The cost of living crisis may be ongoing, but retailers are tempting shoppers with high-end fare – from savoury profiteroles to posh brunches
It’s shaping up to be yet another Christmas in a cost of living crisis. The cost of food is continuing to climb. Mortgage rates have only fallen marginally from the highs of earlier this year. And research from KPMG in October suggests four in 10 consumers will spend less on gifting this season.
Yet analysts are cautiously optimistic over the prospects for Christmas food and drink. Fraser McKevitt, head of retail & consumer insight at Kantar UK, points out inflation is easing, even if it has not disappeared entirely. The CPI is down to less than 5%. While grocery inflation is still running at about 9.7%, that has fallen from highs of 20%.
As such, “people are going to be watching what they’re spending, but they might push the boat out for one or two really special ‘showstopper’ items”, McKevitt forecasts.
That chimes with this month’s M&S Family Matters report, which found 80% of people will consider quality a top priority when shopping for food this Christmas.
This could benefit both brands and own label. “Christmas is always a time when people’s favourite brands do well … and the other thing that does really well at Christmas is premium own label, so the retailers will be pushing those lines quite hard,” McKevitt says.
“It’s all about saying: ‘This is our best stuff, and if you buy this at a decent price you’ll get something pretty special,’ he adds.
There’s certainly no shortage of premium lines on offer this year. For starters, the decadent Christmas brunch has established itself as a trend that is here to stay – spawning such lines as Tesco Finest Lobster and King Prawn Thermidor Rolls Kit.
Hamish Renton, MD of HRA Global, sees enduring appetite for brunch fare. “The chronology of the big day itself is becoming later and later, therefore a brunch with items such as smoked salmon, fizz and eggs fits perfectly any time in the morning – it’s become the poshest breakfast occasion of the year,” he says.
That appetite for treats outside of the big meal has also fuelled the grazing board trend (p34). Sam Dickson, vice-president of own brand, commercial strategy & operations at Asda, believes this trend “isn’t going away any time soon”. However, she notes boards can often be “expensive to put together” – prompting supermarkets to create ready-to-serve, more cost-effective options such as its Extra Special Charcuterie Ultimate Grazing Platter.
The showstopper bottle is set to be another key fixture in this year’s celebrations, following the success of the M&S light-up gin.
“I love the idea of fancy spirit bottles that can be reused once empty,” says Sally Hookham, MD of product development specialist The Food Business. She can see this trend going one step further with refills that create an “ongoing gift”.
Read on for our pick of the core grocery trends to watch this Christmas – from savoury profiteroles to festive loo roll.
Nibbles: tasty snacks for Christmas day
Alongside the Christmas brunch comes a rise in evening grazing. Thankfully, gone are the days of dry turkey sandwiches, whatever crisps are left from the multipack and a mandatory (untouched) bowl of silverskin onions.
Instead, tasty sharing boards aim to make the evening occasion just as special as the main event. And the mults are aiming to make their creation easier than ever with their own ready-made versions.
Asda, for one, has brought out an Extra Special Charcuterie Ultimate Grazing Platter. M&S has also got in on the act with its Luxury Shellfish Platter (pictured) featuring Honduran king prawns, Atlantic dressed crab and crab claws, and black tiger prawns.
And Sainsbury’s has delivered a pun-tastic grazing platter with its Taste the Difference Rocking Around the Charcuter’tree. The board includes premium Italian charcuterie, Iberico cheese and sweet red pepper drops.
Brunch: What to eat for Christmas breakfast and brunch 2023
Forget telling the kids not to eat anything before Christmas dinner. The Christmas brunch has now established itself as a staple in UK households. And the retailers are going all out this year to make it a suitably decadent occasion.
Tesco has brought out a Finest Lobster and King Prawn Thermidor Rolls Kit (pictured above), which includes lightly poached prime lobster meat with king prawns and a fennel pickle with dill. The kit also boasts a thermidor mayonnaise and all-butter brioche finger rolls, ready to be assembled at home.
In a continuation of the seafood theme, Sainsbury’s is offering a Taste the Difference Smoked Haddock Rarebit. This includes flakes of smoked haddock in a vintage cheddar & ale sauce with a mustard finish to invoke that classic rarebit flavour.
And Iceland has gone heavy on cheese with its new, exclusive Cathedral City products. The range includes Mini Ham and Cheese Crumpets, and Cheese and Ham Hashbrown Mini Toasties. And for the ultimate cheesy twist on a festive treat, it has a Pigs in Blankets Toastie. Just make sure there’s room for dinner!
