Focus on Christmas: Great expectations

12/09/2017 - 13:31
As the countdown to the festive season begins, operators will be challenged to satisfy consumers’ need for innovation and value for money. Sheila Eggleston reports on the trends

The foodservice sector has already begun promoting its Christmas offers for what is described as the busiest time of the year, but, with economic uncertainty, consumers will be savvier about their choices.

Jim Wealands, group food development director of foodservice provider CH&Co Group, says the best advice he can give when developing menus is that it’s not the right time to be too clever. “Christmas is steeped in traditions, and pushing the boundaries too far with quirky dishes could turn people off,” he explains. “This doesn’t mean stifling creativity; being innovative and adding twists on classic flavours is a way to add excitement to menus, while giving customers what they expect.”

Nick Redford, managing director of buying consortium Caterforce, says the festive period brings with it an influx of additional diners with higher expectations than normal. “However, as economic uncertainty continues to impact on consumer confidence, we are eating out-of-home less frequently,” comments Redford. “This means diners are now looking to find an eating-out ‘experience’ when they do.”

With the right support from wholesalers and suppliers, he says caterers have more opportunity to flex their offering to make diners feel special. “For example, desserts are ideal for offering luxury and our Chefs’ Selections range includes a superfood fruit cake and raspberry, white chocolate and prosecco roulade – pre-prepared and pre-portioned,” he says.

Bidfood’s Christmas showcase reflects its trends insight that highlights gluten-free, turkey innovation, alcohol infusions and glamorous desserts as key for a merry Christmas.

Its desserts include new alcohol-infused cheesecakes – popping peach Bellini, gin fizz and elderflower, and whiskey mac flavours – and individual gold bars, while for children, it offers Cool Delight’s novel ice cream such as Happy Face logs and individual snowmen.

Free-from has been a big focus for Bidfood, says campaign controller Gail Bridgeman, and it now offers 44 gluten-free products including new lines such as Premium Selection brie and beetroot chutney tarts in kale pastry, and Everyday Favourites baked winter cheesecake.

She believes innovative twists on traditional favourites will turn a regular Christmas menu into an all-day opportunity. “Mixing flavours in a ‘merry mash-up’ gives diners something new,” she explains. “Adding rich fruit and spices to food has always been popular but there are ways to modernise classic combinations. For instance, our range includes a turkey ‘cushion’ with pork and orange stuffing and individual turkey and duck ‘cushions’ with morello cherry stuffing.”

Innovative party snacks include ‘Christmas on a stick’ – a skewer of turkey, ‘pig in blanket’ and stuffing ball, she adds.

This year, alternative cuts of meat have been used for mains to reduce costs – for instance, shoulder rather than leg for the lamb ‘cushion’ with Persian spiced apricot stuffing.

“We’ve developed our range to cater for all customer demographics and price points,” explains Bridgeman, adding it will also be offering more than 150 deals between October and December.

New products from Brakes include gluten-free stuffed turkey ballotine with sage and onion stuffing. Head of development Mark Irish says this is ideal for high-volume catering, while a new turkey roulade with stuffing wrapped in streaky bacon is more suitable for cooking to order.

Brakes is also offering recipe ideas to cater for people with dementia and dysphagia. These include minced turkey seasoned with spices, courgette and tomato in tacos, and Christmas pudding ice cream made with powdered mix whisked to get a consistency that enables a Christmas pudding mix with brandy to be added.

Anglia Crown’s special menu for the healthcare sector includes traditional roast turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings, salmon with cheese sauce, vegetarian casserole with butternut squash and cranberries, and Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. For people with difficulties swallowing, dishes such as a turkey purée meal and Christmas puréed pudding in white sauce are on offer, says head of commercial Paul Howell.

Sarah Robb, channel marketing manager at Premier Foods, says that schools can get pupils into the festive spirit by running themed menus for at least the last two weeks of term, which will keep them looking forward to lunchtime.

She says its recent research revealed that consumers are traditionalists, with 77% of respondents saying they enjoy a sit-down Christmas roast with all the trimmings. “Pupils are used to eating traditionally at Christmas with their families, therefore it is important this is replicated on school menus,” she advises.

“Our research also showed there were many dishes that consumers can’t do without, including mince pies, cheese and pineapple on sticks, and pigs in blankets, so our Perfect Christmas Party Recipe Guide reflects this.”

She says Bisto gravy is a bestseller, with 64% of Bisto turkey gravy being sold over the festive period, as is Paxo stuffing. Last year the company introduced a smaller pack of stuffing, which performed well and is great for caterers that won’t use up a larger bag, she adds.

Aine Melichar, brand manager for Kerrymaid, says caterers can capitalise on the demand for indulgence by creating simple desserts with ingredients such as ice cream and warm Christmas pud pieces. “Desserts need convenient accompaniments, and our dairy-based portfolio offers perfect ingredients,” says Melichar. “Additionally, our cream alternatives mean that caterers can accommodate dietary requirements such as gluten-free, and only need to create one batch of a dish.”

Grab-and-go offerings include Adelie Foods’ newly relaunched Urban Eat Christmas sandwich range. This includes turkey feast, turkey, bacon and stuffing, piggies under blankets sub roll, and a new improved recipe for its brie and cranberry wrap. Last year, during the peak trading period in mid-December, Adelie says it sold more than 10,000 turkey feast sandwiches, and 9,000 turkey, bacon and stuffing sandwiches.

Declan Duggan, head of the marketing team for Christmas at Mondelez International, says that Christmas is all about chocolate, which drives incremental spend. With October signalling the countdown to Christmas with self-eats, he recommends operators provide counter space for them to encourage impulse sales.

Once again its £10 million Cadvent marketing campaign will support its range including new impulse concepts such as Terry’s Chocolate Orange segments in pouches. Making their debut are novel Cadbury Snow Bites and Heroes Christmas crackers with a perforated middle for easy pulling and no bang for children.

Festive drinks are a must and Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners, says that while traditional bestsellers remain popular, consumers also look for special drinks. She adds that 15% of venue sales come from soft drinks, so it’s important to offer a wide choice.

“Mocktails are popular as people look for more indulgent soft drinks,” advises Burgess. “A growing trend is personalising Coca-Cola by adding ingredients to create new drinks, so operators could experiment by creating Christmas serves using ingredients like cinnamon or ginger.”

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