The yuletide season will be upon us before we know it and well-prepared grocers can be confident of good tidings. After all, this will be the second year in a row without pandemic restrictions, and Canadians’ appetite to create memories with friends and family is as strong as ever, with festive mains, appetizers and sweet treats important considerations to a successful get-together.
In fact, nine in 10 shoppers (88%) spend more on food and drink when hosting a seasonal celebration, reports the Ipsos FIVE Consumption Tracking Service from June 2023. In other words, this is an important time in any grocer’s calendar. But 2023 home entertaining trends won’t be a mirror image of last year.
Citing “pandem-flation concerns (post-pandemic plus rising pricing pressures/inflation),” Kathy Perrotta, vice-president of market strategy and understanding at Ipsos Canada, says there are new barriers to entertaining (cost, return to office, lack of confidence in hosting) that have led Canadians to thinking outside the box when it comes to entertaining at home.
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The Ipsos FIVE market research shows that hosts are looking to share the cost of entertaining through “pot lucking” (18% increase versus the 2019 holiday period) and a focus on quality and simplicity to ease workload (12% increase versus pre-pandemic times).
This ‘less is more’ approach and sharing in the cost and work is newly trending,” says Perrotta. “It presents a unique opportunity for retailers to provide solutions and messaging around this mindset, extending from food and beverage to accents like napkins and candles.”
This is good news for grocers. “People are more open to premium-priced products when they’re only responsible for a component of a meal,” she says.
Still, promotional pricing in an inflationary environment moves product. Mintel data from April 2023 indicates that 74% of Canadians always/often look at what’s on sale before shopping for regularly priced items, and 64% always/often compare prices at different retailers and buy wherever the best deal is.
“Canadians have always been savvy deal-finders and those skills have been honed as a way of battling inflation,” says Scott Stewart, associate director, lifestyles and retail, Canada, at Mintel. “They’ll likely be more in tune with promotions and sales this season than they have in the past.”
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Shoppers might be seeking deals this holiday season, but limited-edition products are expected to perform well. Between 2018 and 2022, seasonal product launches at Christmas increased in Canada and the United States by 15%, according to Innova Market Insights. The firm’s Consumer Surveys 2023 found 41% of Canadian and U.S. consumers are more likely to make an impulse purchase when the food or beverage is in limited release.
Lu Ann Williams, global insights director at Innova, says the popularity of limited-edition products are explained by one of its top 10 trends of 2023, “revenge spending,” with 14% of consumers having increased socializing with food to compensate for the missed experience and enjoyment of sharing good times with family and friends during the pandemic. “Themed or limited-edition products provide a great opportunity for grocers, with continued interest from consumers and less scrutiny on price than year-round offerings from popular brands,” explains Williams.
When well merchandized, “typically, promoting pricing is not necessary when it’s only available for the holiday season,” says Lesya Chapman, marketing manager at Canadian ice cream manufacturer, Chapman’s, which is bringing its Holiday Moments portfolio of ice cream sandwiches, cones, bars and tubs in limited-edition flavours such as peppermint, shortbread and gingerbread back for a third straight year. “The sales performance of holiday flavours has been very steady and consistent with slight growth in sales from year to year,” says Chapman.
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This year, under its Great Value private-label brand, Walmart Canada is putting its stamp on popular baked goods, explains Morgan Ferris, vice-president, Walmart brands at Walmart Canada. The retailer is launching creme-filled cookies in Cinnamon Bun and Oatmeal Chai as well as Mini Eggs, an Easter favourite reimagined in Christmas-themed candy-coated shells.
Meanwhile, Group Bel Canada launched its Boursin Truffle Salt and Hint of Pepper as a limited-time holiday offer in 2022 and the product is “back permanently this year due to popular demand,” says Chantal Pelletier, Group Bel’s director of marketing.
Not every grocery trip will have the same goal in mind, given a shopper might be looking for a premium appetizer for a potluck on one visit and an affordable protein for a family dinner on another.
In their seafood sections, grocers should appeal to both value and premium choices, advises Tony Vartivarian, director of marketing at Lagoon Seafood, which has 600-plus SKUs. “Consumers might opt for more budget-friendly seafood options like pollock instead of Canadian haddock, or smaller quantities of more expensive product,” he says. “But during holiday entertaining, they may also be more inclined to splurge on premium fish and seafood like lobster, crab, smoked salmon and exotic seafood varieties, given they’re perceived as luxurious and fitting for celebratory meals.”
Twist on tradition
There is a reason turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, yams and green beans are synonymous with Christmas. Mintel data indicates that 46% of people return to the same dishes they grew up with. Still, only 22% say they have set holiday recipes and 33% like to add their own creativity to traditional dishes.
“Tradition, structure and nostalgia are powerful motivators, but relatively few consumers are entirely committed to the same dishes year after year,” explains Mintel’s Stewart. “Threading that needle is where the opportunity is.”
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He says it can be “cranberry chutney instead of cranberry sauce or bok choy instead of Brussels sprouts,” with appetizers, desserts and beverages particularly opportune for a slight twist.
Chefs at Toronto’s Summerhill Market are developing unique, ready-to-eat items, particularly with appetizers to accompany the usual mains. “We’re thinking an hors d’oeuvres board, which traditionally take a bit of work at home, but that we could curate in a box with instructions on how to assemble,” says Brad McMullen, president and co-owner of the gourmet grocery chain.
Increased promotional support
To help spark ideas, grocers and manufacturers are providing recipe inspiration. Ahead of the season, Farm Boy will launch a digital magazine, inSeason, filled with recipes, entertainment ideas “and seasonal offerings from all departments,” says Alessandra Bisaillon, Farm Boy’s director of marketing. Launched earlier this year, Canada Beef’s online portal, The Canadian Beef Information Gateway, features more than 300 recipes with video tutorials on how to make holiday classics such as tourtière (a French-Canadian meat pie usually served on Christmas Eve) and Wellington made with traditional beef, but also cost-effective ground beef.
“Though concerns about sugar persist in daily decision-making,” says Ipsos’s Perrotta, “sweet dessert traditions remain a staple requirement at holiday gatherings, led by home-baked goods (cookies, pies, squares, cupcakes), chocolate treats, fresh fruit and frozen novelties.”
Returning seasonal favourites at Farm Boy include its store-brand eggnog cruffies (croissant-meets-muffin pastries), gingerbread loaf cake, mincemeat tarts and seasonally flavoured Swiss rolls.
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And rather than large-size mincemeat or apple pies, Tree of Life Canada is expecting individually packaged treats to be popular this holiday season. The food distributor is forecasting an uptick for snack-size indulgences imported from Italy, including Condorelli nougats smothered in pistachios, hazelnut and chocolate; Paese Mio chocolate figs with almond; and Balconi chocolate tiramisu wafers.
“Individualized packaging allows for more control of serving size and less waste,” explains Yuriko Kitano, Tree of Life Canada’s senior marketing insights manager. “The packaging makes them perfect for display in-store.”
This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s September/October 2023 issue.