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27 Nov 2023

How are speciality retailers preparing for the 2023 festive season?

How are speciality retailers preparing for the 2023 festive season?

Speciality & Fine Food Fair catches up with two speciality food & drink retailers to learn more about how they're preparing for the festive season. 

How do you prepare for Christmas?

Oliver Stubbins General Manager, Welbeck Farm Shop and Harley Café: We start early, and earlier every year. The first job is Christmas de-brief, which is the basis of the next year plan. I write this daily from observations throughout November and December, then we fine tune it in January. Equipment hiring starts next, and then product launches tend to be from around May, with orders in place for June. We launch Christmas in the Farm Shop mid-October, a little later than many.

Liz Hughes, Business Development Manager, Honeywell's Farm Shop: The preparations for Christmas start way back in January, as soon as we’ve taken a breath after the Christmas just gone!

It starts with ordering our turkeys for this festive period. We order the chicks in various weight ranges which we receive in August, when they are around 8 weeks of age and lovingly hand rear on our farm, in light and airy barns with plenty of room to run around and lots of stimulation in the form of hanging old DVD’s up (they love anything shiny to peck at!), footballs to run around after and apples from our orchard which they love to peck at. Once they are ready for the dinner table we hand pluck, dress and game hang our birds to develop the delicious rich flavour and tender texture that our customer know they can rely on from our home reared birds.

Preparations start from early August, liaising with our trusted farmers and suppliers over what quantities of beef, lamb, pork etc that we will be requiring for the upcoming festive season. This ensures we get the best prices and quality we require.

It’s a similar story when it comes to cheeses and other dry goods, with orders being placed in the summer in preparation. Then it’s a case of setting our prices for our festive fare (turkey, geese, streaky bacon, stuffing, pigs in blankets and the like). This is always a little nerve wracking as food prices can be notoriously unpredictable, especially in recent times! We then set about creating of Christmas brochure, price list and any other marking material for the coming season, always quite a task behind the scenes to get it all ready in time!

We are a well oiled machine and have a good idea of quantities needed but we always keep extensive notes from the previous year, on anything that went particularly well and anything that didn’t, this helps keep any wastage to a minimum for us but there’s always the odd curveball that throws us! Such as a particular celebrity chef promoting a recipe for glazed ham, using preserved lemons the week before Christmas and you simply cannot get hold of enough to meet demand! (Thanks Nigella!) but on the whole we tend to judge stock levels appropriately.

We open our order books up on the first week of October and keep a keen eye for any trends emerging or for particular demand surges in certain items that we may need to source any extra of and to aid our team getting prepared for the busy festive period.

What kind of products tend to be most popular during the festive season?

OS: We have lots of products made on the Estate: Stichelton cheese, Welbeck ales and Welbeck Bakehouse breads perform excellently, but Butchery is our largest department. Turkey still leads the way, but rolled sirloin, loin of pork and venison are always growing in demand year on year.

LH: For us we’ve noticed that this year there seems to be a trend towards the traditional festive fare; whole birds with the traditional trimmings of pigs in blankets, sausage meat stuffings, glazed hams and traditional vegetable sides are very popular this year. We also notice a huge demand surge in our famous sausage rolls! We can’t make enough during the festive season, along with any traditional party fare such as pork pies, smoked salmon and chicken liver pate!

Do you have anything new that you’re excited about your customers trying or experiencing?

OS: We are moving to more Christmas orders being ordered online, which helps us secure orders early and makes collection easier, as the shop is so busy it gives us pre-paying a greater amount of control and eases demand on the tills on the busiest days. We regularly update the shop layout and have started to extend to outside in recent years, we have to remove some displays to create more space for queuing, and we keep learning every year.

LH: We have a number of new festive themed products this year. These include a festive turkey parcel (turkey breast stuffed with sage and onion sausage meat then shaped to resemble little Christmas pudding, finished with streaky bacon and a pig in blanket on the top), we also have a brand new festive pig in blanket: chunky pork sausage, stuffed with creamy brie and fruity cranberry sauce and wrapped in streaky bacon.

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