Consumers will be spreading the cost of their Christmas spread, and c-store retailers will need to be quick off the mark. Kate Miller reports

Certain food manufacturers have been claiming for years that their brand is the one to put the festive feeling back into Christmas. It turns out, though, it’s taken an economic crisis to switch the focus away from rampant consumerism. According to Shellie Critchley, who runs Croscombe Village Stores in Somerset with her husband Phil, it’s something she spotted last Christmas. “Last year I made the decision that I was not going to get in lots of specialist Christmas items, because I had a feeling that Christmas was going to be all about the family. People are not spending lots on presents, but are putting the focus on Christmas Day. Last year we got lots of new people ordering who really wanted to make Christmas Day special.”

According to HIM managing director Tom Fender, this festive family focus is a follow on from the growing trend for family mealtimes and the big night in phenomenon. He says that c-stores, with an enormous advantage of being on their customers’ doorsteps, can thrive at this time despite competition from the discounters and supermarkets. “Of course, shoppers will be looking to save money where they can. But there are two things people wish they had more of - time and money - and that’s especially true at Christmas. Convenience stores cannot compete solely on price. They need to shout about how they have recognised their shoppers’ needs at this time of year and are doing all they can to help them. What c-stores often underplay is the fact that they deliver a huge time saving.”

retailer’s view

Rav Garcha

“We open on Christmas Day from 12-3pm and people always pop in for batteries, stuffing, sausages and Yorkshire puddings - all the stuff they’ve forgotten.

“Depending on what the multiples are doing we’re going to be busy until late Christmas Eve. They close earlier and we stay open until 9pm, so we pick up their custom from about 6pm. We started planning for it about a month ago, but some things can’t go out until after Halloween and Bonfire Night.

“Shoppers, especially the elderly, have been buying things from the beginning of October to spread the cost. The key is to get the message out to customers that we’ve got what they want at decent prices. We do a leaflet drop every three weeks and may do newspaper ads.

“On Boxing Day we get a big boost because the supermarkets are closed and we open from 10.30am until 9pm.”

Rav Garcha, Nisa Local Broadway, Worcester

Shellie agrees, saying that despite being only three miles from a Tesco in two directions her customers appreciate the store’s Christmas ordering service that takes the hassle out of the Christmas shop. The store has strong links to the local butchers and sells a wide variety of meat year-round, but the link really comes into its own at Christmas when customers can pre-order meat along with all their Christmas needs. A leaflet drop which includes a pre-order form goes out to local villages. “The first year we had one order which was worth more than £400 - the customer couldn’t be bothered with doing everything for Christmas so asked for everything to be delivered on Christmas Eve. It was a daunting order to fill, but worth it in the end.”

She says there’s a 50/50 split between customers ordering turkey and beef, but they also sell duck, goose and salmon. Vegetables are available and Shellie estimates that they sold about 25kg of sprouts last year on order.

As for timing, Shelley starts planning as early as April for stationery and then October for grocery, stocking items from the second week of November. The shop devotes about 30% of shelf space to Christmas stock. But she says the key is making her own orders not too big: “I’m lucky in that my supplier can always get a repeat order if we run out, or provide an alternative. Some of the Christmas chutneys have already sold.”

Early preparation is the answer, says Fender: “Retailers need to start creating a buzz around Christmas as shoppers need time to recognise what your Christmas offer is and also to build trust that you will have what they need, when they need it. Excellent availability at this time of year is critical and you don’t want to be losing shoppers’ trust in the build up to Christmas. You should now be showcasing non-perishable Christmas-related products such as more premium wine, wine bags, wrapping paper, spirits and so on.”

Festive food

Customers aren’t the only ones keeping an eye on pricing over this year’s festive season. For the first time Premier is launching pricemarked packs across nine brands and 23 key Christmas skus: Ambrosia Bisto Oxo Batchelors Sharwood’s Bird’s Saxa Branston and Hartleys.

Head of category Kirsten Reid says: “Shoppers are unable to manage budgets with promotions alone and need value pricing. Rather than looking for promotions that offer two for a certain price, consumers are buying single items so they can stick to their budgets.

“Consumers will always push the boat out for Christmas, but the core brands will be key when it comes to Christmas dinner. Consumers are more likely to try something new when it comes to cakes and biscuits, but they won’t try anything risky for the main meal and will always stick to the traditional items.”

For certain categories Christmas can mean a huge boost. According to Premier, 60% more people buy gravy in the run up to Christmas, turning it from a cupboard essential to a must buy. And six million extra people buy stuffing in December - making it a distress purchase which is ideal for convenience channel.

