How to stock classic Christmas puddings and fruitcakes

27 September 2021, 07:21 AM
  • A festive table isn’t complete without an array of sweet delights to enjoy, and customers will be keen to trade up to iconic, traditional favourites this year

Christmas tables should always be filled with luxury and indulgence, but in 2021 the desire to go the extra mile with premium food and drink will be even more pronounced following the small gatherings and virtual celebrations of Christmas 2020. “After last year’s restricted Christmas celebrations, being able to spend time together with family and loved ones is going to be all the more precious and special,” predicts Wouter van Dongen, director of The Hyper Localist, which sells food and drink products made locally across Europe. “With that in mind, I think many people will go the extra mile to make this a memorable Christmas, and there will be a real focus on quality and artisan foods,” he adds.

Welcoming family and friends back together again to – fingers firmly crossed – draw a line under the worst of the pandemic will be a prominent theme this festive season. As Wouter says, this celebratory spirit will be reflected in consumers’ food and drink purchases ahead of the big day – and no Christmas menu is complete without a sweet treat to follow the main event.

Every year in the UK, 25 million Christmas puddings are eaten, the packaging firm GWP Group estimates. “Cakes and puddings are not just wonderful centrepieces, they’re also designed for sharing, which makes them the ultimate addition to the Christmas table,” Wouter says. “After all, Christmas is all about bringing people together around the table.” Christmas puddings and fruitcakes are more than traditional, must-buy staples for the Yuletide, however. With premium ingredients and indulgent recipes, the classic puddings, innovative reimaginings and imported treats on the market today offer something to delight every shopper.

Traditional favourites

While trends come and go, there will always be a place on the table for classic recipes at Christmas. According to Dom McCall, general manager of The Buxton Pudding Company, the business’s firm focus on tradition is what keeps customers coming back to its puddings year after year. This approach is perfect for Christmas pudding purists. Dom explains, “We have never been advocates of embellishing a Christmas pudding with more modern inclusions like chocolate or gold, or the dreadful ones with the rum sauce in the centre. We even make our own special bread for our puddings which, when added to a beautiful array of ingredients, results in a delightful Christmas pudding fit to grace any table in the land.”

The Buxton Pudding Co’s best selling Christmas pudding is a traditional, medium-sized style which is made with Bramley apples, brandy and dried fruit before being hand-mixed, steamed and finally served with cold vanilla custard, fresh cream, ice cream, brandy sauce or rum sauce. The company produces several flavours of fruitcakes as well, including one made with a homemade plum and apple brandy. However, tradition still reigns supreme here, and the best performing product is its classic Slightly Tipsy Overfed Fruitcake, made with generous lashings of brandy.

Even The Hyper Localist, which specialises in Continental products, has decided to include more classic British fare this year. “Whilst our last Christmas collection focused exclusively on Italian foods, this year we’ve decided to also include traditional English products,” Wouter says. “We spent much of this year exploring and learning more about heritage that is closer to home. This country has a long, rich baking tradition and puddings and cakes have always played a key role in Christmas celebrations. We wanted to incorporate this into our English heritage hamper by featuring a special Yorkshire fruitcake based on a historic recipe. It’s the kind of cake that has been bringing people together for decades, if not centuries.”

This rich heritage shouldn’t be ignored by retailers, who can use details about the history and local ingredients of a product to secure sales with customers who are focused on supporting British artisan makers or gifting products with local credentials. “A Christmas pudding or fruitcake is like a good cheese; it gets better with age,” Dom says. “Retailers spend lots of time explaining the provenance of cheese, so why not display your pudding or fruitcake with its provenance? Customers love to know how items for special times of the year are made – with what, by whom and where.”

A Continental classic

While there is certainly strong demand for the classics during the holiday season, the foodies among us are always keen to explore the latest buzzwords and trends making waves in the food sector. These shoppers will be searching for the most exciting new recipes and the best imported goods to bring to their Christmas tables this year. Here in the UK, Italian panettone has risen to near-classic status as it graces more and more consumers’ tables during the quintessential Christmas season – yet it still brings something different to the party when compared with traditional puddings.

As a specialist in Italian fare, Wouter is a connoisseur of panettone during the festive period. “Artisan Italian panettone will take centre stage in our Christmas range. It’s such an iconic Italian product and we believe no Christmas table is complete without a panettone,” he says. Products with strong links to Italian tradition will be of particular interest to customers. “This year we’ll be offering a unique artisan panettone from Baj, a Milanese family confectioner with a history that goes back to 1768,” Wouter says. “Their panettone is made in Milan with a 100-year-old mother dough, and we’re the first ones to bring it to the UK, which we’re very excited about!”

From panettone, there are numerous avenues for retailers to explore, whether they choose to reach further into Italian bakery treats with small-batch, authentic amaretti biscuits, or move into other areas of Europe, with products like classic German stollen.

New traditions

While even the latest launches of Christmas puddings, fruitcakes and panettone tend to err on the side of tradition, retailers can encourage customers to enjoy these festive favourites in new ways to boost their value and ensure they’re not overshadowed by a gluttonous Christmas meal. For example, encourage customers to serve a classic fruitcake with a seasonal cheeseboard for a decadent pairing. The Buxton Pudding Co recommends enjoying its range of fruitcakes with white, crumbly cheeses, such as Wensleydale, Cheshire or Lancashire, which will cut through the moist, sweet flavour of the cake beautifully.

And who says the sweet treats must be saved for last? Modern Italian food brand Crosta & Mollica announced a new range of panettones this year and encourages customers to enjoy them alongside a cup of coffee in the morning as well as serving a slice with a glass of Prosecco after dinner.

Another area which is worth a second look is gifting. Food gifting saw a significant uplift during the pandemic as friends and family who were forced to be apart sent each other beautifully wrapped gifts to add to their Christmas tables. While gatherings are possible once again, food gifting could yet become an important Christmas tradition for those who can’t meet in person. “Whilst this Christmas is hopefully going to be different from last year’s, the pandemic isn’t over yet,” Wouter says. “We will still want to show love to those we can’t meet, so I think that online gifting will continue to be a big deal this year.” Bespoke, unique gifts and curated hampers will make perfect gifts to send out to loved ones.

Whether they are sent off to far-flung friends and family or brought home to impress guests, customers will no doubt be keen to trade up to luxury Christmas puddings and fruitcakes this year. These festive essentials are a must-stock product – and Dom only has one more tip for retailers: “Get your orders in early!”

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