This Christmas holds plenty of promise for the frozen and chilled categories as consumers ditch counting the pennies and plump for premium produce.

Nisa-Today's, which celebrated a successful Christmas 2008 with a like-for-like 7.5% growth within the frozen category, has set the wheels in motion for another positive Christmas. The company advises retailers to ensure that shelves remain fully stocked and that plenty of promotions are run to tantalize customers. Says business manager David Stokes: "Success within the frozen category is down to having a core range of products fully available and a promotional programme for consumers to be wowed by."

He urges c-stores to make the most of the room they have. "Utilise all the frozen space available impulse ice cream sales drop off from November. Therefore, retailers could use their impulse cabinets for seasonal products, especially ice creams and treats such as Viennetta and cheesecakes." 

Ice cream soars

Peter Harbour, category director for ice cream at Unilever UK, agrees that this is a smart move. "By substituting summer impulse singles with take-home lines such as Viennetta, Carte D'Or and Ben & Jerry's, ice cream can continue to be an extremely profitable category in the winter," he says. "Latest trends show indulgence has continued to grow (up 3%, according to IRI Data to August 8, 2009), highlighting that affordable treats are still important to consumers and a profit opportunity for retailers."

Unilever is hoping that its new Carte D'Or frozen desserts will be a hit over the festive period. The premium range, which includes Madagascan Vanilla & Chocolate Cheesecake, Madagascan Vanilla & Raspberry Cheesecake and Chocolate Truffle & Raspberry Torte, have luxurious packaging to represent their premium positioning.

Another product aiming to appeal to consumers who are trading up is McCain's Winter Wedges, which saw a bumper Christmas last year in the convenience channel with value sales up 47%. "Consumers do trade up to more premium products in many areas and look out for solutions to make Christmas meals extra special," says McCain brand manager Claire Stewart. "Parties and winter meals drive increased sales of products such as wedges and roast potatoes."

To further drive sales of McCain wedges this year will be TV activity in the lead up to Christmas and sponsorship of Sky Movies throughout the rest of the year.

The extra factor

But when it comes to potato offerings, McCain has hot competition from Aunt Bessie's, which has its own brand of tatties, amidst a broad selection of roast dinner accompaniments. Products include frozen veg, stuffing balls and, of course, Yorkshire puds. This winter, consumers will have an even bigger choice of accompaniments with the addition of Bite Size Yorkshire Puddings, and recently re-launched Honey Glazed Roast Parsnips.

"The convenience channel is especially important to us at this time of year," says managing director Paul Heritage. "If someone has forgotten the all-important finishing touches it can make or break a meal, so it's important for stores to ensure they're fully stocked with Aunt Bessie's products for last-minute or distress purchases."

Of course, it's not just the roast dinner accompaniments that can be an emergency or last-minute purchase. Defrosting and cooking a turkey is a challenging task and if it all goes to pot, then the first place consumers will go to buy a replacement is their local store.

"Turkey is set to remain the number one choice this Christmas," says Matt Pullen, marketing director at Bernard Matthews Farms. The company is running a consumer PR campaign in women's press over Christmas and has a Christmas-specific www.bernardmatthews website to get consumers in the festive spirit.

Other meaty treats that work well displayed near the turkey are sausages. "It's a good idea to display foods that are eaten together near each other. For example, put cocktail sausages close to the turkey and seasonal drinks so that people can picture the meal occasion," says Andrew Keeble, of sausage manufacturer Debbie & Andrew's.

He adds: "Sausage sales go through the roof over Christmas. People entertain a lot over the festive period, so we sell lots of cocktail sausages. People also use sausages when making their own stuffing."

But when it comes to flavours, tradition wins out every time. "Manufacturers come out with all sorts of weird flavours over Christmas but the big seller is just plain pork."

Baileys with a hint

However, it's a different story in the cream market, where flavour is all the rage. Dairy Crest has teamed up with Diageo to launch Baileys Original Irish Cream and Baileys with A Hint of Crème Caramel. "Our new Baileys cream has been developed to provide an all year-round offering, but naturally consumers will be looking for indulgent treats around the build-up to Christmas," says Dairy Crest sales and marketing director Marc Dubery.

The launch is being supported by a sampling and marketing campaign.

There is clearly a huge chance for c-stores to cash in on dairy as within the total market the category was up 10.7% in value sales over Christmas 2008, while convenience stores saw just a 1.6% rise year on year (TNS 12 weeks ending December 28, 2008).

"Convenience stores need to make sure they don't underestimate the importance of dairy, and ensure they focus on cheese, cream and yogurts in particular to help drive sales," warns Dairy Crest customer marketing manager Will Pritchard.

His thoughts echo those of Bel UK innovation and research manager Rosie Tapp. "Christmas cheese is all about entertaining, whether it's bought individually or as part of a selection pack. Speciality cheeses such as Port Salut and Boursin see huge spikes in sales over Christmas."