Christmas preparations

07/09/2016 - 07:00
‘Be prepared’ is the mantra for pubs and restaurants as they gear up for Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year for them. Sheila Eggleston reports on the trends.

Christmas is one of the biggest celebratory occasions when consumers spend lavishly and provide an opportunity for caterers to tempt them. With suppliers already rolling out their offerings, 2016’s buzzwords for festive twists are ‘bright and shiny’ and ‘flavour infused’.

According to Horizons’ Eating Out-Look survey conducted after the 2015 festive period, there was a “modest climb” in the number of people eating out. However, with people eating more than one Christmas meal over this period, pubs and restaurants need to offer more variety to avoid menu fatigue for regular partygoers and cater for this growing number dining out at Christmas. For example, pub and bar chain Mitchells & Butlers’ stats showed that in the first two weeks of December last year more than 260,000 festive meals were sold across its estate compared to around 90,000 in 2011.

David Pawson, central operations manager at pub chain Punch, says that customers start planning from September, so it’s important for pubs to be ready too. “In September, they should agree Christmas menus and arrange for them to be printed along with booking forms,” he advises.

He adds that promotions should be regularly updated on websites and via social media channels, and that Punch also encourages publicans to visit its roadshows during September and October to take advantage of festive drinks deals.

Foodservice distributor Bidvest Foodservice plans early to ensure it delivers exactly what chefs need, as they will be serving ‘Christmas’ until January, says campaign and activation manager, Gail Bridgeman.

Its Christmas website will be updated regularly until the end of the year, while 14 depot shows will take place from September until October. The new catalogue includes deals and 80+ new lines, and kicks off with crackers as Bridgeman claims caterers consider them first to set the scene. Gold is earmarked as this year’s favourite colour, while copper is another hot trend in its tableware for 2016.

Bidvest took cues from Horizons’ 2016 Eat Out-Look research that showed more breakfasts being served out of home over Christmas, and for the first time offers items such as pork chipolatas with apricot and cranberry, and recipe ideas such as turkey eggs Benedict.

“Here’s an opportunity to maximise sales by adding festive flavours to daytime menus,” says Bridgeman. “Add gingerbread, orange, cinnamon or cranberry flavours and it becomes Christmassy.”

Other stars among its new lines include a three-bird roast paupiette in individual 200g portions and a meat-free green pesto roulade with slow roasted tomato sauce, plus popping prosecco and lemon cheesecake to capitalise on demand for alcohol-infused products.

Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners, says that according to the Office of National Statistics, a fifth of adults in the UK are not consuming alcohol, while Christmas is also a time when many act as the designated driver. “That’s why it’s important to carry a wide choice of soft drinks in the run-up to the big day,” she advises.

“Our ‘Holidays are Coming’ TV ad is often hailed as the unofficial start of the festive season, and we’ve realigned the Coca-Cola portfolio under a ‘one brand’ strategy to promote variants. Our iconic glass bottles also now feature colourful wraps that encourage standout behind the bar.”

Sarah Robb, channel marketing manager at Premier Foods, says that its research into 2016 menu trends showed consumer demand for new cuisine styles and this applies to Christmas too. “While traditional roasts will still be popular, many will want to see some innovative choices as well,” she explains. She says that adding cinnamon to Ambrosia custard gives a classic Christmassy flavour, while Homepride and Sharwood’s can add unexpected flavours and work well in starters such as moo shu pork.

Garry Roche, foodservice sales director at Young’s Seafood, champions frozen products, as they are readily available and last throughout the festive season. Its soft cheese and mousse canapés for instance are wrapped in Scottish Smokehouse salmon and offer no fuss, ready-to-use options, he says. “Being frozen, they are perfect for busy periods,” he adds.

UK consumers spend £300m per year on grocery items at Christmas, according to Dawn Foods marketing manager, Jacqui Passmore, thus offering caterers an opportunity to capitalise on ‘premiumisation’. “Think red velvet, chocolate, indulgence and seasonal flavours,” she advises.

Passmore says that premium goods with sparkle and metallic looks dominate the retail sector, and that Dawn Foods worked with food futurologist Morgaine Gaye who highlighted the significance of metallic in food too, predicting that it will be used to decorate food, while gold and silver leaf will be added to liquids and baked goods.

Paul Thompson, foodservice sales manager at Brioche Pasquier, recommends pre-prepared frozen patisserie, which means any member of the kitchen team can assemble the desserts. “French macarons and petit fours add a wow factor, and we’ve launched a box of 72 frozen macarons that only take two hours to defrost in a refrigerator,” he adds.

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