Snacking: vegetarian and vegan Christmas picky bits
As increasing numbers of Brits say they would welcome a plant-based Christmas, Pollen + Grace has taken up the challenge. Its Festive Stuffing & Winter Veg Wrap (left) sticks to the brand’s health-conscious image with a veg-packed combo of herby mushroom, onion and sage stuffing, winter red cabbage slaw, roasted red onion and butternut squash all topped with cranberry sauce.
Waitrose is also hot on this trend. Two of its three seasonal sandwiches are plant-based: the Vegan Bubble & Squeak on malted bread, and the Salt Beet & Emmental on rye bread. The latter is filled with roasted spiced beetroot, gherkins, spinach and sliced emmental cheese.
Packaging: new festive liqueurs and spirits
Marks & Spencer’s light-up gin globes have been such a runaway success that the empty bottles can still be found on eBay.
As such, it’s no surprise to see M&S put on a strong showing this year with a trio of Instagram-ready Christmas liqueurs – Very Berry Vodka, Marmalade Gin and a Stollen Ru – that light up.
But it’s got some stiff competition this year. Ultra-smooth vodka virtuoso Black Cow has cooked up a Christmas Spirit using an assortment of winter fruits and spices including figs, orange zest, cinnamon, all macerated in their Pure Milk Vodka. The real standout feature, though, is the bottle with an intricate wintry festive scene.
Meanwhile, Gordon’s is betting on its Sugar Plum Gin Liqueur bottle (pictured) standing out on shelves with a sparkling sketch of plums and berries. And Lidl is mining its German roots to great effect with a Christmas market scene on its Christkindl Mulled Wine bottles.
Alcohol: festive-flavoured Christmas alcohol
Rum has long been tipped as the next gin. And it seems to have made headway on that front this Christmas.
Dark rum has moved from a mixologist favourite to a core fixture in this year’s festive spirit lineups, as well as a key flavour in many foodie creations.
In the case of Asda, brown butter & spiced dark rum flavour runs through much of its range this year, after its innovation team noted rum’s popularity in cocktail bars across the globe.
The result is a selection of products, including Extra Special Brown Butter and Spiced Dark Rum Mince Pies (pictured) and Extra Special Slow Cooked Turkey with Signature Spiced Dark Rum & Brown Butter Stuffing.
There’s also plenty of rum in liquid form. See Finders’ The Spirit of Christmas Pudding Rum – a warming, oak-aged option with cinnamon, orange and muscovado.
For the sweeter tooth, the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Sticky Toffee Rum Liqueur works well served neat or over ice. And in a nod to the showstopper booze trend (see right), it comes in an elegant art deco style bottle.
Posh pastries: Savoury flavours for… profiteroles
Sweet profiteroles have long been the crowning glory at Christmas dinner tables.
But increasingly, the spherical choux-stoppers are getting a savoury twist for the festivities.
See Asda’s Extra Special Camembert & Cranberry Savoury Profiteroles. The choux balls are filled with a decadent camembert sauce and topped with a cranberry, cheddar & parsley crumb to provide a textured finish.
Over at Aldi, there are two savoury profiterole flavours on offer. Shoppers can either opt for a simple Barber’s mature cheddar filling or the same cheese infused with chorizo.
The lineup got a mixed reaction on social media, with one person describing the flavours as “hard to process”. So Aldi has kept an option for traditionalists, too: a Specially Selected Belgian Chocolate Profiterole Stack.
Mains: Wellingtons for vegans
The beef wellington is always a popular centrepiece at Christmas. Unless you’re a vegan or veggie, that is.
So, as increasing numbers of households plan a plant-based Christmas this year, the mults have brought out wellingtons without the cow.
Take Waitrose’s No 1 Ultimate Vegan Sharing Wellington (pictured), a mushroom duxelle with plant-based beef braised in a shallot, garlic and thyme vegetable stock. The mix is wrapped in pastry and hand-decorated with holly shapes to finish.
Abel & Cole also offers up a Winter Vegetable Wellington with Cranberries, packed with winter veg and cranberries and wrapped in hand-rolled pastry.
Finally, there’s Morrisons’ Plant Revolution Vegetable Wellington, which brings together a mixture of butternut squash, parsnip, mushrooms and soya protein in a golden puff pastry. It’s enough to even tempt the meat-eaters.
