Once again it’s that time of year in the United Kingdom when the focus turns to festive celebrations and a wave of new products flood the market. With the London-based Mintel market research firm forecasting December retail sales to be worth £48.7 billion in Britain, growing 3.8% compared to last year and with food retailers enjoying sales of £18.8 billion, there promises to be plenty of profit to be had this Christmas.
“We’re forecasting that December will result in steady growth for the retail sector,” said Nick Carroll, associate director of retail research at Mintel. “In normal circumstances, with current low unemployment and solid wage growth, this would point to an even better Christmas than in past years. However, this has, of course, been far from an ideal run-up, with Brexit uncertainty dragging on and an election now a late additional hurdle for the sector to pass and process before the big day.
“Despite this, the past few festive periods have shown that customers can be resilient in the face of uncertain times and we believe underlying demand will hold up reasonably well. Customers will, of course, be looking for value, and with fewer days between Black Friday and Christmas this year retailers’ margins may be particularly stretched.”
Brexit has undoubtedly had an impact on the frozen food sector, with wholesalers stockpiling products since March in anticipation of what was to come. However, with continued delays, this means storage space is scarce.
“Warehouses are already stockpiling for Christmas, which has led to a national lack of space for Brexit storage,” said Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods. “Out of stocks of everything is a real possibility.”
Retailers and wholesalers holding stock in preparation for Brexit has a knock-on effect on stocks of Christmas products too as they opt for hoarding the basics as opposed to festive treats.
“Customers, suppliers and distributors are opting for higher volume products such as bread or chips to stock hold rather than Christmas products,” explained Ross Taylor, frozen food category trader at Creed Foodservice. “As freezer space is limited, in turn, there is less space for Christmas products to be held too.”
Demand for vegan products has grown dramatically over the last few years and there are now great expectations from consumers for plant-based festive feasts, which means the retail and foodservice sectors have been under pressure to come up with the goods.
“Operators preferably want products that are both vegan and gluten-free, as this helps them to avoid menu proliferation and to satisfy as many different diners as possible with the minimum number of menu options,” explained Lauder. “Consumers are more carefully considering where to spend their pounds at the moment due to Brexit uncertainty and therefore they demand quality when they do spend on eating out, but it must still offer value for money.”
Christmas is a time of indulgence and those looking for meat-free options want impressive offerings that will rival any of the meaty products on the market, particularly those that take center stage on tables.
“Vegan or vegetarian center of plate solutions are big news this festive season as caterers look for an alternative to turkey or other meats,” said Taylor. “Creed is offering a selection of options from a Cajun Spiced Sweet Potato Roulade, which is also gluten free, to a vegan Penang Curry as an alternative Christmas main course.”
Vegan Christmas desserts are also in high demand. Creed, for example, has a vegan Christmas Pudding Pie and an indulgent vegan and gluten-free Billionaire Bar.
“Traditional festive flavors will always remain important at this time of year, but there’s certainly some new flavor trends in ice cream that have arisen for Christmas and beyond,” said Christina Veal, director at New Forest Ice Cream. “Rhubarb is definitely making a comeback and has captured the attention of many chefs and customers alike who are now celebrating its distinctive flavor and versatility as an ingredient – whether it be on menus, in ice cream or even gin!”
According to Iceland, there are two key trends in the retail sector – affordable luxury and tradition. Consumers are likely to trade up to luxurious products at Christmas, but the uncertainty surrounding Brexit means they are looking for value.
“We believe we have a best in market value for money offer on lobster (£5.49, matching Lidl) and croqembouche (£5),” said Lauren Metcalfe, frozen category manager at Iceland. “Christmas is a traditional time for food and eating habits and although consumers like to have something a little different to impress their guests, they are also pretty safe at this time of year.”
With the street food phenomenon still in full swing caterers can make the most of their popularity with traditional festive flavors in street-style format to appeal to merry makers.
“Traditional festive products continue to do well but often with a contemporary twist,” said Taylor. “Rob Owen, Creed’s executive business development chef, has created a Festive Yorkshire Wrap – an 8-inch frozen Yorkshire Pudding layered with meat, vegetables, stuffing and cranberry sauce, then rolled to make a hand-held wrap – Christmas Dinner in a food-to-go format!”
Although Brexit has created some issues for the frozen food industry, innovation continues to evolve with festive food to meet consumer demand, so for all intents and purposes it seems like it’s business as usual this Christmas.
- For a main course, Central Foods offers the Menuserve Cajun Spiced Sweet Potato Roulade with Vegan Cream Cheese, Red Pepper and Black Bean Salsa, which is suitable for both vegan and gluten-free diners. A center-of-the-plate item, it cooks in just 2.5 minutes in a combi microwave/oven and will appeal to any diner looking for a veggie option.
- Featuring seasonal staples such as turkey, pork, cheese and cranberries, Delice De France’s savory Christmas offering sees a host of festive flavors wrapped “to-go” in buttery pastry. While mincemeat, chocolate, nutmeg and marzipan are just some of the headline ingredients set to bring consumers joy as part of the company’s sweet Christmas lineup, the new range also offers a Vegan Mince Pie Tart alongside a gluten-free Sticky Toffee Pudding.
- Iceland has a range of more than 150 seasonal frozen products – turkeys and meat joints with all the expected trimmings and some one would not expect, such as vegan chocolate snowflakes.
- ASDA’s 2019 festive range includes a Vegan Festive Wellington, an essential for an inclusive festive feast, costing £3. Other items in its festive frozen range include its party selection of Coconut and Lime Butterfly King Prawns, 10-piece Vol Au Vent Selection, 12-piece Duck Selection, and Vintage Cheddar Burgers with Ancho Chilli Relish priced at £2.50 each.
- Morrisons has launched vegan no-pigs in blankets created for people looking for meat-free products on their Christmas plate. The festive range also features The Best Korean Jackfruit Bao Buns (£3.50) and Katsu Croquettes (£2.50), both of which are available in stores starting December 11. – Reported by Sarah Welsh