From light-up gin bottles to prawn lollipops, retailers hope to tempt us with treats.
None of us knows exactly what the festive season will look like this year, but the big retailers have to call it early. Most will have started planning as soon as last year’s tinsel came down and Christmas food and drink ranges start appearing in store this month.
Edward Bergen, Mintel’s global food and drink analyst, had put his Christmas 2020 insights together before most of us had heard of Covid-19. He says most of the trends he was seeing will continue, but sales will be impacted. “It’s going to be an interesting year,” he observes.
“I can imagine consumers saying they want a treat, and we’re seeing a lot of mini indulgences. But how much volume will we see if consumers aren’t hosting guests?”
Are you tempted by M&S’s light-up gin bottle, or the Buck’s Fizz chocolate candles from Waitrose? Aldi is offering a giant pulled pork pastry cracker, Sainsbury’s has a pigs-inblankets wreath, and Morrison’s is taking the hassle out of both shopping and cooking with its £50 Christmas dinner box. If you want to encourage the kids to eat their greens, call on Asda’s Bruce the Brussels Sprout cake.
The prospect of more, smaller events looks almost certain, with Rule of Six gatherings where bucket loads of peeled potatoes and bins full of beers on ice are redundant.
And despite the many sorrows we have to drown this year, drinking is expected to be down and premium products on the rise as retailers seek to maximise profits where volume will evaporate.
Small but perfectly formed M&S coined the term “Minimases” in its Christmas trends report, and for these events we will want easy meals and non-turkey dishes. The retailer has also come up with the somewhat grating acronym JONSO, meaning the joy of not stressing out.
With fewer guests, last-minute panics are unlikely. There are better ranges of bite-sized party snacks than ever. M&S has prawns in blankets, cheesy Marmite crumpets and mini no-chicken Kievs. Waitrose has lobster thermidor wellingtons and nduja croquettes. Tesco and Aldi have prawn lollipops and the Co-op no-duck spring rolls.
“Christmas will feel very different this year,” say Lisa Harris and Alex Hayes from Harris and Hayes food and drink trends consultancy.
“Families and friends will develop new rituals and traditions to accommodate that. Smaller pack sizes, mix and match options, customisable products and treats with extra festive sparkle will be popular.” Dial up the luxury Opulence is in abundance all over the high street this year, from Iceland’s frozen smoked salmon, the UK’s first, to Aldi’s new luxury and vegan hampers, “I’m really surprised at the huge level of indulgence,” says Bergen. “But when we looked at the 2009 recession, where other luxuries took the hit, premium food and drink did extremely well.”
Plan ahead M&S has found that 15 per cent of customers plan to stock up earlier than usual and 11 per cent expect to be doing more cooking from scratch. “We anticipate flexible planning,” say Harris and Hayes. “People will rely on frozen and store-cupboard ingredients to flex numbers. Christmas shopping is likely to be done earlier to spread the cost and stock up on must-haves.
“Nutrition, hygiene and immune boosting foods are big trends so it will be interesting to see how that plays out across the festive period. We’d expect them to be shelved until the New Year as indulgence is as indispensable as Santa when it comes to Christmas.”
Plant-based All the retailers are playing to their vegan customers. Morrison’s has a beefless wellington and a vegetable Christmas tarte, M&S has a mushroom and camembert pie, Waitrose is doing a vegan fondue, and Aldi has vegetable Thai “roses” for a very pretty vegan canapé. “Two years ago I was asking where the vegan Christmas was,” says Bergen. “Last year we saw more centrepieces and this year we’re seeing a lot of vegan desserts and experimentation in party dishes, like bao buns, dumplings and vegan pigs-in-blankets.”
Alcohol sales are likely to take a hit at Christmas and New Year. Bergen says that people might buy better-quality products, keen again to treat themselves, but we drink more when we’re with other people. “Without the camaraderie of friends and family, the volume will be impacted,” he says.
Digital first “More people will do their Christmas shop online this year,” say Harris and Hayes. “Retailers are reporting a significant number have already booked their festive delivery slots. We expect online gift sales to rocket, as family and friends send presents as an alternative to celebrating face-to-face.”
Advent opportunity If you can’t wait until Christmas, the booming market in adult advent calendars is a way to get early hits of festive cheer. “Most brands are now doing an advent calendar, from Lego to coffee pods to alcohol,” says Bergen. “They’re very much a personal treat and an exciting thing to give children if you’re stuck at home.”