Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
We might be getting used to the unusual and expecting the unexpected lately, following one crisis after another, but as we emerge from a pandemic and enter a cost-of-living crisis, Christmas is on the horizon and it still represents a time of opportunity and positivity. All we have to do is find our way forward.
Still, there’s no denying that there are obstacles in our way. Fine food businesses might feel a little apprehension about their stock versus the buying confidence of customers, but that isn’t the only issue. After a pandemic, war, and rising fuel prices, we might have largely forgotten about Brexit, but it is still having an effect on supply.
“Our Christmas orders are fairly conservative this year,” says Candice Fonseca, owner at Delifonseca. “On the whole, we’ve noticed that a lot of our wholesalers have fewer products listed in comparison to previous years because they’re playing it safe too. There are also definitely fewer items available from Europe.”
Diana Brocklebank Scott, partner and director at Creake Abbey Foodhall in Norfolk, has a more local view on things, but is seeing pretty much the same issues.
“The cost-of-living crisis is already a very big issue for our rural location. We are seeing a one-third reduction in trade this summer as day visitors are not spending the money to drive over from Norwich or Lincolnshire as they usually would. Those visitors who do come are much more price conscious, rather like the locals who we cater for in low season.”
For Peter Kinsella, co-owner and founder of Lunya Catalan Deli, it’s all about managing expectations and seeing the pathways ahead that customers are most likely to walk down.
“We’ve revised down our forecasts as we think there will really be an impact, so we’ve reduced our ordering accordingly. This has gone down 10% below our original forecasts. But we are expecting whole legs of Serrano ham to be very popular as they are such good value.”
While predicting what customers will buy is never an exact science, the cost-of-living crisis does actually give businesses a better understanding of how people will be spending their money. When money is tight and people are cautious, businesses do at least have a framework to operate within. Peter is focusing on the positives in this, and offering customers lower-priced items that will sell well.
“We’re preparing our hampers, and we’re expecting to sell the £30-£100 ones much more rather than the £120+ ones this year.”
For Mandira Sarkar at Mandira’s Kitchen, thinking about dealing with rising costs is a twofold issue.
Dealing with the rising costs for the business while understanding the reduced buying power of customers is a sticky place to be.
“We are a small artisanal business, and unlike a supermarket with huge economies of scale, we have to deal with rising costs ourselves.”
But there are always paths to forge, and being innovative pays off. Mandira’s rising costs are her customer’s rising costs, and finding ways to mitigate the impact of that on sales goes hand in hand with helping customers to feel less of a pinch.
“We are constantly ensuring our products are value for money and as we offer them in individual portions, and some come frozen, this goes a long way in reducing food waste. We are also planning to increase our bundles and monthly subscription range thereby offering additional savings to our loyal customers.”
The gifts that keep on giving
Hampers are always a big deal at Christmas, and this year it’s all about the choice businesses offer their customers. With many people struggling and gifting of food and drink items set to be on everyone’s radar, food businesses can tap into this. For Candice, that means being ready to give customers exactly what they want, whoever they are.
“Our hampers are split into three categories, we do bespoke hampers for customers, small ready-made hampers on our website and bespoke corporate hampers for businesses. They’re always a popular go-to gift, especially for businesses, so we hope this continues.”
But probably one of the biggest areas of growth this year is in the bottled cocktails market. Bottled, and canned, cocktails are ‘gifty’ while being reasonably priced and great to display on the shelves. While hampers are traditional and a mainstay of Christmas food and drink gifting, bottled cocktails are the new kid on the block, and they’re causing a stir.
“We’ve actually upped our orders of pre-mixed cocktails,” Candice says, “which seem to be very popular this year. We have a range of classic old fashioneds, expresso martinis and even a chocolate negroni.”
According to research done by Future Market Insights, the bottled cocktails market will have grown by 10% at the end of this year.
It all comes down to cost
Unsurprisingly, in a cost-of-living crisis, everything is about cost. From production, to supply, to sales, to a customer’s buying power, this year more than ever there’s some penny pinching going on. There are various ways businesses can help their customers through these difficult times, and, as always, this can differ from business to business.
It’s all about finding the right paths. For Lynsey Coughlan, operations director at The Ginger Pig butcher and deli, there’s no time of year more important than Christmas, and that’s why it’s so important to get it right.
“Christmas is the culmination of our year’s work – it’s often the most important meal of the year for our customers and we take that responsibility really seriously. Even more so in a year when costs have gone up significantly both for us as a small business and the overall cost of living for our customers – if they have entrusted us with such an important occasion, whether it’s the centrepiece or the trimmings, it’s on us to get it right.”
Paul Castle, managing director at Flourish Foodhall in Bristol, agrees that businesses are feeling the struggle many customers are experiencing this year, and empathising, as that same struggle applies to everyone.
“We’ve already been informed about price increases for Christmas essentials like turkeys this year, which means Christmas may be more difficult than usual for many.”
Diana’s point about people not driving from one town or village to another as they used to, because of the rising fuel costs, is an important one. For many customers this year deliveries will be vital.
Diana will continue to offer free local delivery within a five-mile radius. At The Ginger Pig they offer delivery within London for anything purchased though their website. Although this will, of course, come at a cost for many people it might still be preferable to taking out their own car. At Mandira’s, they offer click and collect for local customers and they can deliver to any UK Mainland address.
Pre-orders could save Christmas
From here the path a business opens up can be different, but the desire to smooth the way in all directions is always the same.
