Marks & Spencer
Once a year the nation tucks into Brussels sprouts and M&S is determined to make the most of it. Last year it launched a bottle of Brussels sprout juice and, encouraged by its success, this year it’s launching Brusselsmole, which it describes as a “clever twist on guacamole”. It’s also launching a Brussels sprout sausage and a “seriously good sprout slaw” on its deli counters.
Sprouts aside, M&S often wins with its party food and it’s launched its biggest-ever range this year, including gorgeous individual pots of Mini Lobster Mac & Cheese, complete with little spoons.
For the main event the M&S turkey is plump and free-range, hailing from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, where the turkeys are “slowly grown to reach full maturity, resulting in a moist and delicious bird bursting with rich, succulent flavours”.
A full-size chocolate high-heel shoe drew gasps when presented to consumer media.
Verdict: the M&S food business continues to excite with its innovation, and the Christmas range is no exception, with the party food and puddings obvious highlights. Sprout fans are very well catered for.
Star product: The Gold Melt In The Middle Christmas pudding oozes indulgence. It will be interesting to see it go toe-to-toe with Heston’s Waitrose version.
Christmas classics given a contemporary twist will be a key theme at Ocado this year. Think salted Caramel Arctic Roll and more unusual meats such as pigeon breast and ox tongue.
There’s plenty for those with premium appetites, too: a £300 RR Spink Gold Smoked Salmon, say, washed down with Sensi Gold Prosecco (£16.99).
International influences are high on the list with Swedish glÖgg (£3.50) and Cayman rum cake (£8.95) from the Caribbean among the more exotic products, and a focus on Italian lines following the success of panettone last year. Party canapés will focus on the functional for busy families, such as mini pies and haggis-inspired assortments.
Ocado is also adding significantly to its non-food to remind customers it can act as a one-stop shop this Christmas. Toys will also get a plug with cuddly dinosaurs capitalising on Jurassic World fever.
Verdict: Innovative brands give a new spin on Christmas classics, with nods to foodie trends such as exotic meats.
Star product: Salted Caramel Arctic Roll (£15.99).
On a mission to transform its reputation with shoppers over the past few years, from a destination for bargain basics to premium fare at great value, Lidl is using Christmas to reinforce that message once again.
Front and centre will be a new top-tier range of 30 SKUs from Michelin chef (and former Lidl store manager) Kevin Love. Salmon fillet smothered in beetroot sauce, spatchcock chicken and pork belly with malt rub and ale sauce all feature.
Lidl is yet to confirm prices but value for money will be the top priority, with the reappearance of its 6.5kg to 7.5kg Serrano Ham Leg that garnered coverage last year for its £39.99 price tag, and a new Iberian ham leg. Frozen lobster tails and a venison haunch joint will also feature.
Verdict: A clear extension of its plan to dispel the myth that it can’t satisfy premium palates.
Star product: Pork belly with malt rub and ale sauce (price TBC).
Sainsbury’s is looking to continue the Christmas is for sharing theme summed up in its WW1 truce ad last year. Value will play a part, no doubt, but it doesn’t look as if price is going to be the key driver this year due to the focus on quality.
It has come up with a wide selection of hero products across all the various festive fixtures with a big focus on its Taste the Difference premium range.
This includes sugar plum Wensleydale, with the cheese crumbled and blended with sugary plums steeped in cognac and mixed with caramel pieces, and Taste the Difference mini chorizo sliders with manchego and roasted red pepper.
In terms of key meat and fish lines, the retailer has a range of new suggestions for its prawns, now sustainably farmed on the coast of Belize. Sainsbury’s claims these are among the best warmwater king prawns available. The quality continues with a Taste the Difference venison haunch, along with an outdoor-bred British pork, and mushroom and truffle-infused oil stuffing that “combines great sourcing, quality and festive indulgence”.
Verdict: Sainsbury’s getting back to doing what it does best and focusing on quality.
Star product: Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blancs NV Champagne (c.£20) made by independently owned Champagne house Duval Leroy - and a favourite of CEO Mike Coupe.
As well as a fine array of premium products, Waitrose has also delivered a value message this year, with a Christmas dinner for eight people for £91.53 (or £11.44 per person).
Once again, Heston Blumenthal has devised a range of treats ranging from a tasty tea-cured smoked salmon and a rich chicken liver parfait to a brining kit for a turkey.
Colourful nibbles mix up food trends, from katsu chicken kievs and pulled pork sausage rolls. All 31 products, 15 new and five improved, will be offered on deal at 3-for-2 and range from £4.49 to £5.99.
And for those wishing to wow party guests, Waitrose is offering a whole Iberico ham leg for £399, or £500 complete with a heavy-duty stand and knife.
Verdict: A Christmas cracker, introducing a value theme while playing to its foodie strengths.
Star product: Pork and Sprout Sausagemeat Stuffing Bacon Wraps - “something that will convert even the most ardent sprout-o-phobe.”