“How was Christmas 2017 trading?”

It is of course very easy to distort trading forecasts and results with personal opinions, and Christmas trading pronouncements should always be taken with a pinch of salt. However, on the basis that this has never held us back in the past, here goes for Christmas 2017

Our own forecast prior to last Christmas, and one that was incidentally shared by several colleagues in the trade, was that 2017 was not going to be a vintage Christmas. Brexit, world tensions, price increases, local building works, the fact that none of us are getting any younger and increased local competition were the main factors for our anxiety. Yet, fortuitously, we had our best ever 24 pre-Christmas days, climbing 1.9% from the peak of last year. Indeed for the 13 weeks of the December quarter we were up 2.9%. I am still not too sure how this happened considering the background noise of negativity on the high street. What it actually means, bearing in mind the inflation rate in food is currently running at around 4%, is that it may not, in fact, be much to write home about.

The main area of improvement for us occurred online, with a threefold increase year on year and hampers and gifts showing a 16% increase – which is pleasing considering in recent times this has been a weaker area for us. Continuing the positive theme, fruit and veg was up 13%, delicatessen up 11% and wines up 9%. Our weakest area was revenue from the outdoor food market which was down due to a reduction in size caused by the aforementioned local building works.

Since 1995, when I started keeping annual records in a place where I can actually find them, the inflation rate in food has averaged around 2.54% annually. Since that time our Christmas sales have in fact been up annually by about 3.77%. Which serves as a reminder, if we needed one, of the ever-vital importance of Christmas trading for independent food shops.

In terms of best-selling lines, reassuringly, the usual suspects came to the fore. Hams, wines, smoked salmon and cheese all played their part. Chocolate Olivers still show signs of rude health as do elvas plums, stollen, marrons glaces and crystallized ginger. Turkish delight wobbled as did boxed chocolates. Our own individual mince pies went well but Christmas puddings need a makeover fast. Panettone is becoming the new Christmas pudding, perhaps? We now sell over 25 different types! My two favourite products of the season were firstly our own-label Chelsea Flower Gin which kept on selling throughout the year, and secondly Baghi’s various delicious Panettone-style concoctions in jars.

Another great worry of Christmas trading is how much stock never makes it into a customer’s basket. Christmas crackers, puddings, crystallized ginger, mincemeat and brandy butter lose a lot of dignity when reduced to clear on December 27th. However, thankfully there were no particular nightmares in this area either. We sold out of most things. As one member of staff put it “Elvas have left the building”. All in all, Christmas 17 was not too bad.

As for 2018, it's time for a few new ideas and a mini upgrade around the shop – more of that later.

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