Christmas is coming home

Retailers should be stealing seasonal sales from the mults by making sure their stores are inviting and rewarding for shoppers

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Photo: iStock

This year’s Christmas will be a very different affair to normal, notably in the sense that there will be far fewer gatherings, and those that go ahead will be smaller and mostly in the family home.

The on-trade will be much more affected by this than the off trade; as a result, independent retailers can look forward to predicably robust sales of both alcoholic and soft drinks, as well as indulgent food and snacks, as people under various levels of lockdown try to treat themselves and enjoy as best they can the festive period indoors.

This year, more than ever, it is both the duty and the opportunity of the independent store-owner to communicate through display, range and merchandising, that Christmas can still be magical and memorable, despite the ravages of the pandemic on the nation’s social and family life.

During Christmas, sales of beer, wine and spirits always increase. Soft drinks also do well as they can be used as mixers, not to mention the increasing number of people who don’t drink alcohol at all and will happily consume soft drinks.

We temporarily forget waistline worries and indulge in delicious food and snacks at this time of the year – comfort-eating exists for a reason, and Christmas is permission to enjoy life’s little luxuries. This year, with money tight for many and recession on the horizon, purchases will be more of small but indulgent treats.

“When times are bad, consumers seek out luxuries, and speciality food certainly falls into this category. In light of recent events, this has certainly been true, and I would expect to see this trend continue throughout the year. In fact, I would expect some great spending on food at Christmas as consumers will have not been able to shop for a significant part of the year,” says Hargreaves of independent wholesaler Cotswold Fayre.

This is good news for independents, who can plot to take sales away from the supermarkets under the present conditions, which are overwhelmingly favourable to local shopping.

“It’s important for retailers to plan ahead and consider the type of products to stock for this year’s festivities.  As retailers reap the benefits of new customers visiting their stores, they should look to maximise this footfall by seeking repeat purchase and consider stocking new and unusual festive products that consumers can’t find in supermarkets,” he adds.

Local retailers are this year’s shop-window on Christmas, and they should do their best to turn their stores into grottoes of cheer – colourful and welcoming, with offers and enticements:

“My advice,” Hargreaves concludes, “would be to create big, bold Christmas displays, think about complementary products and ranges, and get them on shelf nice and early to maximise sales!  In recent years retailers stocking larger volumes of fewer lines seems to have resulted in better sales.”

Wine is fine, fizz is the biz

The Christmas period is incredibly valuable to wine sales, and it’s a huge opportunity for retailers to make the most of. Brands still remain important and are key to attracting people to the category, offering familiarity and trust.

“We see 1.5x more wine sales and a 2.75x increase in fizz sales during Christmas compared to the rest of the year– as well as new customers entering the category. We also see shoppers pay a premium for quality wine at Christmas with average price per litre four per cent higher than normal,” says Norbert Jozsa, Head of Category and Insight – Europe, at Accolade Wines who own Hardys and Jam Shed, among other best-selling brands.

“What’s more, still wine is the favourite drink to have with Christmas dinner and its therefore vital retailers look out for the latest promotions to amplify these in-store,” he adds.

So confident is Accolade of Yuletide promise and the quality of its own product, that it has announced a money-back guarantee running from 1 October to 31 December across all 75cl SKUs, with the offer advertised across 6.5m neck tags in the grocery, convenience, and wholesale channels.

 

The neck tags will make it clear the promotion is run by Hardys, not by the retailer and will also be supported by in-store POS, out-of-home advertising and social media. It demonstrates the sort of brand confidence the supplier is certain will boost consumer confidence in trying its products.

Ben Blake, Head of Marketing – Europe, at Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) is also certain of about “the brand effect” this year. “As we move into the winter months and the festive season commences, it is likely that consumers will want to connect more than ever with brands, particularly those that are adapting well to the new normal,” he says, and explains how the TWE Living Wine Labels app can drive consumer engagement.

“The app leverages augmented reality (AR) which, through the use of a smart phone, allows wine labels to come to life to tell the story of a brand. Currently, here in the UK the Living Wine Labels experiences include 19 Crimes, Wolf Blass, Matua, Squealing Pig, Lindeman’s Bins and Lindeman’s Gentleman’s Collection.”

The 19 Crimes brand has recently been augmented with “Sauv Block” and a new 1.5 ltr bag-in-box format that is proving incredibly popular, especially with youthful shoppers: “The bag-in-box category has recruited 40% more shoppers (+890K) than it has lost in the last two years, with new shoppers being much younger than those who have left.”

