For retailers and caterers, Christmas is the most lucrative time of year. Suppliers and wholesalers are perfectly placed to capitalise on this annual sales opportunity provided they get their strategy spot-on. Here are the key areas that can contribute to a cracking Christmas.
The variety of eating occasions that people enjoy over the festive period – from canapés to three-course meals – present a huge opportunity for wholesalers. In foodservice, wholesalers should offer solutions to help their customers meet the increased demand placed on them in the run-up to and during Christmas and New Year.
Sarah Robb, channel marketing manager at Premier Foods, highlights the need for operators to stand out from the crowd during the season. This means being aware of upcoming trends and offering customers the right range of products.
“By stocking well-known, quality brands that chefs can trust, as early as possible, Christmas can be an extremely profitable time for wholesalers,” she says.
Wholesalers can best support chefs by working with suppliers to offer costed recipes to suit different occasions. Healthy options, as well as products and ingredients that can be used to cater for gluten-free diets, form an increasingly attractive offering.
“Research we conducted earlier this year demonstrated that consumers want to see more fish dishes on menus, as these are often perceived to be a lighter option. Wholesalers should promote their fresh fish range in the build-up to Christmas,” Robb advises.
Gail Bridgeman, campaign and activation manager at Bidvest Foodservice, also recommends offering products to fit in with consumer trends. She says: “Although Christmas is often a time of traditions, the marketplace is fast-moving, with a plethora of trends and eating habits continually emerging. As well as offering the popular Christmas recipes, it is important for operators to cater for varying consumer demands, from meat-free options for vegetarians to new and indulgent products.”
Offering high-quality, pre-prepared items will also help foodservice businesses cater for the increased numbers of customers they are likely to serve during the festive period.
Paul Thompson, foodservice sales manager at Brioche Pasquier, says: “Menus don’t need to comprise traditional Christmas courses – a pre-prepared range of traditional French pâtisserie, for example, is the perfect choice for caterers who are looking to offer a quality, authentic-tasting dessert that is aesthetically pleasing without being too large a portion.
“By using a pre-prepared range, caterers have the chance to present a menu of a high standard; one that doesn’t need the time and effort required to make these offerings from scratch.”
In the drinks category, soft options sell well at Christmas, alongside traditional alcoholic tipples. Festive entertaining boosts sales of juices and soft drinks, as these are consumed as standalone non-alcoholic drinks as well as in mixers, according to James Logan, commercial director at Refresco Gerber.
“More mixers, carbonates, fruit juices and juice drinks and less water are likely to be sold over Christmas,” he says. “Last year’s figures showed a 54.6% increase in value for mixers and a 13.8% increase in fruit juice and juice drinks during the four-week festive period compared to the previous year – and a 7.8% decline in water, a greater fall than in 2014.”
Ambient multi-serve drinks perform well at Christmas, Logan says, as consumers opt for affordable drinks with a longer shelf life in larger formats that don’t take up valuable fridge space. Single-serve drinks, such as coconut water and orange juice, are also popular as consumers look for morning-after hydration and seek to replenish lost vitamins.
“Concerns about sugar are less of a consideration during the festive season as, for many, it is not a time to count calories and check labels – it is a time for treats, with the focus being on more interesting flavours,” he adds.
For convenience retailers, sweet treats are a crucial part of the Christmas offer. The total confectionery market has grown more than £6m in the past two years and this trend is likely to continue into Christmas this year, according to Mark Walker, sales director for Swizzels Matlow.
“Swizzels’ Christmas range offers value for money and great variety, which is something all customers are looking for at this time of year. The products also work well as gifts or stocking fillers for sweet-lovers,” he says.
Dan Newell, confections marketing manager at Wrigley, says that to keep customers coming back as the holiday draws closer and to increase basket spend, c-stores need to be stocking impulse confectionery in advance.
“It’s therefore vital that wholesalers have the right range in-depot early on to help their customers maintain consumer interest and loyalty throughout the season,” he adds.
Susan Nash, trade communications manager at Mondelēz International, says confectionery “is at the heart of Christmas, worth £706m in 2015”. Chocolate is more relevant than ever for the convenience channel, she notes, after total chocolate sales grew by 2% year-on-year in Q4 2015, while seasonal novelties were up by 3.7%.
Wholesalers should advise c-stores to start the countdown to Christmas in October with self-eats, continue the countdown theme in November with advent and novelty sharing lines, and then stock selection boxes, Christmas-themed gifts, family sharing lines and top-up gifts in December, Nash says.
“As the second biggest occasion in total chocolate, Christmas is also a huge gifting occasion for adults,” she adds. “As families and friends come together in the festive season, sharing packs play a big role in households and add some seasonal excitement during these occasions.”
Following huge success last year, the Cadbury Cadvent campaign will return this year with a £10m spend and new creative, experiential, in-store activity. The brand is also giving consumers the chance to win £500 in the convenience channel with its new scratchcard competition.
Mike Leonard, Day Today controller for United Wholesale, says that Christmas is the time to drive retail execution at its best, to up sales and profits for c-stores. He adds: “This year, we are engaging with a number of our partner suppliers to work in conjunction with them and their sales teams, so that our stores are equipped with the best there is in terms of seasonally-appropriate products, as well as the correct equipment to enhance the display of these products through the effective siting of dump bins, additional point-of-sale material, and so on.
“All of this will add to our normal approach to business at this time of year by ensuring that we have the correct volume-driving deals, allowing our retailers to compete effectively in the marketplace, and, of course, ensuring that availability of these products is high.”