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2020 has been a challenging year across the board, but as the festive season approaches consumers will be looking forward to an end-of-year tipple - albeit in a different way to previous years. Gatherings will no doubt be smaller and perhaps a little more subdued, but one cannot underestimate the value of something to look forward to; a bit of sparkling escapism. This sense of occasion and indulgence can begin with their in-store experience. Edward Berry, retail consultant at The Flying Fork suggests four key tenets to get the ball rolling: “music (until they’ve had enough), friendly and helpful staff, service and quality.” With much on their minds at this time, it’s important to offer customers as seamless an experience as possible. “It’s all about ease,” says Edward.
As local lockdowns become a more familiar part of everyday life across the UK, it’s likely that people will be gathering in smaller groups than they would have done otherwise. Whereas previous years would have seen a number of generations of family under one roof for days on end, followed by busy parties for friends, for 2020’s party season it’s smart to think small - this could work to the advantage of fine food and drink purveyors. “This party season, people aren’t going to be able to have the large gatherings they normally would do, so they might be willing to spend more money on more ‘affordable luxuries’ as they’ll have fewer mouths to feed. I believe people will push the boat out,” says Sue Billington, co-owner of Billington’s of Lenzie.
While shoppers will be experiencing smaller-scale celebrations at home, that’s no reason not to go big on the festive atmosphere in-store. The team at Billington’s of Lenzie will be decorating the shop, “and if the regulations regarding groups of people stay the same as they currently are,” says Sue, “we’ll be able to host small groups of people for parties and get togethers.”
If you would normally be connecting with your customers during this season via events in your store, consider taking them online to continue offering added value and a sense of community. “The new norm involves Zoom,” says Edward, “so why not invite customers to join Zoom cooking demos, wine tastings or turkey carving lessons?”.
At Billington’s of Lenzie, Sue has found that offering a catering option works well - it’s been a valuable asset during lockdown and will continue to be offered as we enter into party season. “Some people want outside catering, while others are keen to collect a selection of antipasti, sandwiches or a cheeseboard so they can entertain at home without the effort.” The popularity of this service has led to the range being extended: ”we’ve just introduced a grazing board, which people can have to sit-in or take away,” says Sue. “It consists of a selection of meats, cheeses, oatcakes, hummus, antipasti and dried fruit and nuts. The idea is that you put it down in the middle of the table and people take what they want” - the perfect solution for time-poor, quality-hungry customers come party season.
What to stock
“We stock a huge amount of party friendly products during the festive period, and all of them I want to eat whilst walking around,” says Nick Punter of Suffolk Food Hall. “We sell nuts, crisps, chocolates and biscuits, and the particular favourites are the Cartright & Butler biscuit tins, fudge boxes from Laura’s Confectionery and of course panettone.” Hampers are big business at Suffolk Food Hall, which means that vast quantities of these products are brought in ahead of party season to account for their inclusion in hampers and increased demand across the store. “We work on the best sellers from previous years or predict what we think will sell this year,” Nick explains. “Some of the range remains on our shelves throughout the year, dependent on flavour and the type of product, and we sell some festive flavours like Christmas pudding-flavoured fudge, and mulled wine and gingerbread flavoured items.”
At Billingtons of Lenzie, says Sue Billington, co-owner, “People tend to pick up fancy crisps and popcorn during the party season,” and various iterations of cheese and grazing boards are a very popular option: “we sell truckles of cheese, oatcakes, crackers and toasts, also a selection of salamis and hams and ambient pates which people tend to buy for parties.”
Beverages are, of course, an important part of the party shopping list. “Drinks-wise, we have around 70 bottles of gin, 50 of which you can have to drink in,” says Sue. “We sell various artisan beers and racks and racks of wines, as well as a number of Scottish whiskies.” The establishment also stocks products which add party-suitable sparkle to any drink, alcoholic or soft: “We sell different flavours of poppable balls and shimmers that you can put into drinks, which sell particularly well during the party season.”
When it comes to trends for the upcoming party season, Nick believes that consumers will be looking for locally-focused products. “We see this a huge amount when it comes to our hampers, and I think we’ll see this across Christmas purchasing as a whole. People want to know the source and quality of what they’re eating - this will be big for us as we have our own herd of cows and all our meat is local. Many of us will focus on a good quality Christmas because this year hasn’t been such a nice one, and hopefully we will be able to appreciate family, friends and food come the big day!”
“Here at Booths,” begins Keith Parkinson, chilled food and bakery buyer, “we know all too well that a great festive get together is all about good food and drink, and we always ensure that we offer a delicious selection of high quality party food. From Camembert bites and mini steak pies to crispy king prawns and mini quiches, our party food selection allows for easy entertaining and proves popular with our customers year on year!”
As it does across the food and drink sector, Christmas at Booths starts earlier than you might think. “Christmas starts in the spring with a fresh look at what our customers enjoyed in the past and what they will find irresistible in the future,” explains Keith. “Our team of buyers engage in a variety of tasting panels and work closely with local suppliers to ensure that our customers can enjoy eating the best possible produce when December comes around, including special festive flavours that capture the taste of Christmas.”
Convenience and the option to spend minimal time in-store is going to be valuable as the year comes to an end, as it has been throughout lockdown. “To ensure our party food selection is easily accessible, our customers will be able to place their orders early via our Click & Collect service from the start of December,” Keith continues.
“Given the global pandemic, this year, more than ever, spending time at home with family has become important to us all. With that in mind, we believe that our customers will really cherish the festive season, and strive to make this Christmas one to remember - and we’re sure that excellent food and drink will form a significant part of their celebrations,” Keith concludes.