Christmas is the time when shoppers go all out on creating a festive spread. Here’s how to ensure you have all the right ingredients.

Christmas is a time for giving. It’s your chance to give shoppers old and new a great shopping experience, and it gives you the opportunity to build a rapport that lasts well beyond 25 December.

Grabbing your share of the festive spend isn’t easy, though, especially since the supermarkets go all out with their Christmas ranges and price promotions. However, putting in the effort will be worth your while, according to Jenny Leetch, brand manager for Costcutter Supermarkets Group.

She says: “It’s worth remembering that the festive period often brings new shoppers through the doors, so give them a great shopping experience and they’ll be back in the new year.”

Stalham Shopper owner Nigel Dowdney, along with his wife Sharon, make their Norfolk store extra special by creating a festive atmosphere. “We have a rule that we don’t properly start Christmas until 1 November, but I’ve just spoken to the team about the decorations we are going to put up around the shop,” he says.

Nigel isn’t alone in ensuring his store looks festive. Decorating her store like a Victorian toy shop makes a difference for Tess Flower, who owns The Village Shop, in Upper Dicker, East Sussex. She builds her Christmas range and activities around sweet options and local products. “I like to make things nice in the store for Christmas,” she says, “especially now so many people are doing their shopping online in October.”

Scottish retailer Dennis Williams of Premier Broadway Convenience in Edinburgh likes to make his store look the part, too. “We always put a lot of Christmas decorations up at the start of December to create in-store theatre.”

But his Christmas spirit extends far beyond the four walls of the store. Dennis harnesses the power of social media to reach out to customers and give them a real flavour of the shop and its staff. Last year the store created an advent calendar of video clips on Facebook, featuring special promotions for every day in December. Dennis, his wife Linda, and all their staff members donned Christmas jumpers and performed Christmas carols and dances while presenting the promotions, to give a taste of the store’s personality.

The campaign got such a good reception that Dennis plans to run further Facebook promotions this Christmas. He is teaming up with suppliers to run deep-cut promotions throughout December, which will be promoted on Facebook.

“We’ve done a lot of trials with suppliers, we did one with Heineken where if you bought a Desperados or a Red Stripe four-pack, you got a small speaker free. We put it on social media and got rid of all 20 speakers in two days.”

But encouraging people to visit your store is only half the battle. Working out exactly which lines will get them spending can be far from straightforward. “It’s hard to predict what people are going to want at Christmas nowadays so we tend to focus on what we know,” says Nigel.

Dennis is equally perturbed. “In days gone by you’d have a gut feeling of what would sell, but nowadays everyone is looking for value, value, value,” he asserts. “It’s very difficult to know what will sell.”

Fresh and local

So instead, c-stores are staying focused on their key strengths.

Dennis will be making use of his deli food counter to give his store the edge. He says: “There’ll be different lines for Christmas in our Premier deli. We’ll be doing mince pies and all sorts of different things. At Christmas, food to go is busy because people are eating on the hoof and time is precious.

“We’ll be doing steak pies through the local butcher, McGill’s, too. They’re very popular, especially at Christmas and new year.”

Tess is also homing in on customers’ love of all things local. “Our local products, such as our homemade biscuits, tend to do really well all year round so those products are always a focus for us at Christmas. I like to make my own Christmas cakes and cover them in icing. I then decorate them and place them in little bags and sell them for about £10.”

Nigel has come up with a smart gifting solution, too. “We offer festive hampers that we can deliver in the local area,” he says. “They contain the usual mince pies and Christmas puddings. Although the price of £30-£40 can be too much for some customers, we still offer them as a gifting options.”

In addition, he is making sure that his store stocks quality fruit and veg. He knows that he can’t compete with the multiples on price so concentrates on building his range around traditional lines that he knows his customers want.

He says: “We’ll be doing quite a bit of fruit and veg this Christmas because the fruit and veg shop on our parade closed down so there is a gap to fill in terms of demand.

“We don’t tend to do turkeys or too much Christmas meat because we have a local butcher next door and don’t want to step on any toes. We work together to make sure that the parade is attractive for customers – the last thing we want to see is anyone else go out of business.”