Chinese-inspired: Christmas street food – a different kind of festive snack
Head to almost any street food market in the UK and it’s hard to move for bao buns. Both sweet and savoury options have gradually made their way into the grocery scene too, courtesy of brands like Itsu.
Now they look set to become a festive favourite among supermarket own label ranges.
Tesco, for one, has doubled down on its bao bun offering for Christmas 2023 with premium-looking meat and plant-based options.
Its Finest Steamed Duck and Orange Buns (pictured) cover off the former, while its plant-based Finest Steamed Mushroom Buns are filled with hoisin sauce to give a sweet yet umami finish.
Sainsbury’s is also expanding its bao buns range – and its festive puns in the process. Its Taste the Difference Baos of Holly come shaped and decorated like Christmas puddings. But inside, they boast an Asian-influenced savoury filling comprising wood ear mushrooms, water chestnuts, carrot, spring onion and ginger.
M&S is also using a combination of festive decoration and traditional Asian flavours. Its Snowmen Steamed Bao Buns feature a mixture of vegetables and a hoisin sauce.
Cocktails: Fruity garnishes designed to elevate at-home festive cocktails
Ask any home cocktail cognoscenti, and they’ll tell you the finishing touches sort the wheat from the chaff.
With that in mind, Mixologist’s Garden has released a range of ready-to-use fruit garnishes (pictured) that add a sprinkle of stardust to any creation. There are five freeze-dried fruit options available: lemon, lime, strawberry, raspberry and blueberry.
And few garnishes provide a whiff of professionalism quite like a dried fruit wheel.
London-based brand Frona offers an eye-catching range, including orange, green lemon and passion fruit options – all of which promise to make home-made cocktails look just as good as they taste.
Retro flavours: Return to the black forest
Black forest is making a comeback. Having been momentarily cast aside – along with cheese & pineapple on cocktail sticks and the prawn cocktail – the retro favourite features in several lineups this year.
But don’t expect 1970s-style cakes to suddenly adorn the shelves. This about taking a classic and giving it a modern, ultra-decadent twist.
Asda is going all in with its own gateau – an Extra Special Black Forest Woodland Cake – and a more snackable option of Extra Special Black Forest Stollen Bites.
Waitrose has also made black forest into a contemporary centrepiece. Its No 1 Black Forest Buche de Noel is a yule log with chocolate, morello cherry compote, kirsch jelly and ganache.
Finally Hotel Chocolat has taken on the trend in its own way. Its Black Forest Gateau Velvetised Chocolate Cream (pictured) blends dark and white chocolate, morello cherry and almond.
Knitwear: Grocery-branded Christmas jumpers for the festive foodie in your life
If there’s one thing guaranteed to divide friends, families and households at Christmas, it’s the Christmas jumper.
For those who not only embrace the medium but also feel that Christmas is the perfect time to advertise one’s love for famous British foodstuffs, the Unilever collaboration with Notjust Clothing (pictured) is the ideal festive treat. And with half of the profits from each sale being donated to the Trussell Trust, a UK-wide network of food banks, there’s even more reason to jumper up.
First, there is the violently yellow Colman’s Mustard option, arguably the most festive of the three given the brand’s position as an accompaniment to roast beef.
Then comes the Pot Noodle option, in the classic chicken & mushroom colour scheme of yellow and green, featuring noodle detailing on the arms.
Finally, there’s the love it or hate it option. The Marmite jumper is based on the famous jar logo with a red, yellow and black colour scheme.
If you really want to mess with your relatives, try cramming all three products into your festive meal. Pot Noodle has a Christmas Dinner variant, after all.
Cleaning: Festive household sights & scents
Food and drink isn’t the only source of fun this Christmas. This year has given rise to a variety of festive-themed household products that prove the frolics needn’t cease just because you’re wiping down the hob or scrubbing the bathroom.
In the spirit that nothing says Christmas quite like antibacterial spray, Fabulosa is selling a mulled wine variant – alongside plenty of other cleaning products.
Meanwhile, eco-friendly toilet paper brand Who Gives a Crap has launched its Stack-A-Tree loo roll (pictured) in festive paper wrapping.
The idea is for consumers to stack the rolls to form an alternative “tree” before using the wrapping as sustainable gift wrap.
The paper itself is made from 100% bamboo and comes in three-ply to provide “maximum comfort for any post-roast needs”, the brand says.