Leading wine producer and Chilean specialist Concha Y Toro, meanwhile, notes just how much extra wine is being consumed at home due to the pandemic. “Category volumes in July were estimated at 6.4 Million x 9 ltrcases ahead of where they would’ve been expected to be without the pandemic,” says Alex Price, Category and Insights Controller at CyT UK. “This unforecasted growth, if it continues, could potentially add up to another 4.9 million x 9 ltr cases by year end.”

“We are launching two festive bottles – Merry Malbec from Trivento, and Pinot Noel from Cono Sur,” announces Price. “These are the same market-leading wines (Trivento Reserve Malbec – the country’s best-selling Malbec, and Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir which is the best-selling Pinot Noir) but in fun festive packaging. Merry Malbec was hugely popular in last year’s festive season and we expect to see an even stronger uptake this year – in fact we have doubled the amount of festive bottles produced.”

And keeping in the Christmas spirit, Jam Shed – the UK’s fastest growing top-50 wine brand –is bringing back its mulled wine recipe neck tags, available on its Shiraz product in grocery, convenience, and wholesale.

“Last year’s campaign was a huge success and we’ll be supporting again this year with instore and digital activity, including online recipe videos to follow at home,” says Jozsa.

Christmas Spirits

Speaking of keeping in the Christmas spirit, retailers can expects the sales of liquor – and especially premium liquor – to raise the height of the roof this festive season. Whether as gifts or self-medication, spirits are an affordable luxury that coincides perfectly with Christmas giving, and thinking what to get Dad (or Mum).

In addition, this year has been a festival of cocktail-making, as workers from home apparently decided to become experts in the comfort of their own kitchens while the pubs and bars were shut. Charlotte Rann, Director of Impulse & RTM, UK & Ireland at Bacardi, points out that Total Spirits is worth £1.8bn in the UK convenience channel, and is growing+15 per cent, due in no small part to the coronavirus crisis.

It is expected that sales of ingredients will remain buoyant over the festive season as new skills are practiced to impress.

Paul Hargreaves sees big sales ahead for niche liqueurs and premium spirit products: “I’ve long been a believer that the gin bubble is ready to burst,and we’ve seen signs of this in 2020 as sales start to slow,” he says.“For this Christmas I expect Rum to continue to drive sales, and more unusual spirits and flavours to enter the market. Take for example Penningtons range featuring flavoured liqueurs including Gingerbread, Bakewell Gin and Kendal Mint, Keepr’s Honey Rum or Espresso Vodka, and Aluna Coconut Rum.”

His argument is for discovering profit and margin in having a wider range than perhaps would be usual, as consumers are in the mood to try out new tastes – always remembering that during the pandemic we have discovered more than ever that that brand is king.

“There’s a massive untapped opportunity for independent retailers when it comes to Christmas drinks – this year, more than ever before,” says Rann. “We believe people will be thinking about Christmas earlier than ever and looking to treat themselves and their loved ones to premium spirits like Grey Goose and Bombay Sapphire.”

Bombay Sapphire & Tonic Ready-To-Drink

She also believes that RTDs are going to be a big thing this year. “Interestingly, we’ve also seen ready-to-drinks experience a real leap in convenience and independent retailers in the last year 90 per cent of RTDs are currently purchased to enjoy at home as people look for convenient, hygienic ways to serve cocktails for guests, it’s a definite must-stock for the festive season and beyond,” she concludes.

Bacardi is surfing both the gin and rum waves: “Bombay Bramble is one of our newest launches, and a key focus for us as we enter the gifting and holiday season,” says Rann. “We’ve also recently launched Bacardí Spiced in the UK. Warming spiced flavours are always really popular during the festive period, so it’s perfectly positioned to tap into this trend.”

Over at Campari UK, Marketing Director Nick Williamson says they are expecting shoppers to want to treat themselves to help make Christmas specially special this year. “Demand for premium seasonal options can begin as early as mid-October,” he says, “meaning retailers should look to stock up now to capitalise on shoppers looking to prepare for the festive season.”

Aperol has been on of the big hits of the cocktail craze and Williamson’s tip is to stock accordingly for a citrus-flavoured Yule: “There is huge potential for impulse purchases of both Aperol and prosecco by displaying the ingredients together – with further opportunity to boost spend if merchandised alongside soda and oranges,” he advises, pointing out that 42 per cent of shoppers look to be inspired by recipe ideas in-store.

Beer of good cheer

Jess Markowski, who is Convenience Sales Director at Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I, knows more than most people what beer sells when in the independent channel. She says the Christmas period is consistently one of the key sales periods for the beer category in the Off-Trade – with sales over indexing in the last two weeks of 2019, compared to the year before. Imagine what it will be like this year.