According to Partners for Growth, more than a fifth of condiment sales occur in December and penetration of mustard rises by 33%. With the emphasis on cold meats and leftovers, condiments such as mayonnaise come into their own and in the run up to Christmas 2011, the mayonnaise category grew 2.2%, Unilever says.

In order to promote these sales the Hellmann’s website will be featuring special Christmas recipes over the festive period. Unilever has also added a Cranberry Sauce to its Colman’s range to go alongside its Bramley Apple Sauce, Instant Gravy Paste and English Mustard.

With the number of social gatherings increasing over Christmas, it’s not surprising that cake is a major part of the season, with the market growing by 9% last year in value (Premier SIG all outlets). In 2011, 89% of consumers who purchased cake between July to September did so again in the run up to Christmas (Premier/Kantar), and 31% of ambient cake was sold in the last 12 weeks of the year.

Of the Christmas cakes market 50% is made up by the mince pies, puffs and tarts segment, which grew 8% last year. With this sector in mind, Premier is adding Mr Kipling Mince and Brandy Pies to its range. Also new is Mr Kipling Black Forest Whirls.

The demand doesn’t stop come December 26, either. Fender says that retailers need to keep the new year in their sights, too. “Obviously, New Year’s Eve brings opportunity for beers, wines and spirits, party ware, party platters, share bags and so on, but retailers should also get ready for a shift in focus from over-indulgence to healthy.

“Offer some relief from over-indulgence - meal suggestions and your food-to-go offer should be light and low calorie before the new year festivities take place. And why not encourage shoppers to share their new year’s resolutions on a notice board in the store for great theatre and a talking point, or on your Facebook page? Then on January 1 start the health drive.”•

Small is beautiful


According to figures from Kantar Worldpanel, the 37% of shoppers last year who said that they would spend less on Christmas actually ended up spending 3.5% more, and the 50% who said they’d be spending the same spent 5.2% more.

The temptation to splash out at Christmas isn’t going to go away any time soon, but it is being tempered by the recession. One way shoppers have found to rein in their spending is to spend less at each shopping visit, but shop more often.

According to HIM managing director Tom Fender: “We know more people are shopping little and often - so smaller baskets, but visiting shops more often. Shoppers use this as a way of managing a tighter budget day to day. Christmas will be no different, so expect shoppers to start stocking up now.”

He says that c-stores need to find a different USP - whether it’s showcasing local producers with sampling, innovative products that shoppers can’t get from the supermarkets, or gift hampers. He also suggests tapping into the spirit of giving: “Many c-stores do great charitable work, but this can be ramped up at Christmas. How about having a happy hour during a slow part of the day, where a percentage of sales goes to charity? It helps drive footfall as well as creating some fun.”

According to the HIM Independent and Symbol Convenience Retailers Christmas Report 2011, most retailers are following the supermarkets’ lead and preparing for Christmas in October and November. More than 50% of retailers increase their stock over Christmas by at least 5%, and 11% increase stock by 20%.

Ones to watch

In a pickle

According to Premier, Branston over-indexes strongly in independents and symbols over the Christmas period with a 92% share of value. This year the company hopes to give the brand a boost with a press and radio campaign running until December.

tel: 01727 815 850

All fingers

Joining Burton’s Biscuits seasonal range this year are Cadbury Mini Fingers Barrel Tin. The 500g tin features a festive design and is full of Cadbury mini Fingers and has an rrp of £10.99. Also new is Cadbury Fabulous Fingers tin, with an rrp of £6.99.

tel: 01253 658 000

Christmas treats

Spar is targeting both kids and adults alike this yuletide. The children’s range includes a Christmas Shortbread Biscuit or Christmas Gingerbread Biscuit (both rrp 80p), while adults get Christmas Cupcakes, Chocolate Crispies and Deep Filled Mince Pies (all rrp £1).

tel: 020 8426 3700

Cool Yule

Premier has two new offerings under the Cadbury banner: Cadbury Mint Mini Rolls with vanilla sponge and mint creme and Cadbury Festive Caramel Cakes with vanilla sponge, caramel and chocolate. Also new is Cadbury Chocolate Orange Yule Log.

tel: 01727 815 850

Time for pud

Trex wants customers to join in with Stir Up Sunday (November 25), the last Sunday before advent when tradition dictates families take it in turns to stir the Christmas pudding mix and make a wish. The brand is placing pudding recipes in food and women’s mags.

tel: 0151 966 7000