Christmas Countdown has begun

23 September 2019, 08:04 am
Speciality Bites by Paul Hargreaves

The run up to Christmas is always the most exciting time for any food retailer and we are all asking ourselves what are going to be the on-trend products this year?

A number of retailers have asked me recently, “Is the gin bubble about to burst?”  “As millennials become a larger percentage of spend each year, are they spending as much on Christmas food as the older generations, and on which products?  “Is it best to have as wide a range as possible or stock more of fewer products?”  I will try and answer these questions based on what happened in the many hundreds of speciality retailers that bought much of their range from Cotswold Fayre last year.

One clear trend I noticed for the first-time last year was that sales of traditional Christmas products such as mince pies, stollen, panettone, and Christmas puddings were all around 10% down year on year in 2018 compared to 2017.  This is reflected too across the fresh products for Christmas dinner.  Fewer families are fixed on the traditional Christmas dinner and more are going ‘off piste’.  Yes of course, products like this will always sell very well but not just quite in the same numbers as before.  Retailers should bear this in mind when ordering this year.

The same is true of gift purchases with the more unusual food gifts being preferred than, say, to the traditional box of chocolates or biscuits.  These items will still be popular for the older recipient, but consumers are more adventurous in the 21st century, so quirky and the outright bizarre products sold well last year, and I would expect more of the same this year.  With the more traditional purchases, striking designs such as the Steven Brown range from Dean’s sold incredibly well for us last year and I expect the same this year.

Will there be more of a British emphasis this year with all the Brexit to-ing and fro-ing?  I expect that some consumers will choose to be entirely British in their Christmas purchases this year but there are likely to be an equal number determined to buy European to make their point.  I have never run across a good Yorkshire Panettone for sure!

Alcoholic drinks sales continue to grow especially in the vast array of gins available and personally I don’t see that bubble bursting this year.  Again, it is more likely to be the more unusual flavours or stories that draw consumers to brands for gift purchases.  Brightly coloured packaging or drinks seem to attract the Christmas magpies.  By all means stock some of the growing number of rum brands, as rum is mean to be the “new gin” but I expect gin to out-perform all other alcoholic drinks again this year.

The quirky and original rule also applies to advent calendars and it was the non-chocolate calendars that sold best for us last year, which as the Protein Ball advent calendar or the Snaffling Pig pork scratching advent calendar.  Amongst many others this year we have fudge, cocoa nib and popcorn advent calendars and I expect them all to do well.

Finally, we noticed last year that the better repeat sales came from retailers who bought fewer products.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but they were buying fewer lines in larger quantities and making larger eye-catching displays sometimes with a theme, which may have been ‘gin’, ‘ginger’, a particular colour or indeed a regional theme.  I would strongly recommend larger displays with large numbers of products as not only do these draw customers towards them, but the retailer creates the impression that these products are going to sell extremely well, which is a positive feedback loop.  Larger displays encourage consumers to buy items earlier for fear of missing out closer to Christmas.  Being able to do a special offer on some of these items is important, particularly in November, when customers are expecting some kind of deal running up to Black Friday.  Some speciality food retailers missed out last year from not having offers.

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