Feature: What a cracker!

Feature: What a cracker!

October has arrived and that can mean only one thing: even though Bonfire Night hasn’t even been and gone yet, it’s time to start celebrating Christmas! While the TV advertisements and high street shops can justifiably be accused of jumping the gun, the food and hospitality has every right to start gearing up for the festive period.

“Planning should start pre-October and you can start promoting seasonal products from the start of November, as the demand for festive-themed food begins in advance of the official Christmas countdown,” says Margarethe Schneeweis, category market leader, pastry mixes Europe for CSM Bakery Solutions. “This ensures that ingredients can be ordered on time and products can be pre-prepared and frozen to ensure that deadlines are met and sales targets are achieved without a big rush for the team when it comes to the end November/beginning of December.”

The fact is that you need to plan properly as it is such a huge time of year for caterers. “It is the perfect opportunity to impress and food manufacturers often design speciality products with the warming flavours of Christmas or featuring fun, festive themes,” says Fabien Levet, national account manager – foodservice for Pidy UK. “This ensures that operators can prepare a wonderful festive menu to meet the high expectations of customers.

“Out of home dining offers a great deal of potential during this period with festive menus and Christmas-themed products being popular among all customers. It’s important to take the time to plan a dedicated menu and get the most out of this period, both from a sales point of view and ensuring all customers are satisfied.”

“There is only one way to celebrate the festive season and that is with the true indulgence of everyone’s favourite Christmas food,” enthuses Christina Veal, director of New Forest Ice Cream. “With more consumers choosing to dine out of home and make the most of the festive cheer, the pressure is always on to create a show-stopping menu, not only to keep customers keen to return throughout the year but to maximise sales during this incredibly lucrative period too.”

Essential eats
So what products should out of home operators have on their menus? “During the festive period, traditional items such as turkey with all the trimmings and Christmas puddings are, of course, going to be at the top of any caterers list, but with selective items chefs can keep diners interested and approach trends such as sharing boards, sweet treats and the change in dining times,” says Nick Redford, managing director of Caterforce. “Buffet items are ideal for sharing starters and perfect for diners not wanting to eat at the traditional lunch and evening meal times. Outlets can really add that something special with a range of bite-sized savoury treats.”

“Frozen fish is used extensively throughout the foodservice industry because of the many benefits it brings, including extended shelf life, portion control, consistency, reduced waste, speed of preparation and the ability to bulk buy,” says Adrian Greaves, foodservice director for Young’s Foodservice. “As such, it can be more cost effective than fresh fish, particularly during the busiest times of the year when more customers choose to dine out with friends and family to celebrate the festivities. Smoked salmon is often considered particularly indulgent and is always a popular choice at Christmas.”

With it being a time of such indulgence, you can never ignore the importance of afters. “We see a rise in demand for desserts around the festive period, as Christmas is a time for treating yourself,” says Chris Beckley, managing director of kff. “Individual desserts are ideal for these busy trading periods, as they are simple to prepare and save precious time in the kitchen. Our dessert offerings perfectly round a meal off with a touch of festive sophistication.”

“Desserts present a key opportunity for café operators at Christmas, with 78% of people being more likely to treat themselves when out for a special occasion, while a third of consumers think there should be more desserts targeting special occasions on menus,” adds Robert Harrison, sales director for Callebaut. “Make it a chocolate dessert and two-thirds of people would be more likely to order it.”

Say cheese!
With it being Christmas, the feasting doesn’t end at dessert – with many being prepared to tuck into their umpteenth course. “Cheese has always been popular at Christmas, and so this year we have launched our provolone pots to make it that little bit easier for operators to profit from a versatile festive favourite,” says John Steele, national account controller for Futura Foods.

“Try serving with a rocket and rosemary salad garnish and crusty Italian bread for a popular sharing board, or simply sprinkle with paprika, chilli powder and basil for an easy and impressive starter. For the more adventurous, a provolone soufflé with porcini mushrooms and pea purée makes for a premium main that’s also suitable for vegetarians.”

And you’ll obviously be needing something to go with that. “Getting the bread right is vital at Christmas as it plays a huge role in the festivities, whether as table bread, creative entrees, or when used for post-Christmas leftover sandwiches,” says Simon Cannell, managing director of Speciality Breads. “Frozen breads are the perfect solution for caterers at Christmas as they can be stored easily, only need to be defrosted an hour before they are required and are great for cutting down on wastage in the kitchen.”

When it comes to something to wash that all down with, Amy Burgess, trade communications manager for Coca-Cola European Partners, recommends considering some alcohol alternatives. “With 21% of adults in the UK today not consuming alcohol, and Christmas being a time when many people act as the designated driver for their group, it’s particularly important for caterers to carry a wide choice of soft drinks in the run-up to the big day,” she says. “This ensures that they can meet the demands of all consumer preferences and maximise their sales as people enjoy their parties and celebrations.”

“Pairing food and beverages is becoming increasingly popular, and tea blends can be easily paired with a variety of food options,” adds Marshall Kingston, Tetley senior brand manager – out of home for Tetley. “Add a festive touch to your menu and offer Teff Porridge with a Mincemeat Fruit topping or a Winter Spice Earl Grey Tea Loaf, alongside a steaming cuppa.”

Pull the other one!
And don’t forget that you also need to stock up on certain non-edible essentials. “As you may expect, crackers are the standout item when it comes to Christmas-themed product sales,” says Mike Hardman, online manager for Alliance. “Nothing personifies the festive period quite like a glitzy cylinder of gifts, jokes and paper crowns.

“Christmas crackers are now much more varied in their design and contents, however, with both budget and luxury options being available. Any caterers must consider these accessories as being essential for their table service this Christmas. Not only do they provide added decoration but they can really help to get customers in the spirit of things too.”

With the big dinner done, you’re left with a huge pile of washing up – and leftovers. So what’s the best way to maximise anything that miraculously escaped uneaten? “Waste not want not is always a great theory, but are you bored of that same old turkey curry?” asks Bob McDonald, Major’s development chef ambassador. “For street-worthy inspired leftover inspiration look no further than a deliciously fragrant, fresh flavoured pan-Asian pulled turkey slider. A perfect dish for your specials board, not only does it provide the perfect home for those remaining cuts but it is quick to prepare and tastes as amazing as it looks too.”

With advice and products like that, and an audience more than prepared to gorge itself, it really is a most wonderful time of year for out of home operators. “Christmas is the biggest spending time of the calendar, and consequently it is vital that operators make the most of the busy trading period,” says Tom Noonan, senior brand manager for DaVinci Gourmet. “During the festive season, consumers are much more inclined to treat themselves to festive foods and drinks while out of home, adding to the already substantial profit opportunities presented at Christmas time.”