Fresh produce is also a focus for Simon Biddle, owner of Biddle’s Spar in Redditch, Worcestershire.

“We concentrate on fruit & veg at Christmas as that’s one of our strongholds,” he says.

“People want root vegetables in the run up to Christmas, and then people have parties with salad stuff at new year. We pre-pack a fair bit – for example, we bag up 500g bags of sprouts to save people digging through them all.”

Richard Dance, owner of Welcome Co-op Marchwood in Southampton, believes promotions on fresh produce such as potatoes and sprouts always go down a storm. He says: “We usually run our ‘Fresh From’ offer on all our veg in the few weeks leading up to Christmas. We also sell more ready meals that people like to have as a quick meal option before the big day.”

What’s more, he is hoping to entice consumers to spend by stocking an intriguing dessert. “Last year the Co-op did a big chocolate dome dessert that was incredibly popular and gained a lot of media attention. We had it in stock last year and sold out within days, so we have ordered a lot of the updated version this year.

“It retails at about £10 so we’re taking a bit of a punt by having so many in stock. I think it’s important that we offer both the indulgent and value products so the traditional tiramisus and trifles all experience a jump in sales at Christmas time.”

He will be increasing the number of festive lines he stocks this year for the early part of the season after picking up on a change in shopping habits. “We’ve noticed that there is less of a last-minute rush of customers stocking up on festive items as people are shopping earlier for Christmas. That means there is less of a bubble on Christmas Eve and we need to make sure we are stocked up well in advance and follow our plan and sales data from last year.”


One area Richard will be stocking up on is snacks. This year he wants to ensure that his store offers a large range of festive-themed sharing lines so consumers can go big on their celebrations.

He says: “At Christmas we do really well with the Co-op own-label snacks, such as themed tortilla chips, flavoured parsnip snacks and novelty lines that customers can only buy at Christmas.

“The large packs of nuts are also big sellers and we’ve noticed that demand for savoury snacks, sandwiches and food to go also increase just before Christmas, as people are in a rush so want to eat something on the move.”

Matt Collins, sales director for convenience, wholesale, discounters and foodservice at KP Snacks, recommends retailers plan ahead to make sure they take full advantage of the Christmas sharing occasion.

“As with other seasonal moments, time is of the essence,” he says. “With more than half of ‘stockpile’ category sales – including crisps, snacks and nuts, confectionery, health and beauty and dry grocery – occurring in the first two weeks of December, retailers should be prepared in order to capitalise on these early Christmas shopping missions.”

Collins points out that many customers are already purchasing for Christmas – and they may well be back again to buy those same products given KP research shows 64% of shoppers replenish festive items before the big day. He says this means retailers must ensure seasonal promotions and POS material for best-selling skus are always highly visible in the run up to the festive period.

With what to stock sorted, where to stock is another element to consider. “We position the big boxes of biscuits at the front of the store so they are always in view,” says Nigel. “The only day in the year when we close is Christmas so we have to make sure we sell all the themed items before then.”

Border Biscuits agrees that putting thought into where and how you display biscuits is crucial. “Typically, we see an uplift during the festive season in sales of our gifting packs and tins, which we are confident will continue this year,” says Suzie Carlaw, marketing manager at Border Biscuits.

“We’ve seen a trend, especially with independent retailers, of creating beautiful, eye-catching Christmas displays, showcasing our products in unique and fun ways. Display can be almost as important as the product itself. Consumers have more options than ever before when it comes to selecting gifts, so if they can be led to a certain product by an eye-catching display, it is likely to pay off.”

Cross-category merchandising can also pay dividends. “Seasonal releases can offer an ideal opportunity to encourage upselling and independent retailers would be wise to position biscuits beside the likes of premium hot drinks, or next to gift products such as cards, flowers and wine over Christmas,” Carlaw says.

Home cooking

Zoe Lunn, senior brand manager at Bacofoil, believes retailers will benefit from merchandising its Turkey Roasting Foil and Turkey Roasting Tray close to roast dinner ingredients, to catch the attention of shoppers doing their seasonal shop.