“Optimising beer selection should therefore be a particular festive focus for retailers,” Markowski says. “Stella Artois is consistently the number one alcohol brand at Christmas, making it a stand-out choice for independents when stocking up during the festive season. The Artois Brewery crafted this festive beer in 1926 as a Christmas gift to the people of Leuven. That special batch was the first to officially include the name “Stella” – meaning star in Latin – and the brand now continues to pay homage to its Christmas heritage with the iconic star design on each bottle.” Who knew that it was the original Christmas brew?

2019 was a win for World Beer, too, she says, “Retailers can expect a similar trend this year.Corona is the number one world lager in the Off-Trade by value, growing 11 per cent YOY, so is a great premium choice for stores looking to tap into this category.”

Nigel McNally, MD of Brookfield drinks, agrees: “World beer is one of the star performers within the beer category, growing at +14 per cent YOY. In 2019, World Beer grew by £112m, driven by shoppers buying more world beer or adding world beer on top of their existing beer repertoire.” Brookfield distributes Super Bock, the no.1 best-selling Portuguese beer, which is guaranteed to gift retailer’s maximum sales this Christmas, says McNally.

The alcohol category grew almost four per cent over the festive period last year, and Markowski says that aligning cross-category products in-store helps inspire consumers to pick up items that may not have been on their shopping list. That fits perfectly with the self-treating and luxury picking element of Christmas spending, and can be encouraged through in-store display: “For example, pairing Stella Artois alongside buffet favourites such as charcuterie and cheese that complement its Belgian heritage.”

As well as bigger sales, bigger pack sizes are in demand over the festive season and mid-large packs see strong gains, with sales of bulk packs rising four per cent and mid-sized formats by 10 per cent. “Single and smaller beer formats, however, start to over index straight after New Year celebrations last year,” says Markowski – not so much a sign of sore heads as a signal that the get-togethers have been and gone.

But now is the time to stock more and bigger: The pint cans format has been growing in popularity with 60 per cent of consumers now only buying 4x568ml can format, with sales of the 4x568ml format growing by £36 million last year. “To help retailers make the most of the value opportunity this brings, we have moved away from 500ml cans to focus on the 568ml format.” (Super Bock is a best-seller in the even bigger 660 ml format.) And don’t forget No and Low alcohol, or “NabLab” as it is becoming known.

Brookfield’s’s Kestrel lager and Diamond Cider are also set to be Christmas favourites; their extended and special brewing processes and special ingredients – Kestrel has a 9-stage brewing process and longer-than-usual 7-day fermentation period, and Diamond is triple-filtered, just like the best vodkas are – recommends them as special purchases suitable to the season, alongside its value offerings of Black Star and White Star cider – the latter of which is enjoying 7.4 per cent YoY sales growth.

McNally also recommends pairings as an aid to sales: “In terms of craft beers such as Kestrel, the perfect pairing would be items such as nuts, crisps, cheese, or ready meals such as curry. These are also hugely popular items which people will be looking to purchase around the festive season.

Christmas cider is truly a thing: Brothers Drinks are showing a marvellous originality with their premium, seasonally flavoured and spiced winter offerings. Senior Marketing Manager Nicola Randall notes that “Consumers have already adapted to creating occasions and quality experiences at, so the alcohol they purchase this Christmas is likely to be more premium to reflect that trend.”

Brothers has a range of warm mulled recipes on its website, such as the Spiced Toffee Apple Winter Warmer, made with Brothers Toffee Apple variant. Retailers can use this and encourage additional purchases by displaying ingredients for mulled recipes together in-store.

Festive soft drink winners

Either as mixers for the cocktail crowd or as refreshing drinks in their own right for both adults and children, no independent retailer will need to be told about the importance of stocking the right soft drinks year-round – and especially at Christmas.

Amy Burgess, Senior Trade Communications Manager at Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), says that soft drinks sales grew by nearly four per cent over the Christmas period last year and, “With an estimated 6.1 million people now choosing not to consume alcohol, it’s more important than ever for retailers to ensure they invest in their soft drinks offering.”

In a sense Coca-Cola captured Christmas when it first gave Santa a bottle of Coke back in the 1930s. “As we do every year, Coca-Cola will have a strong Christmas plan in 2020, consisting of limited editions, on-pack festive graphics and consumer marketing, to support retailers and help give the nation a well-deserved, special Christmas to remember,” says Burgess.

With nearly one in five people – especially the younger generations – now eschewing alcohol, it is vitally important to get the soft drinks option straight. “Key segments at Christmas include Cola, Mixers and premium Adult Soft Drinks,” she says. “This includes the Coca-Cola range – Coca-Cola zero sugar, Coca-Cola original taste and Diet Coke – which has long-been synonymous with Christmas.”

