How to prepare for Christmas in fine food retail

08 August 2023, 07:00 AM
  • Fine food stores need to put in the groundwork now for a successful festive season
How to prepare for Christmas in fine food retail

We’re well over the halfway mark in 2023 now, which means the inevitable drive towards Christmas is underway, with research, sourcing and buying ongoing across the fine food retail and wholesale industry.

Getting these elements right, selecting stock driven by consumer desires and shopping patterns, is crucial to success. While trends are still on the cusp of emerging for the months ahead, there are some indicators coming through.

Topping the crop is the desire for value – something that’s dominated retail in 2023 as the public and industry grapple with the soaring cost of living.

“Christmas 2022 was no doubt a difficult period for retailers, with significant cutting back from shoppers in comparison to 2021,” says Mintel’s category director for retail insights, Nick Carroll.

And Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium agrees, “Retail’s ‘golden quarter’ is crucial time for the industry, with November and December alone accounting for a fifth of the year’s sales. As with most years, we anticipate an uptick in spending in food and gifts as friends and families come together. However, celebrations might be more subdued this year as squeezed consumers are forced to balance their festive spending with the high cost of living.”

Nick says there are glimpses of positivity through sales data from 2021 and 2022, “The age-old ability of UK consumers to put aside economic background to celebrate did shine through, and in many ways, it was a far more positive period than was expected. Looking to 2023, value will remain top of the agenda, and a more shapeless nature of demand will make retailers getting promotional periods right, in terms of both range and timing, more critical than ever.”

Anecdotally, some have reported a boom in sales, as the price point in supermarkets levels with that of fine food retail. If food inflation falls in the last quarter of the year, these stores will have a job on their hands, finding innovative and attractive ways to retain this new wave of customers.

John Shepherd, of Partridges, says focussing on fresh, and having a deli counter filled with enticing, beautiful, artisanal foods that are the stable of fine food stores, should help.

“On the deli, cheese and charcuterie remain strong for us,” he reveals. “And we are introducing more niche products in this area.” Smoked salmon, John says, is always a star for the London shop at Christmas and New Year.

“Christmas is still a traditional trading experience at Partridges. Although Christmas puddings and hampers have been in decline recently, we are looking at introducing more fresh food hampers, and promoting a new selection of creative gift ideas, as well as revamping our range of panettone, which are very popular at present time.

“We have been through some difficult trading times in the past, and have often found diversity in the Christmas range a good way of expanding sales. Not every new idea will work, but some can prove to be transformational.”

Plant-based projections

Holly Rogers, research and insight manager at Bidfood, says she’s seeing demand growing for vegan products, and fully expects this trend to continue. “Despite Christmas being traditionally associated with a variety of meats such as turkey, gammon and ham, meat-free options are not to be forgotten about this festive period. A quarter of people we asked said meat-free options would appeal to them.

“And this number isn’t just made up of vegetarians and vegans. Many meat-eaters are looking to reduce their meat intake this year too, with health and sustainability being front of mind.”

A recent report by Future Market Insights predicts the plant-based food sector will grow threefold in the next 10 years, with the rise of flexitarianism, and growing consumer concern around the climate and environment.

Certainly, there is huge investment in this arena, with constant NPD around products derived from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and pulses.

Leading the way this Christmas is alternative proteins brand This, which has brought out three new launches, expected to fly off the shelves during the festive season – This Isn’t Pork Mini Sausages, This Isn’t Pork Sage & Apple Stuffing, and This Isn’t Pork Pigs in Blankets – all aimed at “tempting even more meat eaters to trial and adopt plant-based food”.

Staying ahead of the curve

Spending wisely at Christmas will be a necessity for many this year, says Celia Holt of Hethel Innovation. While money is tight, value for money treats will be high on shoppers’ lists…and she thinks this will lead to consumers reaching for nostalgic, traditional products, for the feel-good factor.

Celia says she’s beginning to see Christmas trends shaping around the following:

Comforting foods: Look out for retro flavours from bakery to confectionary and ice cream. Nostalgia is always key at Christmas as we look to recapture those treasured food memories. This year shoppers will be looking for gifts and menus that give comfort and joy.

Christmas is a time of indulgence and feasting, but this year we will see a stronger lens on health and mindful eating and drinking. Products that boost, calm and lift the mood.

Savoury baked goods: At Easter we saw the cheese and chutney hot cross bun, so could Christmas be the turn of the savoury panettone?

Hola Mexico: Mexican spirits will be the flavour of the season in ready-to-drink tequila cocktails and the new kids on the block in the UK – mezcal and sotol.

Environment: Consumers are demonstrating their increasing concern for climate change and will seek out surprising, innovative new products that address their sustainability concerns.

Tequila is the drink of the Christmas season

Has gin had its day? Will rum ever rise to the occasion to hit the top spot as Brits’ go-to spirit? Or…is there a new kid on the block?

According to trendwatchers, the hottest drinks to stock this winter hail from Mexico, with sales of tequila and mezcal soaring during the last 12 months. According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, tequila alone saw volume sales rise by 83% in 2022 compared to pre-Covid levels.

Tina Connolly, brand manager for KAH Tequila and Rooster Rojo Tequila at distributor Amber Beverage UK says the old-fashioned image of the drink is disappearing, encouraging a whole new generation to explore drinks such as tequila. And the change is for good reason. “As consumers realise that ‘proper’ tequila – made using 100% Blue Weber agave – is like fine wine. Handmade and connected with the terroir, the land where the plants are grown.”

Tina adds that the production of tequila is dependent on a natural, farmed product, cultivated in limited quantities, in a designated part of the world. “And this realisation has kick-started the trend towards appreciation of good tequilas. In the UK, for many people tequila was what gin had been 15 years before; harsh, unpleasant and with bad associations.

“Gin changed, and so did attitudes. Now it’s the turn of tequila and the old image is rapidly disappearing as a general view, because the quality of liquid delivered by brands [such as ours] is so much better.”

Despite the cost-of-living crisis, consumers are still going out to celebrate, and when they do, they’re often looking to cocktails, with a reported 57% choosing mixed drinks on a night out. According to Tina, they’re looking to try something new, beautifully-made, delicious and versatile – and tequila is increasingly fitting the bill.

“Margaritas are the obvious cocktails using tequila as a base, but for those celebrating at home who find the prospect of shaking and straining their drinks too daunting, it doesn’t need to be that complicated. Using a great quality, 100% agave tequila as a base ingredient you can also serve up simple delights such as a Paloma, or even a tequila and tonic (TnT) with no fuss.”



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