“The Bacofoil Turkey Roasting Foil comes in a handy self-standing shelf-ready packaging which enables it to stand out in the aisle as well as providing consumers with easy access to the product and, as it’s portable, it can be positioned around the store to cross-merchandise with other festive goods.”

Bacofoil’s sales increase by 78% during the festive period (Nielsen Homescan Data; Turkey Foil Overview Data to 30 December 2017), she points out.

Leetch adds: “Making the shopper’s visit as stress-free as possible is more important than ever at this time of the year, which is why retailers really need to up their game when it comes to in-store marketing, merchandising and festive displays. Ensure Christmas stock is at the front of the shop, with key categories grouped together.”

Festive displays featuring a mix of Christmas items, such as biscuits, chocolates, alcohol and baking ingredients, have the potential to increase consumer engagement and encourage a higher basket spend. “Dedicated seasonal aisles are a great way of driving event sales across multiple sectors,” says Riccardo Panichi, head of marketing (cake and dessert), for Dr Oetker UK.

“Not only do they drive noise and excitement around baking, but they also expose the category to shoppers who don’t usually visit the baking aisle, who may be inspired to bake when purchasing other products from the seasonal fixture.

“Small retailers can replicate larger retailers with a dedicated space for specific events. Cross-merchandising items such as dried fruits, nuts, mincemeat and alcohol in one place will ensure shoppers can easily find everything they need for their celebrations and leave the store feeling jolly.”

Panichi believes retailers need to capitalise on the home-baking category, as baking products over-perform at Christmas. He says: “Christmas home-baking is worth £32,000 in the cake decoration and ingredients category, with 20% of the annual category value attributed to the season (IRI six weeks to 23 December 2017 vs PY cake decorations & ingredients value sales all outlets). As consumers become more adventurous with their festive bakes, both traditional and non-traditional areas of the category are over-performing.”

He says traditional bakes such as Christmas cake, yule logs, gingerbread and iced cookies continue to be popular, “and there is also an increase in fun, novelty-themed bakes such as snowmen designs and indulgent cakes with extravagant decoration as home bakers go all out for the occasion”.

Panichi points out that some of the best-selling products during the festive season include icing and marzipan for classic Christmas cakes, and extras such as food colouring, marshmallows and seasonal decorations.

Innovation: Christmas puddings with a twist

No Christmas dinner is complete without the dessert, and LillyPuds is trying to suit all tastes with its festive pudding range.

The brand is known for its traditional, gluten-free Christmas puddings, but it has created a new range 
of artisan treats for this year.

New skus include: a Fairtrade Pudding; Plum Pudding with Damson Gin; Vegan Christmas Pudding; and two Sticky Toffee Puddings.

The Fairtrade Pudding is made in the traditional way with Fairtrade vine fruits (rrp £8.75 for two x 120g pack and £12.95 for 454g), while the LillyPuds Plum Pudding with Damson Gin features fruit, stout, prunes, walnut and apple (rrp £12.75 for 454g).

The brand’s new Vegan Pudding has been developed to meet growing demand for vegan alternatives and contains fruit, no mixed peel and is blended with brandy and Chockwork Orange gluten-free beer (rrp 12.49 for 454g).

LillyPuds’ new Sticky Toffee Pudding (rrp £7.49 for 300g) and Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding (rrp £9.99 for 454g) offer an alternative for consumers who don’t eat traditional Christmas desserts. The puds are made using sultanas, cider and cinnamon and topped with toffee sauce.

To accompany its Christmas Pudding range, LillyPuds is also offering jars of Salted Caramel Sauce, Sticky Toffee Sauce and a Brandy Butter (rrp £3.99). All products are available to order now.


Power up

One category that can’t be underestimated at Christmas is batteries. Tatiana Wijeyaratne, marketing manager for Duracell UK, says the bounty of battery-operated children’s toys and devices sitting under most Christmas trees represents an important sales opportunity.

“With 25% of all batteries being used to power children’s toys and gadgets and 34% of all batteries being sold over Christmas, the pre-Christmas period represents an unmissable opportunity for retailers (Euromonitor Device Study 2013),” she says.