“When people place an order with us for Christmas,” Lynsey says, “we take a deposit initially rather than a full payment, which helps in two ways. Firstly, it means that our farmers are guaranteed payment and secondly, it gives reassurance to our customers that their order is secure and all items for their Christmas meals are guaranteed. For instance, when an order is placed for a turkey, the bird is quite literally ‘beak-marked’ in the field by Richard and Jo Botterill for that customer.
It’s a system we’ve had in place with the Botterill family for almost three decades to ensure control on both sides of the orders, and is quite an achievement given the large volume of birds involved. Customers can place their Christmas orders from early October online, or early November in-store, so they have plenty of time before the final bill, which will already be partly paid through the deposit. The prices we publish in October will be the final prices for Christmas, so our customers will always get the best possible prices which we honour until the big day.”
It’s a system that’s been tried and tested at The Ginger Pig, and they know it works. It’s a plan that’s been in place for a long time and it still holds good amid the current crisis. For others, there may be some differences this year in particular.
“We will open our Christmas meat orders from the start of October and take full payment then,” says Paul Castle, “which means by the time expensive December comes around it’s just the veggies, sauces and extras to buy. We have a rewards scheme which thanks regular shoppers by giving them special discounts on food depending on how much they shop with us, and we aim to provide fantastic quality for every pound spent with us, supporting local and sustainable suppliers.”
The path to Christmas this year might be a narrower one than previous years, but pre-orders could be the thing that helps everyone along. Having those orders in place early can put meat on bones.
“We will be trying to get pre-orders early this year,” says Candice. “Last year we couldn’t do it due to the difficult circumstances that many businesses like ours faced and it caused us issues not having that sense of preparedness for the busy season. We will also be starting the hampers earlier this year as we foresee them being popular with a range of different demographics.”
Pre-ordering is preparing and this year, more than ever, anything we can do to be more prepared is a gift. In a time of uncertainty, this one small act could be the thing that saves Christmas for producers, retailers, and customers.
“We’ll be getting stock in as early as possible,” says Peter, “so people can buy early and spread their buying from September onwards. We’re also looking at lower price point gift boxes.”
At Creake Abbey Foodhall, they’re being proactive about this and encouraging customers to be organised early. “A Christmas order form will offer Christmas items from October onwards so customers can plan ahead and purchase ahead if it suits them.”
While at Mandira’s, they offer the same subscription option all year round. This is a way of building loyalty while guaranteeing monthly sales, and it’s a flexible way for customers to buy. Giving customers the choice around when they pay and receive their products might not always help with Christmas, but it is a more continuous process.
“Our monthly subscriptions can be paused or changed at any given time. A lot of our customers skip a month or so before Christmas and then use the money that is in their account to pay for larger family meals or party platters.
It’s the little things
As we find our way through one crisis after another, Christmas might seem like one of the things that never changes. But of course, it does. While the turkey and trimmings are still hugely important, many people are doing Christmas differently, and this year they’re looking for ways to do it in a cost-effective way.
From vegan Christmas dinners to a negroni in a can, times move on. At Mandira’s there’s value in choice, and that means offering products with multiple uses, products customers can buy for a gift or use at home themselves.
“We have some specially curated meals in classic, vegetarian and vegan for any special celebration, and plenty of gift options such as our Leftover Spice Kit. It has everything you need to turn leftover turkey into a three-course meal. And it’s perfect for a gift.”
This idea of food products we might previously have seen as something customers bought to enjoy at home themselves, now being bought as gifts for others, is a sign of the times we are living in. Food as a gift might be a treat while also being useful for many people this year. At the Ginger Pig meat boxes that were once bought as party food might now be given as gifts.
“We have a number of different meat boxes available to buy on our website and we will be re-launching our popular Boxing Day box and Trimmings box, which includes all of our customer favourites such as our pigs in blankets and pork pies.”
Sustainability equals savings
Perhaps the best way forward this year is through sustainability. While the cost-of-living crisis is having an immediate effect, the climate crisis rumbles on and presents us with a longer-term issue. Businesses can address both of these issues in one, with a focus on sourcing locally and reducing waste.
“We are placing an emphasis on purchasing locally,” says Diana, “and building on the reputation of the Creake Abbey Farmers’ Market, which is now the biggest in Norfolk, using the Food Hall as a shop that locals and visitors can use to find Norfolk products all year round.
This is good for food miles, provenance and traceability plus supports local farmers and producers. With over 60 food and drink producers attending we offer everything from fresh mussels in season, to locally reared Highland beef plus locally grown saffron, honey, wine, beer and much more.”
For Lynsey Coughlan, reducing waste, not only for themselves, but for their customers too, is vital for the longer term as well as for Christmas 2022.
“Our ethos at The Ginger Pig is all about using the whole carcass and we feel it’s our duty to remind our customers of the cheaper cuts and forgotten roasts. This means we can help our customers to have amazing food over Christmas at a lower cost. For example, we always offer topside of beef – we’re big fans of the beautiful and affordable salmon cut, and we love to promote turkey legs.
Naturally, we receive lots of orders for turkey crowns, which leaves us with lots of legs. Our expert butchers put a lot of work into deboning and stuffing to make ballotines, which we sell in our shops in the days leading up to Christmas, making the most of the whole bird. We even keep the bones in the shops for customers to use for stock.”
Finding the right pathway this year might be a little tricker than in previous years, but navigation is the backbone of any fine food business. Above all, Christmas is a celebration and however we do that, it’s a path that leads to plenty.
Christmas content supported by Woolcool – the pioneers of sustainable temperature-controlled packaging.