Tis the season to be jolly, especially for bakers as consumers line their cupboards, and stomachs, with mince pies, stollen, Christmas cake and brandy-soaked puddings. But will the recession signify a change in the traditional indulgence of the festive season? And will consumers follow the current trend of choosing traditional products they know and love?

Fudges managing director Steve Fudge points out that doing well at Christmas isn’t just about selling Christmas products. "A lot of it is about innovating and developing products that will excite," he says, "but just selling new products isn’t enough any more. The type of eating occasion is also critical." Dorset-based Fudges matches its products up to different occasions, such as Christmas drinks and nibbles, with suggested tipples on the packaging, whether it be port or coffee. As well as eating occasions, he says, the ’sharing’ selling point is also a big marketing opportunity, but gifting is by far the biggest. Fudges sells gift-wrapped boxes of mince pies, which have a ’to and from’ tag on, to be given as presents. He suggests that craft bakers looking to capitalise on the opportunity of selling their products as gifts can offer a wrapped option, with a gift tag.

Christmas is a big trading time for all - and especially for the supermarkets, which start planning their new range before the dust has settled from the previous year. As well as the traditional offering of rich fruit cakes and yule-logs, innovation is still very much on the agenda. Asda will be promoting a number of sweet treats aimed at children, such as a Sleeping Santa Sponge Cake. It will also be launching a Colour-in Christmas Madeira Cake, which is supplied with edible-ink pens, so that kids can decorate it themselves, and is a first- to-market says a spokesperson for the retailer. "The biggest change, from an in-store point of view, is our Extra Special Mince Pies, which will be in-store from 13 October. We’ve changed the recipe and they are now deep-fill. Also this year, for the first time, they will be fully baked in-store."

Sainsbury’s has "completely redeveloped all of its mince pies", and will be using a more traditional recipe mincemeat, as well as new-recipe pastry, explains a spokesperson for the firm. It has also launched a new 12-month matured Champagne Christmas pudding under its Taste The Difference range, and will be launching a few new festive cakes, including a family orientated non-fruit Christmas cake.

Tesco’s Christmas bakery range features a Santa & Parcels and Christmas Tree Square fruit cakes. In its Finest range is a Toffee & Pecan Crown, a Nut Cluster Cake, deep-fill and mini mince pies and an Iced Rich Fruitcake and Matured Christmas Pudding.

Morrisons says that among the highlights of its range this year is a Stollen Loaf, produced in-store. "We have only ever sold pre-packed before, but our in-store bakers are now being trained to produce the Stollen Loaf fresh," explains a spokesperson for the supermarket. Also available will be a Fresh Cream Chocolate Yule Log, Christmas cupcakes, a Chocolate Orange Gateau, and a Santa Sponge Cake.

Waitrose has redeveloped the recipes for its all-butter mince pies and stollen bites and slices. It revealed it would also have a range of cakes with brand new designs, all of which will be free from artificial colours and flavourings, but said it was too early to go into more detail.

For craft bakers, Lisa Boswell, marketing manager at BakeMark UK, says Christmas is a time when consumers are looking for both new and traditional cakes. "Theming your sweet selection is a sure way to uplift sales during this key period," she says and suggests using traditional inclusions, such as almonds, cranberries and cherries, to give products a festive feel, as well as ’fashionable’ products such as cupcakes.

In terms of other trends, Melanie Somerville, ADM Milling marketing manager, says that following on from the current trend of individual portions and cupcakes, ADM believes consumers will continue to treat themselves with individual portion-size indulgences. She suggests bakers could try a new take on a Christmas muffin, for example. "Add fruit mince in the middle and finish with cinnamon on top for a festive alternative to the mince pie," she says.

Macphie suggests craft bakers start selling novelty products as early as October, as well as making sure they use seasonal window displays to tempt the customers in. The ingredients manufacturer also recommends carrying out in-store sampling, as well as emphasising the hand-crafted nature of their products.


=== Christmas focus on... WC Rowe ===

One craft bakery that has its Christmas range all wrapped up is Cornwall-based WC Rowe. "This year we’ve looked a lot at our old range and how to revamp it," explains new product development manager, Nick Brown.

It launched an individual Dundee cake last year on a trial basis, which sold really well, so this has been revamped and will be launched on a much fuller scale this year, says Brown.

"It’s also the first year we’ve made our own mince pies. We’ve had problems with our tart machines, but we’re back to making our own."

The company launched a range of Christmas tarts last year, with a traditional mincemeat recipe that sold really well. So this year, it will add a brandied Christmas tart, with infused cranberries.

Brown explains Rowe’s has also developed its own take on a traditional turkey sandwich, using a sage-and-onion bread as the carrier, and will be selling a special-edition sausage roll - a Christmas cracker sausage roll - with a high meat content. As well as sausage meat, it will contain turkey and bacon, along with a small cranberry element.

Rowe’s is also launching new seasonal cupcakes. On offer this Christmas will be a Black Forest cupcake, banoffee cupcake, snowball cupcake and a Christmas pudding brownie variety.

Brown says Christmas has always been about traditional flavours, and although consumers will be wary about costs, he has no doubt they will still want to indulge. "You’ve got to get the balance between a really good offering but at the right price," he says. "Hopefully if it’s in an interesting format, that will attract people."


=== New product snapshot ===

ADM Milling: ADM is launching a Rich Fruit Cake Mix for the festive season, which can be used to produce a wide variety of Christmas lines. Bakers only need to add water and fruit to the mix to produce seasonal products such as Christmas and Dundee cakes, individual portion slices and even Christmas pudding.

Fudges: Its range includes Mini Mince Pies and a Twelfth Night Cake, as well as its Fudges Biscuits for Cheese Selection. Its Mini Mince Pies are made with a soft butter pastry, rich mincemeat and a frosted sugar topping. They are no bigger than an inch across and are sold as suggested petit fours. The Twelve Night cake has been developed from a stollen recipe, devised a number of centuries ago. The cake was divided into seven pieces, one containing a haricot bean - and whoever found it became king for the evening.

Southover Foods: The firm is launching a new product from Higgidy, ready for Christmas. Its Herby Sausage Roll with Bacon & Leek is the latest addition to its range. It is made from lean pork shoulder, which is coarsely ground with smoked bacon, sun-dried tomato, leek and herbs, then rolled in puff pastry with crumbed parsley sprinkles.

Gü Chocolate Puds: The desserts firm will be promoting its Gü Chocolate Cake, which has a moist chocolate sponge with a creamy chocolate ganache, made with 53% cocoa chocolate. The firm says its Gü-ey Fondant Torte is a good alternative to Christmas pudding, and its Gü Naughties, available in chunky Rocky Road, Gü-ey Choc Sponge Rolls or Millionaire’s Flapjacks, will be sold in tubs aimed at the snacking market.