A taste for life’s little luxuries at Christmas can come at a discount

Lobster from Lidl, antipasti from Aldi — 2015 has been a discount Christmas for the Cooper Jones family. And it’s gone really well. Even before the Big Day, I’d consumed three packets of Aldi Florentines at £1.99 per 170g box, almost half the price of Morrisons’ version.

A taste for life’s little luxuries at Christmas can come at a discount

Over Christmas and the new year, the Big Four supermarkets have tended to do better than the discounters as Britons go for luxury and ignore expense. Aldi and Lidl, however, want some of that seasonal extravagance.

It can be seen in their Christmas adverts. Aldi’s “Favourite Things” ad featured champagne, goose and a five-bird roast. Lidl’s “School of Christmas” spotlighted the £4.99 lobster that we had on Christmas Eve. It was delicious and cost significantly less than two raw lobster tails (not a whole lobster) from Sainsbury’s at £18.

Lidl and Aldi have stores, for example, in Kingston and Guildford, areas where the average house price is around half a million pounds. The discounters are targeting the wealthy.

Both companies are German and privately owned and so do not give out much financial information. I did ask them both about Christmas trading. Lidl confirmed that “sales of our luxury goods have really grown over the last year and items from our Deluxe range like . . . the dressed crab have been flying off the shelves”. Aldi pointed to a survey from The Grocer magazine, which showed that 8 per cent of Britons were planning to go to Aldi for their main Christmas shop and 24 per cent for some of it.

Aldi has only a 5.6 per cent share of the UK grocery market and looks, therefore, to be punching well above its weight for the festive period. Aldi added that “sales during the first part of this month show customers are trading up and purchasing more premium products, particularly from our Specially Selected seasonal range”.

Last year, after a boozy Christmas lunch in Covent Garden, I bought my Christmas panettonne at Carluccio’s for around £15 (this year it’s £16.95 for 1kg cake). It was a lovely shopping experience — copious red ribbon bows, fairy lights and classical Christmas music. Rummaging through the week’s special offer bins at Aldi and Lidl reminds me of the jumble sales of my childhood. Even so, this year I bought the £3.99 Lidl panettonne, which tasted just as good as the Carluccio’s version. I’ll put up with the grimness of discount shops if I can save £13 on only one Italian cake (but also must remember I am less price conscious after a bottle of wine).

How can the discounters offer such low prices? They stock a much narrower range of products that tend to be own-brand, selling from much smaller stores with a flexible workforce that can jump on the till when needed but also can stack shelves.

Aldi believes that this business model enables it to offer consumers at least 15 per cent lower prices than the four big supermarkets. Lidl points to a November Grocer survey where it was found to be 20 per cent cheaper than the nearest supermarket for 33 basic goods.

As a consumer I actually like smaller shops, even if they are grim, because I can walk around one in half an hour. Many times during Christmases past, I have spent frustrating and stressful hours wandering around a cavernous supermarket looking for the last ingredient to some complex recipe from the latest celebrity chef. I no longer bother and go with the discount flow, buying what is available. Thus we try all sorts of new European foods (the mini Stollens are proving very popular).

As new Aldi and Lidl stores opened relatively near me, I went to check them out and realised the massive savings to be had. On my calculations, I save between 20 per cent and 50 per cent on many products. Regular shopping at both over the past year has convinced me of the quality and so, for the first time, I did all my luxury festive shopping at Aldi and Lidl this year. I went to Tesco only for the basics and heavy stuff because I can order online and get it delivered. That is a reversal — basics from Tesco and decadence from discounters.

Market share data from Kantar Worldpanel show the two discounters accounting for 10 per cent of the UK grocery market. Extraordinarily, only five years ago Aldi and Lidl took just over 5 per cent.

In Germany, 40 per cent of total food sales are through the discounters, according to the Economic and Price Monitoring Bureau. Aldi and Lidl could easily increase their British market share significantly from here.

This year the Cooper Jones’s also finally succumbed to the Christmas jumper trend — but only because they were so cheap at Aldi. My son’s cost £5.99, my mum’s, my daughter’s and my husband’s all cost £7.99 each and I went extravagant with a fluffy red robin one for me that cost £10.99. All five of us woolied up for the festivities for a total of £40.95. I call this the Ikea affect. That stuff is so cheap I end up spending more than usual and buying things I would not normally purchase (this effect has also left me with an abundance of food, cake in particular — we will be eating leftovers for some time).

Buying cheap jumpers also persuades me to spend £50 on a bottle of whisky for my husband. I would never spend this much on whisky, but do so because I think I am getting a bargain. I have no proof this is the case. I have no idea what a 28-year-old Speyside malt costs. But I trust Lidl that it is a great deal, because other things they sell are.

So what went less well with my discount Christmas?

The Aldi Christmas tree may have cost only £19.99 but was cheap because its short and skinny. So disappointing, in fact, that I had to go for an emergency trip to Homebase and throw money at the problem and buy the biggest they had. Hence I have ended up with two trees this year, much to the joy of the kitten. And the £9.99 Aldi “premium” real fir wreath was not so — it fell apart and the glue is visible.

Yet the food and drink generally has been excellent. The turkey was not the usual dry-as-the-Sahara affair it has been frequently in the past. The bottle of fake Baileys is already almost empty.

So how much money have I saved? Well, I don’t think I have spent less than preceding years, because I take the savings I make and spend them. So this year on Christmas Day we traded up and had a £15 Lidl goose as well as a turkey crown. And the golden-topped Aldi Christmas pud was washed down with a £25 bottle of ice wine (I never spend more than £15 on a bottle of wine, even if it has bubbles in it).

So for the Cooper Joneses, shopping at the discounters has had the perverse effect of actually making us posher. Roll on New Year’s (Discount) Eve.