giants, this approach may not in reality be attractive either for the retailer or the shopper.
  • Greater use of dedicated seasonal ‘Power’aisles where relevant products across categories could be expected to drive even greater impulse purchasing across the entire seasonal range.
  • Lastly, expect to see a seasonal uptick in the use of the allowed temporary price reduction (i.e. X% off) promotions.

The use of dedicated seasonal aisles may be an attractive option for retailers as signage and other visual prompts to signal the presence and location of a special aisle in-store, with both HFSS and non-HFSS products, should not fall foul of the regulation. Regulation would seem to mainly impact on the location of any such aisle, barring it from being at the captive entrance and checkout zones.

Whether this is enough to drive similar levels of seasonal shopping remains to be seen. While the calendar of seasonal events across the year should provide sufficient use of such an aisle across the year, it may need some time to settle into shopper’s routines. Seasons such as Christmas will benefit from a richer variety of cues, like music, to shift consumers off autopilot, but until we have specific barbeque season music, other tricks and tools will need to be found to help navigation to this part of the store.

If you are anything like me, you are wondering if you will ever purchase Heros, Celebrations, or Quality Street tins/tubs again! My typical purchase of this ultimate impulse product has always relied on a tower of tins being within arm’s reach of the door or checkout – a sales location no longer permitted as of October 2022. With comparable location restrictions being applied also to e-commerce, we may as well take advantage of predictable deals today to buy next year’s stock already rather than run the risk of failing to locate any next Christmas.

Stacks of seasonal purple tins of Heros, Celebrations, and Quality Street as a Christmas themed display in a U.K. grocery store

While this may all seem rather UK centric, it may only be a matter of time until results of this experiment are shared more broadly across other similar countries. The UK has already taken the lead on a key WHO initiative on help reduce sugar and calorie intake across WHO member countries.

Enjoy the holiday season – in moderation!


Kai Virtanen is a Vice President of Market Development for Behaviorally (formerly PRS). Kai Virtanen spearheads Behaviorally new business efforts in the UK and, together with his colleagues, across the rest of Europe. 

While reasonably new to the Behaviorally business, he has been working with the FMCG industry, uncovering shopper challenges across the globe, for over two decades. His pet peeve as far as shopper marketing is concerned is good intentions failed by poor execution, something that means he does most of his shopping online these days mainly to avoid being caught reorganizing shelves at his local supermarket.  

Connect with him on LinkedIn. 

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