Brits love a mince pie, but consumers are looking beyond traditional festive fare for more exciting flavours

Father Christmas is in for a treat this Christmas Eve as little girls and boys leave him a glass of milk and a mince pie. Particularly if it’s a rhubarb & gin mince pie, or maybe a chocolate orange one.

One thing’s for sure, the decision on what to leave the big man is getting harder as retailers and bakers up their game with innovative, and perhaps unusual, variations on this traditional treat. It’s a trend that contributed to sales rising more than 10% last Christmas.

“The Christmas season is extending year-on-year, which means we’re seeing mince pies stocked on supermarket shelves from early September onwards,” says Joanne Elsdon, director of NPD at Bright Blue Foods, which manufactures own-label mince pies.

“However, it’s really the product innovation taking place that is growing the demand – it’s a versatile and exciting product that allows bakers to experiment, and many are harnessing the opportunity.”

This has led to the aforementioned flavours, along with the likes of chocolate cherry, salted caramel and spiced rum variants hitting the market. Tipples have been mixed into the mincemeat, along with other fruits and flavours, while sauces have been swirled on top.

Discounter Lidl is one of the retailers driving this. “We have doubled our mince pie range this year,” explains Holly Bleach, buyer for cakes, biscuits and confectionery at the retailer. “We’re trying to go for something really new and different so they will appeal to a younger customer base.”

For Lidl, this means Frangipane Amaretto, Chocolate Orange and Butterscotch Mince Pies, along with mini gift packs that take them from being “traditionally simple” to Instagram-worthy, she notes.

“Mincemeat can be given a new twist by adding grated carrot, apple or orange to a basic bought-in mixture to give a lighter taste for modern mince pies,” adds Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager UK and Ireland for Dawn Foods.

Bright Blue Foods’ Elsdon encourages bakers to look beyond the filling. “Bakers are not only experimenting with ingredients but also the pastry, and the past couple of years have seen a move away from a full lid top towards floating lids such as stars,” she says.

Lattice-topped pies are also gaining popularity, with Tesco and Asda tapping this trend. Some are ditching the lid altogether, instead opting to top with traditional accompaniment brandy butter.

However, Simon Brown, MD of ingredients manufacturer John Morley, which produces mincemeat among other things, warns against changing too much.

“The thing with mince pies is because you’ve already got a lot of spices in there, and dried fruit, there’s already a strong flavour profile,” Brown explains. “Add to that sweet pastry, and you’ve got to learn to combine and enhance those existing flavours.”

Plus, you run the risk of a product no longer being classified as a mince pie. “There is a legal definition to mincemeat, so when we’re selling it we have to meet certain requirements,” he adds.

Tradition is also important. While innovative flavours draw in consumers who aren’t necessarily mince pie fans, a huge number look for classic combinations. Aldi has been working with Northern Ireland-based Genesis Crafty on Specially Selected Exquisite Mince Pies. Featuring rose water, figs and dates in the filling, they have a more traditional look and deeper sides, making them heavier than its other offerings.

“Providing more choice gives retailers more sales opportunities, gifting bakers the opportunity to innovate,” concludes Elsdon. “Look to other categories for inspiration and consider everything – pastry, ingredients and size – nothing is off limits.”

1. Asda – Extra Special Rhubarb Gin Mince Pies

Here, the kick of gin-infused rhubarb compote is balanced with a sweet mincemeat encased in an all-butter shortcrust pastry. Elsewhere, Asda’s Extra Special Mince Pies embrace tradition, topping a brandy- and port-infused mincemeat with a snowflake-shaped pastry lid.

2. Morrisons – The Best Black Forest Mince Pies

Butter-enriched chocolate pastry is filled with Morello cherry mincemeat and topped with a cherry and kirsch filling, an all-butter dark chocolate chip crumble, ‘sweet snow’ sugar dusting and a sprinkling of edible gold glitter.

3. Tesco – Free From Mince Pies

The UK’s biggest supermarket is rolling out a number of gluten-free Christmas classics. Its four-pack Free From Mince Pies comprise flaky – and notably gluten- and milk-free – pastry, filled with a traditional mincemeat.

4. The Co-op – Irresistible Brandy Butter Mince Pies

Keeping things traditional, sort of, The Co-op has topped one of its mince pies with a hearty swirl of brandy butter – offering grab-and-go customers traditional tastes in a handy format. Slightly less traditional, the Irresistible Spiced Salted Caramel & Rum Mince Pies combine a splash of Jamaican rum and on-trend salted caramel.

5. Aldi – Specially Selected Flavoured Mince Pies

Flavoured mince pies act as an entry point for customers not keen on traditional mincemeat, says Aldi UK buying director Adam Sears. So the retailer’s range of flavoured mince pies include Salted Caramel and Chocolate Cherry, alongside a more traditional Specially Selected Exquisite Giant Sharing Mince Pie (see main image).