Arguably the trend of Christmas last year, veganism is being taken even further in 2019 thanks to increasing sales – Waitrose, for example, had its most successful week ever for vegan food over the festive period in 2018. In fact, consumers can go full vegan at Waitrose this year with a choice of four vegan mains as well as vegan gravy, vegan roast potatoes and an aromatic vegan bread sauce. Also boasting a fresh achievement, The Co-op has debuted its first vegan roast in the form of seitan ‘turkey’ with a jewelled stuffing of cranberries and apricots, wrapped in seitan ‘bacon.’
Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Spanish – flavours from all these cuisines make an appearance this year, as the increased interest in global foods all year round filters into Christmas time. Mostly, however, retailers have steered clear of adding these influences to their meat mains, instead using them to sex up finger foods like the barbacoa beef tacos. Spices and sauces from international cuisines have also been handy in adding some punch to veggie dishes – if you didn’t get the memo, steamed greens aren’t going to cut it anymore.
Alternative pigs in blankets
Marks & Spencer claim to sell over six million pigs in blankets in the run up to Christmas every year. Driven partly by consumer nostalgia for British classics and partly by desire for novelty, it’s notable that one of the things every supermarket range has in common is a fresh take on this particular side, from Lidl’s ‘bigger is better’ yard-long option to Asda’s meaty centrepiece. It doesn’t have to be pork either, as chicken, chocolate and veggie variants also make an appearance. Tesco, meanwhile, has combined two major trends with its Finest Stuffing Wreath with Pigs in Blankets, accompanied by cranberry compote.
Edible wreaths and crackers
What Christmassy items can’t be turned into food? Apparently not much, as product developers have gone wilder than ever in imagining how to turn all sorts of festive decoration into edible treats, particularly wreaths and crackers. Once more nostalgia and tradition have their party to play in the assumption that consumers will go for these whimsical products like Tesco’s vegan Butternut Squash, Mushroom and Chestnut Wreath and Asda’s Extra Special Christmas Cracker. There’s also the communal enjoyment of the tear and share element, as in Waitrose’s Chocolate, Caramel & Vanilla Choux Wreath.
While Heston Blumenthal’s cheesecake disguised as cheese is witty, it’s arguably one of the least showy desserts this year, as supermarkets have attempted to feed into the desire for indulgent premium puddings. Aldi and Lidl are continuing to try and lure away more middle-class shoppers with flashy options at a reasonable price, while Tesco is hoping its passionfruit sleigh will set tills ringing. Shimmer and gold have not been spared.
Speed and size have both been taken into consideration by retailers hoping to sell turkeys and hams to wider audiences. ‘Easy carve’ is especially highlighted at Iceland, while Tesco boasts a 45-minute cooking time for its beef, gammon and turkey trio. Those who can’t fit a whole turkey into their ovens will have several options to choose from, as will those who don’t want bones or brown meat. M&S has even tested its Perfect Roast Beef on a variety of ovens to ensure that its as close to idiot-proof as possible.
Britain’s got talent
Just because shoppers are looking abroad for fresh ideas doesn’t mean there isn’t an abiding love for British classics, especially if they’ve been souped up in some way. Waitrose leads the pack in turning to game for a bit of novelty, while Asda has miniaturised pub classics into finger food. Mini savoury crumpets – check. Sticky toffee Christmas pudding – check. Unorthodox minced pies – check, check and check.
In general, I am more surprised by what is not being explored in Christmas product development than what has been revealed so far by the retailers. For instance, the world flavours that are available seem to be following trends from a year or two ago, rather than the true authenticity that can be clearly seen everywhere else. That being said, there are definitely a few things that stand out:
- It is definitely a sign of the times to see a lot more consideration being given to the vegetarian options. This seems like an area where the retailers are really trying to compete, which is making for some better products, such as Waitrose’s Root en Croute and the Celeriac and Sweet Potato Terrine.
- Tarte tatin – at M&S and Waitrose – is a fairly novel way of feeding the vegetarian people at the table, and the Brussels sprout bites intrigue me. The traditional nut roast seems to be a thing that has been overlooked though – I was expecting someone to have done an upmarket version of this. The Co-op’s seitan roast, however, is a good idea as there really does not seem to be many other options for people who like the meat alternatives.
- The Waitrose 1 offering of a saddle of venison as an alternative meat could be quite a popular choice for those bored of the traditional offerings. I also like the concept of Tesco’s trio of roasting meats because it is always so difficult to please everyone, especially if you have a larger extended family to cook for.
- The wreath feels like something pulled directly from last year’s social media, but it’s not something that is commonplace in retail yet, so it is a step as far as innovation goes.
- Another sign of the times is the drunken cheese kit. I am definitely surprised that there aren’t a lot more meal-kit-type options on show, but this sounds like it would be a lot of fun to put together with friends. I am personally a big fan of food that you get to interact with because it gets people talking and builds an atmosphere – even with something fairly simple like The Co-op’s Asian lollipops, which you dip into sauce and then crumb.
- The use of herbs in a dessert is an experiment that is worth keeping an eye on. If The Co-op’s Clemen-thyme Profiteroles do well, it could be used as a sign of consumer acceptance and allow for broader innovation in the future.
- The Heston idea of bringing a little theatre to the table with a hidden dessert should also be an amusing way to end the meal. How fun a product is should not be underestimated as a purchase driver, which is why I’d give the M&S trifle granola a thumbs up – though I would have thought mince pie granola would have been more seasonal. And speaking of fun: Lidl’s yard of pigs in blankets.
More Christmas cheer:
- Tesco - The supermarket hopes to ensure there's something for every taste this Christmas.
- Waitrose - Inspiration comes from the nostalgia for old festive favourites.
- Marks and Spencer - Over 170 different items in the Christmas range, from festive crumpets to mushroom bao buns.
- Iceland - Subtle Japanese influences, theatrical desserts and a 30-strong range with plastic-free packaging.
- The Co-op - Health and well-being, food provenance as well as free-from foods are top of mind.
- Asda - Miniature pub food and a pigs in blankets centrepiece are among the novel options.
- Lidl - Think plenty of old classics reimagined and increased decadence (but still at an affordable price).
- Aldi - Modestly priced options that still offer the opportunity to show off.