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With the month of December officially upon us, even the most obstinate of scrooges would permit us to start getting excited about the coming festivities. Whilst the fait accompli of maxed out credit cards, drunken office party blunders, and stretching waistlines is an inescapable certainty of the holiday period, the food and drink marathon that is Christmas remains one of the gloriously gluttonous highlights of our year. Mountains of mince pies, stockings full of chocolate, and mounds of festive nibbles serve as a mere warm up for the colossal excesses of Christmas day, that on average weighs in at above 7000 calories of pure indulgence.  With the British public set to spend £5.3 billion on food and drink this year, retailers are set to fight it out for their piece of the Christmas cake. So what have they got on offer for us this year?*

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Looking across the industry there are a number of key trends that are being used to lure in customers to spend their sizeable Christmas budgets. The wider trend for Scandinavian simplicity in the restaurant industry is taking hold across the retailers, with a real focus on bringing products with simple and natural flavours of the outdoors into our homes. With smoked salmon the undisputed champion of the Christmas breakfasts, the trend for clean flavours has seen the rise in Gravadlax across the retailers, with treacle cured salmon a firm favourite in recipe books this year. Foraged and earthy flavoured ingredients are seen as a natural accompaniment to Scandinavian simplicity with a particularly delicious Beetroot and horseradish relish from Bay Tree widely on offer. To go alongside salmon, a range of innovative cured and smoked meats give a true taste of nature. Lidl’s smoked and cured reindeer carpaccio is sure to get any Christmas party talking (good or bad), however, Waitrose’s smoked duck breast and smoked venison patè offer a safer bet, but equally as delicious for your guests. Natural preserving techniques are a big part of the Scandi trend, and the rise in home pickling on offer at retailers is indicative of this. With the northern European Christmas favourite, pickled herring, said to be a coming trend for Christmas food, inspiration from pickled herring is growing. With alternative Christmas dinners like the Italian Feast of Seven fishes seeing modern re-workings in restaurants and online,  retailers are increasingly including them in their festive food ranges. With numerous supermarket versions of coquilles St Jacques, bountiful arrays of Stolen and Panettone, as well a Hannukah party food fusion of Gefilte fish balls in M&S, retailers are looking to Christmas around the world for inspiration.

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It’s not just European cuisine however, as food retailers are look past boring spring rolls and samosas, to more exotic and obscure global cuisines. Heston for Waitrose’s Lapsang tea smoked salmon is a clear indicator of a global fusion trend taking hold, particularly in party food. Gyoza’s, steamed dim sum, edamame bean straws, and Indonesian prawn platters can be found in the likes of Tesco, M&S and Morrison’s, as they strive for more authentic Asian flavours. Tastes of South America can be seen in Tesco, and the highly trendy Middle Eastern flavour profile is seen widely, even in Waitrose’s rose water spiced mince pies. Whilst retailers are looking to Christmas around the world for inspiration, gourmet American dude food dominates the party food category. Motivated by the street food revolution, gutsy flavour packed foods can be seen, with a strong emphasis on regional distinctions and, of course, meat. posh sliders and hot dogs are ever-present across the retailers, however, M&S’ pulled pork stacks, pork belly squares, and BBQ bacon lollipops represent the most innovative miniature twists on stateside specialities. With Morrison’s offering a Salted caramel and Bourbon glazed ham it’s clear this trend is not only confined to party food.

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With American food hot on everyone’s lips this Christmas, why not embrace what our American cousins have termed the ‘Turducken’?  Also fondly known as the 3 bird roast, we appear to have outdone our gluttonous American counterparts, with 4 and even 5 bird roasts to be found at all big supermarket chains this Christmas. This ubiquitous Christmas decadence has also entered the food to go market, with both M&S and Waitrose offering sandwiches and flatbreads of a kind. This concept is not, however, an American import, but an old Victorian favourite, which in itself reveals one of the clearest trends in the Christmas retail food market this year. Supermarkets have looked to the ghosts of Christmas dinners past this year, and are offering a number of classically inspired festive products to excite. Waitrose’s figgy pudding stuffed turkey, and Elizabethan pork noix (veal stuffed pork) are two that stand out as a true taste of the past. Looking to more recent decades, retailers are also taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane. With Heston’s prawn cocktail making a return this year, the trend for retro eating and revamping vintage recipes is continuing across retailers. However, Waitrose are clearly taking the lead with it’s show stopping ultimate chocolate bar. Heston’s reminiscent ode to the age old Christmas chocolate bar is loaded with layers of milk chocolate caramel mousse, crunchy chocolate biscuit, caramel ganache, almond and hazelnut mousse, and finished with a cocoa glaze.

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Rivalling Heston’s vintage centre piece, M&S’ 5 gold rings Chocolate praline brownie Christmas cake is an equally striking spectacle of Christmas indulgence. Visually stunning, and correspondingly delicious, the addition of glitz and glamour to food this Christmas is widespread with use of edible gold, silver, and glitter more common. With Fortnum & Mason leading the way with their collection of Christmas conserves like Strawberry Starburst with edible glitter and Buck Fizz Marmalade with edible silver, you wouldn’t be foolish for thinking that this kind of indulgence should be reserved for those on a larger budget. This is not, however, the case, as budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl seek to make a luxury Christmas more affordable. Adding another 55 products to their newly substantial premium lines, luxury indulgences such as scallops in garlic butter are within reach. Seeking to position itself alongside the luxury lines of the big boys this Christmas, Lidl is offering whole lobsters at rock bottom price of £5.99.

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For budgets big and small there is clearly more on offer than ever this year, and with the Christmas food binge almost upon us it’s nearly time to stock up and settle in for our annual festive food coma. With all these delectable seasonal treats on offer though, the trickiest part of Christmas this year may just be deciding. But one thing is for certain, you better dig those elasticated trousers out the cupboard, because you’ll definitely be needing them this year.

Author: Jack Cliffe, Marketing & NPD Assistant

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