Retailers increasingly rely on gimmicky, seasonal treats to bolster their profits. But there's a deeper side to our love of chains' Christmas offerings, tooby Josh Barrie / November 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
Exactly when retailers began selling ridiculous Christmas food products is hard to say. Maybe it was 2015, when Marks and Spencer released its festive ‘brussemole’ and Tesco decided it would be a good idea to launch a chocolate and cherry sandwich. Whoever convinced M&S to sell pots of mushed miniature cabbage is surely a genius.
In Britain today, the run-up to Christmas isn’t only about shopping for spruces and preparing vats of sickly mulled wine—it is also when the supermarkets start rolling out seasonal treats that are farcical to the point of boundless intrigue. Each year, their inventions have become more outlandish and preposterous than the last. To date, we’ve had everything from Christmas pudding smoothies to prosecco flavoured crisps; Brussels sprouts-infused tea to Stilton cheesecake.
All the supermarkets are at it—even Waitrose, which last year constructed a sausage-based festive wreath in which plump Cumberlands were delicately tangled like holly and ivy upon a candlelit, snow-draped door. It may or may not have better resembled the intestines of a slaughtered pig. Never mind the cranberry glaze.
Still, such gimmicks are not entirely nonsensical. There’s no escaping the fact these creations pique consumer interest, particularly on social media, where bizarre food often reaches dizzying virality. It’s free marketing. Or at least it’s much cheaper than an expensive television campaign with Elton John or an animated penguin.
“It’s about two things: press and innovation,” says William Leigh, head of innovation at specialist sweet maker Candy Mechanics.
“Supermarkets (and restaurants) are competing for press coverage to deliver on their seasonal targets; the more outlandish an idea is, the more likely it is to get featured.”
“It does drive sales and this in turn gives you a second round of press—when your bonkers crisp flavours are sold out because everyone has rushed out to try them.”
Christmas has always been a spendy time. It’s the only period where indulgence and excess are celebrated, rather than considered woefully extravagant. As such, retailers covet footfall and rely on a rush of cash.
Only these days, given the political and economic climate, consumers aren’t spending as they once were. Perhaps these wacky products are designed to appeal to us during less lucrative times?
Brand researcher Tessa Stewart says Christmas is a “key trading period,” and one that’s becoming increasingly competitive. “Launching ridiculous food…