Adult soft drinks such as Appletiser can offer a sophisticated non-alcoholic refreshment option, when others may be having beer, wine or cocktails. “Adult soft drinks are particularly popular with consumers around this time of year, and Appletiser is no exception, increasing in value by just over 11 per cent during December 2019,” says Burgess.

’Tis the season for snacking

With all the drinking going on, there is also a need for snacks. As PepsiCo’s Wholesale Trading Director, Matt Goddard, says, “Christmas presents a huge opportunity for retailers to increase basket spend in-store, especially within the savoury snacks category, as crisps are a popular convenient option for shoppers to enjoy.

Matt’s analysis is that the prospect of selling more snacks through convenience than multiples this season is very good, for reasons that have emerged through the pandemic period.

“The traditional basket of a convenience retailer has changed. Single serve products are in decline, but sharing and multi-packs are increasing. This change in behaviour has helped drive growth within the convenience channel, with sales up by eight per cent this year,” he says. “As Christmas approaches, we believe it’s likely that shoppers will continue to shop for their favourite snacks at their local stores.”

He says there is a great opportunity for retailers to offer families extra excitement with new formats and big flavours, that can bring plenty of enjoyment to their Christmas.  He especially recommends the new Doritos Stax in light of its recent big launch: “Shoppers want to be excited when purchasing from the savoury snacks category, so it is important that retailers offer new formats and flavours, such as Doritos Stax, to their existing savoury snacks offering.

They’re available in three flavours: Ultimate Cheese, Sour Cream & Onion, Mexican Chilli Salsa, and all come a recyclable triangular tube. Likewise look out for the new Wotsits flavours of Flamin’ Hot and Sizzling Steak, which have already proven popular, showing £4.1 Million RSV growth since their launch this year.

And don’t forget the Bombay Mix! To help retailers get the most out of the festive period, Cofresh now offers a wide range of “taste adventure” snacks including its traditional Asian Mixes and potato-based “Grills” ranges. Latest flavours include the new Khatta Meetha and Chilli & Lemon Bombay Mix, the ever-popular Corn Crackers and Peri Peri, Chilli & Cheese and Sweet Chilli Grills, all of which go so well with Christmas drinks.

Cofresh is taking Christmas very seriously, and its snacks are now available in a range of pack sizes, including share bags, while extensive retailer support such as distinctive SRPs, FSDUs, gondola ends, POS material and instore promotional activity, help drive footfall to the fixtures.

But savoury snacks are just part of the Christmas sideboard offering. Burton’s Biscuit Company’s marketing director, Kate Needham, reminds us that seasonal biscuits are also a major opportunity for convenience retailers. Traditional Christmas packs of shortbread biscuits, such as Burton’s-owned Paterson’s Shortbread are a sure bet for retail success. Paterson’s is the nation’s favourite shortbread brand with an impressive 51.4 per cent brand share, and a must stock for retailers this Christmas.

Things get even sweeter when we move onto cake offerings – another indispensable aspect of Christmas fare. Claire Hooper, Head of Marketing – Cake, at pladis UK&I, tells us that “Seasonal events with mass appeal are a great way to inject some novelty in store and encourage shoppers to make impulse purchases. This is particularly important for cake, as it is a more impulsive buy than other sweet snacks.”

Perhaps the ultimate self-treat (even if the excuse is that everybody will share them) cakes are a great sales opportunity as the festive season approaches, and pladis is aiming straight at it.

“This Christmas, we’re excited to be launching McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes Festive Orange Yule Logs, inspired by the festive season and driven by the popularity of the nation’s favourite cake bar, McVitie’s Jaffa Cake Bars  – now worth £7 million,” says Hooper. “As Britain’s biggest Cake Bar brand, this seasonal offer from McVitie’s will offer shoppers some familiarity, whilst helping independent retailers add some novelty to their in-store range.”

She believes that the traditional Christmas indulgence will find even more justification this year after all the country has been through.

“McVitie’s Moments Brownies – our most luxurious launch yet – is particularly well-suited to the indulgence trend. As the category’s first fully enrobed chocolate brownie, McVitie’s Moments Brownies provide retailers with an opportunity to maximise sales during the festive period.”

There is also the ultimate secret weapon: “We’ve launched McVitie’s Santa Snacks Chocolate Cake Bars with fun, festive packaging – which poses the question: ‘Who will you leave one out for?’ – and a novelty on-pack design which offers shoppers ‘One for Santa’, ‘One for Rudolph’ and ‘One for the Elf’, we’re confident that McVitie’s Santa Snacks Chocolate Cake Bars will drive excitement among the young, and young-at-heart, nationwide.”

