Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
We’ve had a couple of very unusual Christmases, from being plunged into a third national lockdown in December 2020 to finally being reunited with our loved ones last year, and there is a chance that this year could be affected by the current cost-of-living crisis as the war in Ukraine unfortunately rages on.
But Christmas brings a significant opportunity for fine food retailers, as their ability to make every moment count through engaging storytelling, premium quality and community spirit sets them apart during the festive season.
The cost-of-living crisis
The current situation is making everyone feel anxious, regardless of their financial stability. Nobody can predict how the next few months will go, so indies need to be aware of budgets and provide something for everyone this Christmas.
Liam Spivey, general manager at Chatsworth Estate Farm Shop, explains, “Whilst there was much nervousness throughout the supply chain with regards to how the public might engage with Christmas 2021, the reality was that they embraced it wholeheartedly. This Christmas brings new concerns with regards to the impact of the cost-of-living increases that we are all experiencing, so again there is an element of nervousness.”
But Liam believes that despite some apprehension, the current financial crisis won’t affect footfall. “I expect seasonal activity to be less affected by the challenges around cost of living, so we’re planning for a strong Christmas. Even in the toughest times, customers look for a release from their day-to-day challenges so we’ll also plan more experiential activities such as additional product tastings, supplier meet and greet events and evening events. However Christmas turns out, underpinning everything we do will be an unwavering commitment to customer service – we’ll continue to offer a personal touch that simply cannot be replicated by the supermarkets.”
This is something John Shepherd, managing director of Partridges, also notes. “A lot of customers are looking for more personalised touches from us. We are planning for greater sales of bespoke hampers, more targeted gift ideas and own-label products.”
Matt Whelan, managing director at Fieldfare, adds, “This year, as people are starting to feel the pinch of the cost-of-living crisis, we are also more likely to see a shift to smaller, affordable luxuries at the Christmas table as opposed to the big, traditional spread.
“Ultimately, Christmas is still going to be about treats. No matter what else is going on in the market, people will still want to treat themselves so make sure you are stocked up on special treats or ‘everyday treats’. This is of course an area where speciality food retailers can really excel. Shoppers visit farm shops, delis and speciality stores, quite often, with the view of leaving with something special.”
For many people, Christmas is all about the food. Huge turkeys with all the trimmings, trays of perfectly crispy roast potatoes, and towers of mince pies.
And when it comes to the Christmas spread, it’s all about indulgence. “We have seen a lot more of our current suppliers moving into advent calendars and gifting versions of all-year-round products”, Alissia Festa, seasonal buyer at Cotswold Fayre, tells Speciality Food. “Our brochure boasts some fantastic alternatives to the traditional chocolate advent calendar such as a flavoured coffee one from Beanies. Brands like Love Corn have introduced a gifting jar and Lucy’s have introduced a gift set of their dressings.
“However, the star of the show so far is Esplosivo Chilli Sauce which is storming ahead on pre-orders. The chilli sauce certainly stands out, with fun packaging that provides a unique and affordable gift.”
As we head towards Christmas 2022, Matt explains, “Nostalgia and tradition are still very important at Christmas, but people are looking for something special that importantly, is convenient to prepare so that they don’t have to spend all day in the kitchen.”
This is particularly significant as dietary requirements become more prevalent. Never before has there been as many flexitarians, vegans or gluten-intolerants to cater for. This means that retailers need to keep on top of trending diets such as plant-based offerings and be flexible. “If we have learnt anything over the last two years, it has to be that flexibility is king”, Matt adds.
“For many, Christmas is about entertaining large crowds, potentially with different dietary needs, while for others, Christmas is spent with a few. In both cases, people want to be able to put something special on the table that is easy to prepare yet marks the occasion.”
As the biggest trading period of the year fast approaches, indies need to get ahead in order to be successful this Christmas.
For John, “Christmas is our most important time of the year. We pre-order well in advance to secure a guaranteed delivery as much as possible.”
“It will be crucial for retailers to get their orders placed early to ensure availability of stock”, Alissia adds. “As the issues with increased lead times continue, retailers must forecast and place orders much earlier to minimise the risk of late deliveries and ensure demand is met.”
Liam explains, “One aspect that has helped us have a little more confidence these last couple of years has been a change to the mix of products that we stock. We have decreased the number of Christmas-specific packaged lines in favour of products that can be sold beyond the Christmas season, thus reducing the risk of markdowns and continued to increase our offer of Chatsworth branded lines, whilst continuing to focus on our commitment to quality, working with local suppliers and improving our sustainability credentials.”
According to Matt, retailers should champion the freezer this Christmas. “Frozen allows retailers to plan ahead - you don’t need to leave it to the last minute to order and you can be assured that you are all set up and ready”, he explains.
“At the same time, the frozen offering also helps shoppers to manage their budgets and plan ahead as they can stock up well in advance of Christmas. Get shoppers to think ahead by communicating your frozen offering to them.”
While it is impossible to know what will happen in the coming months, fine food retailers can be confident that they are well-placed to respond to the changing landscape with agility and innovation. So let the Christmas planning begin, and here’s to a festive season full of luxurious gifts, tempting treats and classic comforts.
Christmas content supported by Woolcool – the pioneers of sustainable temperature-controlled packaging.