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Retailers can traditionally count on the tills ringing in the festive season, with consumers indulging in foodie delights for parties, reunions and gatherings with friends and family. And after Covid-19 threw a wrench into shoppers’ party plans in 2020, retailers shouldn’t be afraid to go big this year. “We are heading into one of the most anticipated festive periods in recent history after missing Christmas in 2020,” explains Lewis Bowen, strategic group director of Babco UK. “The whole country wants to celebrate more than ever before with loved ones, and they want to do it in style. This festive season is going to see a huge focus on premium food and drink products, with people wanting to spoil themselves and others,” Lewis adds. “It’s a great opportunity for upselling and promoting premium products.”
Predictions of a rejuvenated festive party season will be music to the ears of the fine food industry, who are year-round purveyors of all things edible and indulgent. With consumers prepared to upgrade from the typical fare this year, retailers should look to luxury to satisfy the growing demands for memorable and impressive food and drink. However, with Covid-19 still in our lives, catering for flexible arrangements will once again be key.
“People will want to impress with little luxuries, special treats and impressive centre pieces,” says Matt Whelan, managing director at Fieldfare, a specialist in frozen food. “At the same time, they want convenience, so we believe that retailers would do well to stock up on products that will impress, but are simple to prepare and offer flexibility,” he says. “Flexibility is king.” Frozen food products, which have a long shelf life, or grab-and-go hampers stocked with convenient selections at multiple sizes and price points, offer customers easy ways to satisfy their indulgent side, whether they are entertaining close-knit gatherings or large groups.
“Most people like to be prepared at Christmas to prevent a last-minute panic, but they also like to have flexibility so they can plan for the unexpected. This is where the freezer is definitely your friend,” Matt adds. For instance, Fieldfare’s ‘pick your own’ product offering allows customers to personalise the size of their purchase. “Whether you are entertaining two or 20 people, with our unique offer, you can pick as much as you want but no more than you need,” Matt explains. “Dishes such as our award-winning Coquilles St Jacques makes for a very impressive starter, yet it’s so simple to prepare and individually portioned, so you only prepare as many as you need,” he explains. “Our Mini Swirls or Maple and Bacon Sausage Rolls – which can be cut in half for a substantial nibble – are perfect with champagne before the Christmas dinner. Impressive, delicious and convenient.” Indeed, stocking these triple-threat products that make consumers’ lives simpler around the hectic party season is a sure-fire way to win loyalty for the new year.
While indulgent recipes are as popular as ever, luxury on its own isn’t enough. This year, consumers are prioritising products that offer a nod to sustainability and provenance. With a growing focus on healthy and clean-label brands, conscious indulgence is typically the name of the game; however, at Christmastime, consumers will allow permissible treats, too. “Sweet treats are perfect at a festive party,” says Nancy Mercala, brand marketing manager at cake maker Cakehead. “For one, diets go out the window during Christmas, and it is most definitely the time to indulge. Since last Christmas didn’t go to plan for us all, everyone will be excited this year for gatherings with friends and family,” she says.
High-quality ingredients and artisan mastery offer the premium edge that consumers crave when they visit farm shops and delis. “Sweet treats like ours are perfect to spread some happiness this festive season, with every bite bringing you joy,” Nancy continues. “We lavishly hand paddle the chocolate on top of our products in an artisanal way, and each bake is handpicked and handcrafted by our fantastic team in our cakery based in Oakham. We even make our own indulgent caramel using our secret recipe,” Nancy says.
Another way that independent retailers can stand out is through a carefully curated international range, the likes of which specialist distributors can provide, as Paul Garrod, managing director of Skoulikas Bedford, explains. “With our passion and love of Italian food, we bring together a selection of authentic and traditional speciality products, carefully sourced and created using only the finest ingredients offering exceptional indulgent flavours and elegant presentation for gifting,” he says. The group’s portfolio includes its own-brand Pasticceria Venezia, which has launched several vegan-friendly and gluten-free panettones, as well as Italian brands. “By working closely with some of Italy’s premier confectioners and bakers, such as Fraccaro, Lazzaroni, Melegatti and Baci Perugina, we are sure that our distinctive range will offer customers much festive cheer!”
Clare Gibson, marketing director at beverage maker ICB adds her voice to those predicting a renewal of the festive spirit for Christmas 2021: “People are more likely to go all out on their food and drinks this year, having more, and bigger, gatherings with friends and family,” she says. But with exciting new brands and products launching all the time, how do retailers choose where to draw the line between tradition and innovation? Claire believes it is important that retailers stock “exciting, innovative and seasonal flavours – those that offer a sense of nostalgia and comfort which continues to be a trend within the industry”. For example, the flavour chocolate orange, which pops up everywhere from chocolatey spreads to gin liqueurs. “The chocolate orange flavour combination is one that is commonly associated with the Christmas period as a timeless classic, serving to bring back warm memories of previous years and catering to consumer trends,” she explains.
Fieldfare’s Matt agrees that traditional recipes which bring an element of innovation will perform well this party season. “Nostalgia will play a big part this year, but there will also be a strong emphasis on individual choice and flexibility,” he says. “We expect to see many trifles, pavlovas and Christmas puddings made with a special, secret twist making an appearance – we’re excited to share our simple and delicious Layered Cherry and Amaretti Dessert – our modern twist on a trifle!”
This classic-meets-modern approach will also suit the growing ranks of consumers with specialised diets. “There is a continued increase in the number of people choosing meat-free diets, and so many families will also be looking for inspiration for individuals with a special dish,” Matt says. Showcasing free-from versions of classic Christmas dishes could be a great way to cater to customers with dietary requirements.
While there are plenty of new-and-improved products ready for retailers’ shelves, the mainstays of the Christmas feast will always be in demand. From Brussels sprouts to Christmas puddings – each element is essential to the party spread. Products that bring these classic Christmas flavours with the quality, provenance and impressive look that fine food retailers are known for will tick all of the boxes. “Catering for loved ones will be top of Christmas lists, and the centrepiece of the festive feast will be the cheeseboard,” says Sandra Bell, marketing manager at Wensleydale Creamery. “Grazing over an indulgent cheeseboard is an age-old Christmas tradition and it will continue to sit pride of place at Christmas gatherings. As well as honouring the classic flavours, bringing exciting and innovative festive flavour profiles to consumers will be key,” she continues.
Sandra agrees that blending classic flavours with innovative accompaniments is a recipe for success. “Today’s party food offering needs to impress – in flavour and aesthetics – which means combining more nostalgic, traditional favourite cheeses like Yorkshire Wensleydale & Cranberries, with more intriguing, limited edition festive flavours, such as Yorkshire Wensleydale Winter Warmer, Mince Pie or Orange & Champagne,” she says. From brand new products to classic must-haves – and everything in between – customers’ Christmas shopping lists will be packed with inspiring food and drink to set off the 2021 party season with a bang.