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The holidays are just around the corner, and now is the time when consumers might start thinking about buying Christmas gifts for their friends and family ahead of the big day.
But with non-essential retailers in England closed for weeks to come, shopping options are more limited than usual. Even before the country’s second lockdown began in early November, a survey by the Fashion Retail Academy found that food and drink items will be among the most popular gifts this year, with 40% of people saying they will buy edible goods for their family.
Indeed, recent insights from Nielsen reveal that holiday spending and gift etiquette will be redefined this year. “To meet this shift, look at the broadened assortment of what consumers might consider ‘giftable’ as an opportunity rather than a limitation,” the market research company wrote in a blog. “The door is open for non-festive categories to perform strongly this season. From a necessity that can no longer fit the budget, to a product that has been harder to get in stores this year, the definition of a ‘gift’ will look very different this year.”
This trend will come as welcome news to fine food retailers. In fact, Rob Copley, chairman of the Farm Retail Association, told Speciality Food that the rise the group has seen in customers trying new foods and cooking more at home during lockdown is not going away. “We’re certain this will extend into Christmas gifting,” he said.
“Farm shops are the perfect place to pick up more high-end or difficult-to-come-by food products – things you wouldn’t find in the ‘normal’ high street store,” Rob explained. “The public are appreciating the simple pleasures in life – enjoying fine food and drink with those you love is a priceless gift this year”.
Aatin Anadkat, co-founder of vegan online cake company Positive Bakes, has seen a similar trend, with customers keen to send cakes to friends and family on special occasions. “It’s something we’ve seen the rise of over the last six, seven months, and it doesn’t seem to be a trend that we see stopping.” Originally having planned to supply the foodservice sector, Aatin said he noticed an upsurge in people using the brand’s direct-to-consumer site to send cakes to their loved ones. “We took the lead from there and ran with it,” he said.
With a high repeat order rate, Aatin said these gifts are not a one-off. “People have accepted that this is a great way of staying in touch and socialising in 2020. In the build up to Christmas, we’re seeing the same kind of trend. It stands to reason if people aren’t eating out and not spending disposable income on restaurants, there may be some disposable income left to spend on nicer things,” he said.
Nielsen’s research echoed this statement. “Access to certain experiences has been limited this year – and may still be during the holidays. Gifts this year could include purchasing a more premium or ‘sought-after’ segment of an everyday item like coffee, for example,” it said.
Those shoppers who are experiencing a tighter budget this year may still find food products to be an enticing gift option. “More risky gifts will give way to those we’re confident will be used and appreciated which is where premium items which are seen as a treat come in,” explained Becky Vale, the marketing director at artisan chutney and condiment maker Tracklements.
Karen Dear, director of operations at the Craft Bakers Association (CBA) said a recent CBA member survey revealed that 81% of bakers predict value for money will be a priority for consumers in the coming weeks and months. “Bakery products can also be an affordable gifting option, which will be an important consideration,” Karen said.
In fact, Niesen found that with many fresh foods experiencing inflated prices, gifts this year could include fresh foods like bakery products that “constrained consumers may not have otherwise been able to afford”.
With consumers still unsure of who they will be able to spend Christmas day with, Becky said that gifts which can suit a number of recipients, be bought ahead of time and won’t be a waste of money if plans change unexpectedly will top the shopping list. “Premium foods with treat appeal and a long shelf life fit those requirements perfectly,” she said.
Tracklements’ own research has also found that the “social and moral compass” of brands is becoming increasingly important - and something for retailers to be conscious of. “To succeed in the current market, brands must fit in with the new conscious consumption and must be seen to show a more holistic approach to community, ethics and integrity. Specialist retailers are seen to play a vital part in this,” Becky said.
Bakeries have a part to play here, according to Karen. “The quality of foods from craft bakeries, which are usually made by hand and often include locally sourced ingredients, offers shoppers the opportunity to give presents with both proven provenance and a great story behind them.”
Aatin agreed that independents should align with consumers’ desires and “fly the flag and champion sustainability” amid the growing movement to support local.
“Local, specialist stores, with their human engagement and ability to offer hand-picked, handmade hampers for their customers are best placed to give the extra special attention to detail which will be on every shopping list this year,” said Becky.
Those speciality retailers that make the most of the edible gifting trend and translate their local credentials to shoppers will find success this Christmas.