How to survive and thrive the season post-pandemic
Covid-19 has dominated our lives and livelihoods for over 18 months now. Christmas 2020 was perhaps the strangest in living memory and, as a consequence, most business owners are approaching Christmas 2021 with caution, restraint and a sprinkling of optimism. We asked some of our customers, who are working in various sectors of the food industry, for their thoughts and strategies for the forthcoming post-pandemic festive season.
Q1. How are you approaching Christmas 2021?
Q2. Can you share a tip or piece of advice to help fellow customers maximise the festive opportunity and create a bit of Christmas magic?
To be honest, the pandemic resulted in a huge uplift in sales for us. We always supply John Lewis with an exclusive range of Christmas lines, and these contain Christmas specific chocolates which we develop each year. This year it included flavours such as milk chocolate gingerbread truffle, dark chocolate amaretto & cherry marzipan, white chocolate limoncello truffle and a milk chocolate Christmas tree caramel. We also do our own range of Christmas lines including a festive marzipan selection and a luxury advent calendar. It’s always good to throw in some Christmas specific flavours during the festive season, although from a luxury chocolate point of view, any flavour chocolates seem to sell in the build-up to Christmas. My only other advice would be to be prepared. Plan ahead in terms of ingredients and packaging, as running out of either is definitely not good for business.
With the pandemic affecting the majority of our hospitality trade, Christmas will be very different and a lot quieter than normal. We will still be operating a sit-down dining experience but with far smaller numbers. On the plus side, we have more bookings as some of our guests are splitting the large numbers to various evenings. As far as buffets are concerned, we’re allowed to operate assisted buffets again; a positive from this is our guests will have chef interaction during their evening. Planning ahead or ‘mise en place’ is essential to make the most of Christmas. Getting ahead will only make things easier for you rather than last minute. Also, staff must remember to stay rested. The old ways of army-style, regimented kitchens are still lurking about but I run my kitchens where we work hard, but rest and family time are thought of. I will try my best to keep everyone rested when possible.
The past year has reaffirmed how important creating experiences are. Online orders can be so much more than a product in a brown box, they can help to create a special moment for people and their loved ones. This Christmas our key priority is to create the most magical, creative and unexpected experiences through our desserts. As well as packaging, we are looking at how we can add texture through inclusions, introduce new flavours, or create hybrids of products not seen anywhere else. Christmas planning is busy, stressful and competitive. So, make the gifting experience effortless for your customer. Present clear gifting options, which could include a handwritten Christmas card, the option to gift wrap, and delivery options for posting to your customers loved one ahead of the big day. Being overly transparent on your website, marketing channels and confirmation emails, will help take the stress away from customers’ Christmas planning.
I am so excited about Christmas 2021! This year’s seemed to be so uncertain right up until the final moment, people didn’t really necessarily know how to approach the food side of things. This year I can’t wait to put together a larger selection of luxury hamper-style offerings and extra products as I’m sure we’re all hoping for family and friend gatherings to go ahead. When it comes to Christmas marketing and planning, I’d definitely suggest starting early! It creeps up on you pretty fast, especially if you already have a busy work life. I find great inspiration from looking through products that wholesalers such as Henley Bridge sell, as well as following social media accounts that inspire me.
Jens Knoop, Founder of drinking chocolate experts Knoops which has several stores in London and Sussex
This Christmas everyone deserves a treat more than ever before, especially chocolate treats. So, we have taken our learnings from last year to offer a better range of gifts than ever. Our range will include our Classic collection with 34% milk, 54% dark and 70% extra dark chocolate flakes, and our hot chocolate and marshmallow gift set, with 34% milk chocolate flakes and a tube of our large handmade marshmallows, for a real ‘hug in a mug’ gift. Our Knoops tip this Christmas is to add a bit of our Festive Spice mix to your chocolate drinks. It’s a warming mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, white pepper, cardamom and orange. It adds a Christmassy flourish to your hot chocolates. We’ll be selling it in little pouches, which makes a great stocking filler, or in our Festive Spice gift set alongside our chocolate flakes and famous marshmallows.
We’re getting in the mood for Christmas with a new luxury gift box of 12 flavours, and making sure we’re ready for both online and event sales. We launched in the middle of the pandemic and think online is only going to keep growing. Start planning for the festive season even earlier than you think you need to so you’re not delayed by shortages, shipments or other un-Christmassy gremlins, and expect the unexpected for Christmas 2021!
Dominic Hutchings, award-winning chocolatier, Academy of Chocolate judge, and director & founder of Mr H Bars
I think from a business perspective, it will be focusing on promoting online a lot more rather than dedicating most of the time to in person. With a few ideas developing over the months and looking back at last year’s release, I cannot wait to share on the limited edition range that will be released using some new products from this year. A tip that I would recommend to any chocolatier in the run up to Christmas is plan out all your moulds and have them polished in advance. I use an alcohol solution as well as a cotton pad to produce a great shine to the shells. After these are all polished, I can clingfilm the moulds up and store them to the side ready for when the production time comes.