Christmas with the icons

02 October 2020, 11:17 AM
  • Ellen Manning speaks to three destination retailers to find out how they’re doing things differently this festive season
Christmas with the icons

Christmas is a key time for food and drink retailers of all shapes and sizes, with many planning their festive offering months in advance. For most, Christmas 2020 will be different to previous years as businesses adapt to post-Covid circumstances whilst also trying to redress the balance sheet after an unbelievably difficult year. For some of the UK’s most iconic food and drink retailers preparations are underway, with a whole raft of changes hoped to attract consumers as well as give them some much-needed Christmas cheer.

Moving online
For award-winning organic specialists Daylesford, little has changed from a farming point of view, with the focus during the festive season remaining on celebrating the seasonal produce from its farm and the farming community as a whole, with beautiful tablescapes as the centre-point of gathered families. However, some things have changed, with much of the brand’s ‘Christmas in July’ activity moved online due to current restrictions. “Normally we would host a preview event for press and influencers to view our Christmas range,” says a spokesperson. “This year we have created a digital version of this experience, with imagery and videos bringing the range to life, accompanied by Christmas treats sent through the mail.”

As shopping habits have changed, so too has the way the business engages with consumers. “We had an online shop with a range focussed more on gifting than a weekly grocery shop,” the spokesperson says. “Our key focus was on our bricks-and-mortar farm shops and cafés in London and the Cotswolds. This changed very quickly and with many customers unable to get to our stores, we added hundreds of new products to be available to online shoppers such as fresh organic fruit and vegetables and veg boxes, larder staples, cleaning products, gardening items and homeware. We saw sales grow exponentially during this time when it was a challenge to get groceries delivered.”

The future remains uncertain, but consumers are still searching for unique experiences, making experiential gift vouchers an ideal Christmas present. “Giving someone a special experience is a way to encourage a new hobby, nurturing existing interests, or indulging in blissful pampering – and can be the most thoughtful and sustainable presents,” adds the spokesperson, and it’s something Daylesford can cater for, with a dedicated team on hand to put together bespoke experiences including overnight stays in the Cotswolds, treatments at the wellness spa, dining arrangements, floristry and cookery school workshops. “At the same time, we are continuing to invest in creating a world class e0commerce store; building awareness of Daylesford to new customers and encouraging existing customers back with an extended offering and seamless online shopping experience.”

The award-winning North Wales Rhug Estate Organic Farm has also adapted to a Christmas that is set to be slightly different, gearing up with a new, easier-to-navigate website due to launch in September as well as offering more online boxes including a Christmas box and New Year’s box packed with luxury items to get families through those periods. “We have launched a brand new website for WILD BEAUTY skin care and are in the process of creating a fresh, new looking website for Rhug, says Sarah Jones. “Products that were previously only available in our farm shop are now available to buy on our website and have delivered so as to give our customers a more comprehensive range to choose from online. With the new website we will be looking at gaining more online orders rather than relying on our wholesale sales as sadly our hotel and restaurant customers are not as busy at the moment. In addition we will be focusing on ready-made gift boxes and combinations for our new WILD BEAUTY skin and body care collection.”

At London’s family-run fine food store Partridges, the offering has also evolved. “We are approaching Christmas with a large amount of trepidation but with some degree of hope,” says managing director John Shepherd. “The past few months have been so full of uncertainty that Christmas trading is extremely difficult to call.” The company, which has branches in Sloane Square and Kensington, has invested more time in online channels ahead of Christmas, says Shepherd, adding: “We have several delivery platforms up and running which is essential in Central London, and we produce an online Christmas catalogue.”

Christmas cheer
The shift to online makes perfect sense given the effects of lockdown and continuing coronavirus restrictions, but retailers are also recognising that - rules permitting - many customers will still want to enjoy a bit of Christmas cheer in person.