Simon believes retailers can rely on batteries to generate strong sales during the festive period. He says: “You might sell a box every three or four weeks at other times of year, but people are always coming in for them at Christmas. They realise they haven’t got enough, or have forgotten them. It’s all for toys.”

He explains that he sells Panasonic, Duracell and Eveready brands, “so that people have a budget, middle of the road and premium option”.

“We’ll have a fair few boxes of each in stock, so I make sure we don’t run out. The date on them is about four years, so you know you’re going to sell them by then, if you don’t sell them at Christmas. It’s not a massive gamble.”

To make the most of demand, Wijeyaratne advises retailers to display batteries at the till point as well as elsewhere in-store, to take advantage of impulse purchases which dominate the category.

She adds: “Creating visibility is crucial, so use signage to clarify how your category is segmented. Duracell’s diverse portfolio, promotional and marketing plans work hard to reach a wider range of potential battery shoppers in a way that we hope will boost sales, both during and outside of the Christmas period.”

Richard says he always sees an increase in battery sales at Christmas. “I’m not sure whether the battery category has grown too much in recent years, but they are still great for us and something that we always have to bring more stock in for in the final weeks before Christmas Day.”

He claims that they are one of his biggest Christmas Day sellers. “Even though we are only open from 10 until 12, batteries are usually the top product customers are looking for, along with any last-minute Christmas dinner items.”

Dennis concurs that batteries are a top seller on 25 December. “On Christmas Day we open from 11 until 4. It’s only for five hours, it’s not a long time,” he says. “People need gas, electricity and batteries for new toys. Usually we’re busy and it’s worthwhile. There’s certain stuff that people top-up on. There’s one thing for sure – if you’re not open, you don’t take no money – that’s the golden rule!”

But that’s not the main reason he opens the store. “I open up because I’m serving my community,” he says. “Some people come in for a chat because they might be on their own. We feel that for us it’s our duty to open up.”

Dennis promotes the feel-good factor in the lead up to Christmas by working with local schools. “We’ll have a local school choir up to sing four or five songs the week before Christmas,” he says. “That’s always popular and we get a good turnout. The kids like performing and we get a lot of parents come along to watch it, which is good as well.

“We usually put on a bit of food and drink, maybe some bubbly and cake. It’s just building relationships.

“I dress as Santa to visit the nursery and primary kids, too.”

Raising your store’s profile through community events can really make you stand out from the crowd. Nigel runs an in-store raffle that features a top prize worth £150. “Our raffle has always been a big success and includes prizes from all the big biscuit and confectionery brands that customers expect at Christmas.

“We attract lots of entries and put stories out into the local press. It’s a double win because we get good publicity and raise money for good causes. Last year, we raised enough money to buy a defibrillator for the town, which is really good for local people. It also helps us stand out from the usual offering in the multiples.”

Richard also gets involved with his local community at Christmas. He says: “Every year we hold a Christmas gathering in Marchwood and invite all of the local groups and charities along to raise as much money as they can. We don’t charge for them to set up their stalls and we also do some free sampling and offer visitors free mulled wine.

“It’s become a real community event that people have in their calendars. We’ve been doing it for a few years now. We also invite a brass band and MC along to provide entertainment.”

And Richard’s community endeavours don’t end there. Carol singers are also invited to the store in the lead up to Christmas to get customers into the festive spirit and to try out new products.

He adds: “Christmas is a good time of year to give something back to the local community and the community events have been a real success for us in helping bring more people into the store.”

Christmas may come only once a year, but decking the aisles, getting into the festive spirit, and ensuring you provide those Christmas essentials will give you the best possible chance to make those tills jingle long into the new year.

Top 10 skus at Xmas

1. Aunt Bessie’s 12-pack Yorkshire Puddings 220g

2. Own label mixed vegetables 1kg

3. Ice cubes 2kg

4. Aunt Bessie’s Honey Parsnips 500g

5. Birds Eye Petit Pois 1.05kg

6. Wall’s Vanilla Carte D’Or 1kg

7. Aunt Bessie’s Roast Potatoes 800g

8. Own label mini sausage rolls 800g

9. Own label mini sausage & bacon rolls 300g

10. Own label prawns 300g

Source: IRI, four weeks to 6 December 2018