Zoe Brown, head of account management, BD Network

Christmas is, to many food brands, the most wonderful – and lucrative – time of the year. Last year in the UK alone, the IGD predicted an increase of 1.2% in food sales over Christmas, boosting food sales to £2billion – in a year especially marked by product price fluctuations. Overseas, trends are similar – December and the year end sees a number of celebrations marked by feasts. This year’s Christmas in July planning events have highlighted a number of key trends ahead for the 2017 festive period, in particular a resurgence of heritage brands coming back to grace our tables. Cadbury’s have led the charge here, announcing a series of ‘vintage’ themed Christmas lines, including a selection box featuring original packaging for the bars– sure to stir nostalgic feelings of Christmases gone by when selection boxes were a firm fixture around the tree.

 Christmas and the broader festive period often evokes warm feelings of family and times past, and it’s not unusual for well-loved brands to reflect this nostalgic association with limited edition historic packaging or reviving recipes for the special occasion. It has been predicted that this year, aside from a strong predominance for craft spirits, gin in particular, there are likely to be strong 1970’s food preferences gracing the tables, from black forest gateau themed dishes to baked Alaska. Heritage associations are natural fits during the winter season given festivals in the period, in particular, are steeped in tradition and cosy family feels – just the kind of association many food products are also looking to tap into.

 Of course, working towards festival dates in the festive period are the culmination of many months of work – and that work is already hard underway even before Hallowe’en hits, or Thanksgiving which is typically the start of true Christmas preparation in the USA. Many food and drinks brands also find that this period comes hard on the heels of summer of live events and festival activity, and making that transition between long sunny summer days and cosy winter nights can be a difficult one. For heritage brands – those with long histories but whose popularity may have waxed and waned throughout the years, this challenge is still harder – how to make the transition and build relevance in the key weeks and months before the year end, to ensure your brand stands out when people reach to the shelf during their festive shops?

Standout is a key issue for brand keen to capitalise on festive shopping, especially as it has become such a competitive and pricy time of year for Christmas advertising. Last year British brands spent an estimated £5.6billion on their TV ads alone in the run up to Christmas – up £300 million on the previous year. But paying vast amounts for standout is not the only way. Many food brands in particular have seen great engagement through live events – like the Jack Daniels Barrel Tree, or the now indelible Coca-Cola truck tour. Last year, Pernod-Ricard even ran a live chatbot on its site for those seeking cocktail inspiration in the run up to parties, in partnership with Ocado so people could order directly. Bringing a product to life with quirky and unusual offers can engage with shoppers seeking new inspiration for their Christmases – just like Bombay Sapphire last year teaming up with a series of artists to create innovative new spins on longstanding Christmas traditions, such as a glass cracker, and bespoke gin bauble.

However, heritage brands have to be aware of their history, while also finding fresh ways to engage with lapsed customers and encourage new ones to try. Brands of perry, or vermouth, which both used to be synonymous with festive parties in the 1970s and 1980s, may find that now is the time to update their image and reconnect with shoppers, but they’re contending with brand new artisan gins and single malts. What these products need to draw on for success is a focus on the brand experience, transforming new taste experiences of an older brand with new twists on the perfect serve to find new audiences and bring older customers back to the fold. Sampling and actively providing other opportunities to experience, or reintroduce, the product to target customers may also be key for a brand or foodstuff which has seen its popularity wane over time.

It is clear that by the time this Christmas seasons rolls around, shoppers will have a plethora of themed messages coming their way – from supermarkets, from the big high street stores competing for gift spend, and from the brands themselves looking to stand out. For those products looking for a little more of a boost and potential brand revenue benefit in the new year, the work has to start now to create ways for target customers to trial and reconnect with the brand, or to engage with a new twist on a classic.    

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