Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
According to the data experts at Kantar, British consumers bought one million more Christmas puddings in 2022 compared to 2021.
Being able to celebrate together, after Christmases mired by lockdowns, probably has a lot to do with the uplift. As does, say artisan producers, the desire to connect to a sense of nostalgia.
Multiples may try to sway shoppers with newfangled varieties, but, when all is said and done, it’s tradition that continues to sweep the board when they head out to stock up on festive provisions.
Alison Lilly of LillyPuds predicts traditionalists will continue to insist on a ‘proper’ Christmas pudding at the table this year, but so-called ‘dislikers’ will always be exploring the market for an alternative twist.
“Most families will serve two puddings at Christmas to meet all tastes,” she says, adding that retailers should balance having a range of classic offerings, with a smattering of alternative choices.
“Christmas is the time of year to be nostalgic and, faced with bleak headlines, people do look to food for comfort,” she adds. “Whether that’s leaning into familiar favourites that feel like a warm hug, such as porridge, pies or toast, or harking back to humble childhood favourites. I think that’s why Christmas puddings remain so popular and intrinsic to the celebration, despite the divide between lovers and haters.”
Craft pudding maker Rebecca Woodsend of Woodsend Puddings agrees that selecting a high-quality range of traditional puddings is what will stand retail in good stead this Christmas. “There are a lot of options these days, but people do seem to like an old-fashioned pudding. Sampling the puddings is very important because you sometimes really can change people’s minds about them. I do a lot of Christmas fairs, and it’s wonderful when children taste them. There’s no end of amazement from parents when they see that they actually like it.”
Rebecca has seen the classic side of her business grow every year, and says that apart from the allure of an artisan product, made by hand, customers are drawn to the fact her puddings have low food miles. Sustainability, Rebecca reflects, is becoming even more important to them. “They appreciate the puddings haven’t travelled a long way, that I’ve made them with my own apples and local ingredients, and they’re certainly not mass produced. They can tell the difference.”
Alison has also noticed customers becoming more savvy with their choices, but from a financial stance. “They’re saving ahead for Christmas to treat themselves to something indulgent or luxurious, while also spoiling their family and friends. We’re hoping this year will be the same. Everyone has had to flex their selling strategy to suit behaviours since 2020.”
Georgie Porgie’s Puddings makes 170,000 Christmas and sponge puddings every year, with founder George Hollywood insisting they’re all made by hand – as they have been for nearly 30 years.
He says you cannot replicate the flavour and texture of a proper handmade pudding on the mass market, and that retailers who value quality should look to makers of proper artisan puds this season to offer their customers the very best.
“Handmade puddings are lighter and moister than mass produced,” he explains. “That’s due to the fact we don’t use combis to cook them – it’s natural steam. A low heat, and slow cooking. That low, moist heat is what makes a pudding special.
“If you use a combi, yes, you can whack up the temperature and it will be quicker but, to me, that isn’t a steamed pudding. Ours steam for eight hours. And we make them in batches of 80. The texture and flavour are incomparable.”
Like Rebecca, George says sampling is key. He’s had lots of new customers buying at shows after taking a tentative bite, discovering the gourmet puddings aren’t “dry and heavy, like the ones they’ve had from the supermarkets”.
The handling of the pudding batter is a contributing factor here. “Ours are genuinely handmade. The only machine we have is a paddle mixer. We lightly ball them by hand before steaming them. You can’t replicate that with a machine. It’s what gives that light, open nature to the pudding.”
Maturity is another consideration for buyers. George says a pudding made today is perfectly good to eat tomorrow, but that, “Artisan matured puddings are like fine wine. Maturing gives time for the spices to mingle and all those flavours to come out. I prefer the flavour of a six-month-old pudding. If your granny was making a pudding, she’d have cooked two or three. One would be for the following Easter, and then the other for the Christmas after. She’d rotate them that way. For me, Stir Up Sunday is too close to Christmas.” He advises retailers choose puddings made a minimum of six months before reaching the shelves or, even better, 12 months.
Like puddings, Christmas cakes have a special place in most people’s homes each year, aligned with a sense of family and sharing.
Todd Lewis, founder of Grandpa’s Cakes, says that while new puddings and cakes, putting a spin on the classics, are exciting and innovative, it’s tradition that signifies Christmas for most people – varieties drenched in rum or brandy. He’s seeing an uptick in rum-flavoured cakes particularly.
“Brandy has always been the go-to alcohol,” Todd explains. “Some might say it isn’t Christmas without brandy in the cake. When we started making Christmas cakes we followed that trend, but we introduced rum a couple of years ago and were overwhelmed with the response. There’s a richer flavour with rum, which marries with fruit so well. They also smell amazing when we’re baking them too.”
Rum could, then, could prove a good option for your stocklist this year. Todd also suggests having in a few cakes that don’t contain nuts. “We don’t add any nuts to our cakes. Whilst walnuts add a lovely flavour, we’ve had more demand for no nuts.”
The beauty of Christmas cake, says Todd, is that it’s not just for Christmas. In fact, Grandpa’s Cakes sells fruit cakes all-year-round, fuelled by customer demand. It’s worth spending time doing tastings, and reminding shoppers a well-wrapped cake, stored in an airtight container, will last as a cut-and-come-again treat, sometimes for many weeks, making it one of the most cost-effective goodies they can buy for the festivities. “I suggest stocking them from early November,” says Todd. “They mature with age and will taste even better by Christmas. They have a long shelf life, usually six months or more, so there’s plenty of time to sell them.”
In addition to fruit cakes, another category is growing in popularity and becoming a staple in foodies’ yuletide larders – the panettone. A beautifully packaged panettone has become a significant part of the Christmas retail offering in the UK. Bound in glossy printed wrap and ribbons, hat boxes or tins, they can help entice customers through the door via a well-thought-out window display, or lure them over to a display stand. As well as being enjoyed in the home, they are excellent for gifting.
Peri Eagleton, co-founder of Seggiano, says panettones are every Italian’s Christmas indulgence. “Unlike bread, the sweet sensation is more lavish and richer in both taste and price,” she says. “It is considered a celebratory and seasonal cake, so it is traditional to gift and eat panettone at Christmas.”
The delicacy, revered and loved in Italy as much as us Brits favour our Christmas cake, has its roots in an ancient seasonal tradition in Milan, where family patriarchs would burn a log in the fireplace, and cut up three loaves of wheat bread, offering a slice to their loved ones.
“Only the most skilled producers can create real, authentic panettone,” says Peri. “The mother yeast is very difficult to care for.”
Peri says to look beyond the packaging, only buying the finest panettones, with a good provenance and long heritage. Seggiano, for example, works with a master baker in Brescia, who produces each one by hand. The best are made without industrial emulsifiers, stabilisers, binders or preservatives.
Choosing products that taste good, are made in the proper manner, and with the best ingredients possible, should keep customers returning year after year for their panettone fix.
“Our classic panettone uses cocoa butter, candied fruit paste, natural vanilla, linseed flour and turmeric to add fragrance, moisture and colour to the dough, which is naturally-leavened using a 40-year-old mother yeast, and baked for over 36 hours,” says Peri, picking out the finer points of their artisan variety.
Three things, she says, are important to buying – authenticity, quality, and sustainability.