It’s something Daylesford will aim to provide, with plans to transform farm shops with seasonal decorations and floral arrangements. “We think that this year people will want Christmas to feel even more special and focussed on family than normal,” adds the spokesperson. “We are hoping to host the special festive events we are known for, in line with the safety guidelines – including carol singing, Father Christmas and his reindeer visiting the farm, special shopping events, Festive Floristry & Wreath Making, Seasonal Craft and Wellness Workshops and Food & Drink Masterclasses.” With adaptations and extra safety measures to Daylesford’s Bamford Wellness Spa, Cookery School and Floristry workshop spaces, as well as its cafés and cottages reopening, the business is optimistic that people will enjoy visiting as a destination for shopping, wellbeing and eating as they have previously.

At Partridges, changes are also underway. “We are reconfiguring the shop floor layout to create a Christmas shop within a shop with some external activity planned as well,” says Shepherd, who says they are also reducing some displays to help customer flow. “We are planning to extend the outdoor market we run to enhance the Christmas theme. High footfall indoors obviously will need to be managed very carefully, but we have long opening hours seven days a week to give customers as much flexibility with shopping as possible.”

At Rhug, the added effort put into its online offering doesn’t mean it won’t be offering the same in-person experience. Jones says the same high quality products and personal care and attention from staff that make it stand out as a great shopping and eating experience will make it as attractive a destination for Christmas 2020 as in previous years. The estate’s farm shop will be stocked with present ideas and it is also planning late-night shopping incentives for customers and loyalty members. “This year Father Christmas will visit Rhug again and our new concept Rhug Café will provide a comfortable place for families to visit in the run up to Christmas,” adds Jones. “We have gained a lot of new online customers thanks to Covid-19 and we hope now that more restrictions are being lifted that they are able to make the journey to visit us in the near future, and of course, in the run-up to Christmas.”

Lessons learned
There is no doubt that Christmas 2020 will be a different experience for both retailers and consumers. And like their smaller counterparts, the big-name retailers are ending the year with plenty of lessons under their belt courtesy of coronavirus. From catering for a rapidly-changing situation to seeing what really matters to consumers when it comes to food and drink, many are taking those lessons forward.

“Lockdown really shifted our relationship with food and the value we place on it – those early days when shelves were empty and getting groceries delivered was a challenge was a real eye-opener for many people,” says Daylesford’s spokesperson. “People are now more conscious of where their food comes from and are keen both to safeguard their health by eating well and also to support farmers, growers and suppliers they can trust. Taking time to seek out growers and producers whose supply chains are fully transparent and traceable is worthwhile in many ways – for your own health, the nation’s wellbeing and for the long-term protection of our precious wildlife, landscape and environment. As we prepare for Christmas, we are urging shoppers to reflect and choose wisely. Everyday shopping choices really do matter; we can be aware of our individual impact and resolve to take every opportunity to support local, seasonal food production by buying from British farmers with sustainable values and ethical practices.”

For Shepherd, the coronavirus crisis showed how important food is for people and the loyalty of customers is perhaps behind some of his optimism for the festive season. He says lockdown taught the business “how a local food shop can be a very important part of the local community not just in terms of selling food and wine but also in engendering a community spirit.” He adds: “We have suffered from a lack of passing trade and tourists but it is good to be reminded there is a solid base of local and loyal shoppers.”

Equally, Covid-19 saw Rhug become far more than just a food shop for many customers struggling with such unprecedented times. “Through lockdown we have learnt how important it is for people to be able to have the convenience of shopping online and having home deliveries,” says Jones. “We went a step further and for those of our regular customers who were shopping online for the first time or unable to visit, we wanted to help them through the difficult times and give them reassurance that there was someone out there who will pick up the phone and help them though an order process, and give that person contact they needed in times when they were isolated from the outside world.” With a small and dedicated team, Rhug could genuinely help customers, adds Jones, summarising with a phrase many of the country’s iconic retailers would agree are central to what they do, whether that be in person or online, throughout the year or during the festive season. “It is all to do with the best possible shopping experience.”

Image: Daylesford

Speciality Food Daily Briefing

Stay connected and receive the latest news, analysis and insights from our industry's top commentators