Substantial fare

Christmas dinner of course takes care of itself, but for the many other eating occasions surrounding the main festive event, all involving drinks and snacks, the hot dishes and cheese boards with bread are also a great source of sales for independents – again, more so this year than before, with the combination of impulse and local shopping up across the channel at the expense of the larger supermarkets.

“With Christmas being a time of year when people host family and friends, retailers need to offer a range of seasonal treats,” says St Pierre Groupe founder Paul Baker.“It is a time for food and treating ourselves, and one category that always performs well during this period is bread and bakery.”

He reminds us that running out of bread at any time of year is a concern for many households, but it’s even more important at Christmas when shoppers will have to plan for the family. “The Baker Street fresher-for-longer range meets the needs of these consumers who want to be sure they don’t run out of bread at a critical time but are also worried about food waste,” says Baker.

Baker Street’s extensive bread and bakery range guarantees a minimum life of 35 days from delivery to depot and helps retailers ensure on-shelf availability whilst reducing wastage, maximising further sales. Likewise the aroma of fresh bread is irresistible, especially with the family gathered for Christmas: The Paul Hollywood Ready to Bake range offers consumers the opportunity to enjoy premium, freshly baked bread conveniently, straight from the cupboard. The range includes Crusty Rolls, Rustic Rolls and Multi-Seed Rolls.

Baker points out that with restaurants and cafes subject to lockdowns and curfews, having such items at home as long-like All Butter Croissants for breakfast and St Pierre brioches is a great advantage, as well as being “an ideal base for a gourmet leftover turkey bap to enjoy on Boxing Day.”

Cheese and wine go together like – well, cheese and wine, and one of the best, no doubt spread on the freshly-baked Paul Hollywood rolls, is Boursin, a great Christmas favourite.

“With particularly strong affinity with the cheeseboard occasion at Christmas, worth £3.3m in the month of December alone, Boursin is a must-stock brand that will attract incremental as well as loyal customers to the cheese fixture through the festive period and beyond,” says Celina Leroyer, Senior Brand Manager.

Boursin has a big new Christmas campaign that will build on the great success Boursin has enjoyed during the lockdown period, when shoppers increasingly turned to it as a convenience-bought take-home snack, which has seen brand growth accelerating almost 30 per cent, making Boursin, the No.1 Indulgence cheese brand.

Other cheeseboard essentials include the Président brand by Lactalis. “Premium cheeses, like Président Brie and Président Camembert, are must-stocks during the Christmas period as consumers often look to upgrade from their usual purchases and opt for products that offer simple indulgence,” saysHeloise Le Norcy-Trott, Group Marketing & Category Director for Lactalis UK & Ireland.

Ideal for cheese boards, these products were best-sellers throughout the festive season last year, growing by + 69 per cent and + 121 per cent.

Le Norcy-Trott also brings attention to the trend for baking cheeses, into which crudites (or even Doritos) may be tastily dipped. The sector is currently enjoying outrageous growth of 176 per cent – perhaps because hot cheese bridges the gap between snacks and a formal, sit-down meal, allowing the party atmosphere to linger while also taking in some serious nutrition.

It is good times for cheese, which, as Le Norcy-Trott points out, have benefitted from lockdown as consumers started seeking out small yet affordable luxuries.

Added to cheese delights might be a perfect basket of McCain French Fries or Home Chips to go along with the beer and cocktails.

And when finally Christmas dinner is served, McCain can again be on the centre of the plate. Convenience stores have seen an upsurge in frozen sales and McCain’s Roasts are the ultimate fluffy roast potato – bound to be in big demand this festive season.

“McCain pride themselves on offering the perfect roasts whether it’s for a Sunday roast, Christmas dinner or special family celebration during the winter months,” says Naomi Tinkler, McCain Category Controller.“With more consumers spending more time at home and cooking meals this creates more opportunities for shoppers to cook a full roast dinner with all the trimmings, especially at Christmas.”

She says McCain baste their Roasts just like consumers do at home, rather than batter them, which tends to be the industry norm,and this allows McCain Roasts to have the authentic homemade taste. It also perhaps helps to explain the four per cent rise in independent sales of Roasts this year. (Plus, of course, they are a great shortcut that shoppers can be sure will turn out perfectly every time.)

No matter how hard the year has been, there is a lot to look forward to this Christmas. Being present with those close to us will feel more precious than ever, and with such a great range of food, drinks and snacks to help the occasion along, the country will perhaps finally begin to feel that things are getting back to normal again.