Anyone remember lighting the Ashen Faggot? How about Shoeing the Mare? Or knocking back a Smoking Bishop?

Probably not. All three are festive traditions that were big in their day but have since disappeared in the mists of time (see the end of this article for descriptions).

Which begs the question of what the future might hold for the classic Christmas pudding. As consumer tastes evolve and sales decline, is there a chance the Christmas classic could go the way of the Smoking Bishop?

Supermarket sales figures certainly don’t paint a cheery picture. According to data from Kantar, which covers the major supermarkets, discounters and bargain stores, Brits spent almost 30% less on Christmas puddings last year than they did in 2017. What’s more, nearly £5m was wiped off market value in 2021 alone. 

The reason for decline was pretty simple: Kantar consumer insight director Tesni Steele-Jones explained at the time that the number of shoppers buying Christmas puddings had dropped from over eight million to under 6.5 million.

Morrisons The Best Panettone Christmas Pudding

Source: Morrisons

Morrisons The Best Panettone Christmas Pudding with a Black Cherry Sauce

Puddings supplier Matthew Walker, while admitting to seeing a decline in category volumes compared with two years ago, says Christmas puddings are still a firm favourite.

“Far from falling out of favour, they are still very much part of the Christmas festivities and are the main dessert served on the day,” says Kirstie Jamieson, UK marketing director at Matthew Walker owner Valeo Foods.

Read: Christmas trends: what’s hot in bakery in 2022?

And while mainstream sales have taken a hit, Ellen Halpin-Barnett of supplier Nana Lily’s says sales of her premium puddings have soared in the past five years in high-end farm shops and delis.

There can be no doubt, of course, that a heavy, fruit-laden pudding isn’t for everyone.

“It is true the Christmas pudding does not always appeal to the younger generation,” says Halpin-Barnett, adding that many younger customers do not like dried fruit. “However, I have been at events and persuaded them to try Nana Lily’s and they love it.”

Aldi Firecracker Pudding

Source: Aldi

Aldi Specially Selected Firecracker Pudding

Tradition with a twist

One way of attracting consumers who turn their noses up at Christmas puddings – particularly younger consumers – is to offer variations on the pudding theme. Suppliers have embraced this opportunity by offering puddings at a range of pricing tiers, and different formats and sizes to meet household needs.

Matthew Walker has developed puddings with a variety of maturity levels to meet different tastes, seasonal sponges that offer a new take to the traditional Christmas puddings, and free-from versions to meet the needs of those on special diets.

“Some consumers prefer puddings that come with an additional twist, for example those that are topped or have a sauce centre,” says Jamieson. “The Christmas pudding has been developed over the years and there is now a far greater choice available to cater for consumers’ different tastes, attracting both traditionalists as well as a new generation of consumers.”

A look at the festive ranges on offer this year shows just how far the adaptation of the traditional recipe has come. Among the products on shelf this year are:

  • Aldi Specially Selected Champagne Pudding / Bucks Fizz Pudding: Containing vine fruits, glacé cherries, cranberries and nuts blended with cider, brandy and Champagne. Topped with whole glacé red and black cherries and almonds and finished with Marc de Champagne brandy
  • Aldi Specially Selected Firecracker Pudding: Made with vine fruits, cider, Amontillado sherry and Belgian chocolate chunks, infused with an orange and chilli flavour sauce. Includes a salted Belgian chocolate sauce, and a sachet of coated popping candy.
  • M&S The Collection Cherry & Orange Liqueur Christmas Pudding Wreath: Filled with vine fruits, cherries and cranberries, infused with orange liqueur, topped with glacé cherries and candied citrus peel and drenched in syrup.
  • Morrisons The Best Panettone Christmas Pudding with a Black Cherry Sauce: This is described as a rich Christmas pudding laced with chunks of panettone and black cherries “for a decadent new twist on a classic”.

Independent bakers also offer their own versions of the classic, with Ginger Bakers developing a Fig & Orange pudding made with “a generous slug’ of Lakes Distillery Orange Cask Whisky and sourdough breadcrumbs from Lovingly Artisan bakery.

Fig & Orange Christmas Pudding

Source: Ginger Bakers

Ginger Bakers Fig & Orange Christmas Pudding

“We’re always keen to learn from the past and add a little twist or two to our cakes and bakes. In this instance, we decided to use the utterly delicious sourdough bread from our neighbours at Lovingly Artisan,” says Ginger Bakers founder Lisa Smith. “Though it may seem a little odd, the addition of sourdough adds a whole new level of flavour, especially alongside a boozy tot or two and lots of delicious fruit.’’

Thinking beyond Christmas

There’s clearly no lack of innovation in the festive puds market, so what else can be done to ensure the Christmas classic remains a favourite?

“Ensuring the puddings are visible on shelf and easy for the consumers to find is key,” says Jamieson, adding that seasonal aisles should play a role in this. “Packaging is also key and ensuring that the products USPs are highlighted – product maturity, portion size, key ingredients – will help the consumer make the right choice for them.”

There may also be opportunities to encourage consumers to buy more than one Christmas pud a year – and to extend the period Christmas puds are on shelf.

Nana Lily

Source: Nana Lily’s

Nana Lily’s sells its Irish Whiskey pudding all-year round

Halpin-Barnett at Nana Lily’s says she has customers who buy two puddings at a time because retailers remove them from the shelves as soon as Christmas is over.

“Turkeys are available all year around, so is haggis, so why do retailers not stock them on their shelves all year?” she questions. “We sell a lot of Christmas puddings at Easter as many people have a full Christmas dinner at Easter to celebrate. My moto is ‘Christmas pudding is not just for Christmas’.”

The Christmas pudding is still very much part of Christmas and the centre piece of the Christmas table, so it’s not disappearing anytime soon

To this end, outside the festive season Nana Lily’s renames its Christmas pudding as an Irish Whiskey pudding, and labels it accordingly. “They sell all-year around,” declares Ellen Halpin-Barnett.

Matthew Walker believes that, although most consumers only eat traditional Christmas pud on Christmas Day, innovation around alternatives gives opportunities for further sales.

“The fruited alternatives and seasonal sponges would offer something different for other occasions or gatherings during the festive period,” says Jamieson.

Ultimately, suppliers are convinced the Christmas pudding – and its various offshoots – have a bright future.

As Jamieson puts it: “The Christmas pudding is still very much part of Christmas and the centre piece of the Christmas table, so it’s not disappearing anytime soon!”


Forgotten Christmas traditions

Mulled wine in mugs with cinnamon and orange

Source: Getty Images

Ashen Faggot: A West Country tradition that required a bundle of ash sticks to be burnt in a hearth on Christmas Eve while people sing carols

Shoe the Mare: All the rage in Elizabethan times, this festive party game involved chasing a barefooted person around before catching them and pretending to shoe them, like a horse

Smoking Bishop: A type of red wine punch served around the festive season. As a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge declares to Bob Cratchit at the end of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol: “I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!”