Mince pies and crackers in stores by mid-November can only mean one thing: the Christmas season is officially upon the UK! If there is one thing the UK is known for it’s their Christmas spirit. With tinselled jumpers and round the clock Christmas carols, it is also the one time of the year us British will focus our efforts on (good) food. For many households, Christmas dinner is the most important meal of the year, and with great feasts, comes great responsibility… Planning tends to start early as supermarkets stock up on festive treats as soon as the Halloween pumpkins are off the shelves. One treat in particular will constitute the signature dish for this significant repast- the Christmas pudding. Despite the plethora of choices consumers face in the Christmas dessert category, for many, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a Christmas pudding. It is estimated that 25 million Christmas puddings are consumed in the UK every year. One can only wonder how this emblematic dessert has remained a holiday staple for all these years.
Most of us probably remember this sweet tradition from our grandmas gathering as many dried fruits as possible, throwing in a questionable amount of alcohol, and leaving it all to set for months. But when retailers like M&S and Sainsbury’s offer 12-month matured pudding, added to the fact that we have 300 other things on our list to look after before Christmas, the idea of buying a ready-made Christmas pudding seems hard to resist.
Brands and retailers have both raised their standards. What once resembled a weird tin pâté topped with artificial pink custard has been replaced by ready-made puddings comparable to our homemade (or better for some of us, let’s face it) ones. Consumers have started buying these ready-made puddings not only to simplify the holiday meal preparation, but also to make it easier to send these as gifts to far-away family members and friends.
What’s more, today’s consumers don’t even need to leave their house to fight the Christmas store frenzy, as they can now order these Christmas treats online. Most supermarkets have already started to sell turkeys, minced pies, veggies, and Christmas puddings online, and consumers are increasingly turning to this online approach more and more in the run up to the festive season.
For something as nostalgic as grandma’s Christmas pudding, why are so many choosing to purchase it online? Perhaps the constant lack of time, the digital revolution, and the overwhelming choice of high quality products/brands play a role. But according to retail analysts IGD, online grocery shopping is the fastest growing purchase channel in the UK. Between 2010 and 2016, the average value of weekly online food store sales has more than doubled. The market was initially ruled by four major players on the British grocery scene: Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and Tesco. Since then, online grocery sales have shot up, with the UK predicted to become the second largest online grocery market worldwide after China by 2020 (source: Statista).
And with each of these online stores offering a choice of Christmas puddings, switching to online shopping for our Christmas goods seems like the next logical step!
With M&S’s Christmas pudding ranked best by Good Housekeeping and both Aldi’s Salted Caramel Vodka and Golden Topped Christmas Puddings following in the top 10, retailers’ own brands are giving luxury companies such as Fortnum & Mason a run for their money.
How do consumers navigate this overwhelming array of puddings available to them?
Consumers often rely on rankings like Good Housekeeping’s for a popular opinion, and browse online shops with guidance from reviews and consumer experiences, or they browse the internet in search of an image of the perfectly domed Christmas pudding.
Online browsing also plays an important role for consumers who are simply window shopping. Christmas dinner is one of the most expensive meals of the year and grocery prices are rising (the average household is said to spend £159 in food and beverage for Christmas) making online browsing and the choice of the supermarkets key as people search for the best bargain. Consumers are utilising both online and in store shopping as they seek the perfect product. Rather than buy everything from one place, they use online stores and reviews as tools to get the best deals on top-rated items, even if they still buy from the physical store.
A dish as traditional as Christmas pudding will not allow much room for innovation when it comes to the product itself, making the role of packaging that much more influential. In online shops product packaging is as important, if not more, than in brick and mortar stores. With pages to look through, the first image of the product can sometimes be the only element on which consumers base their impressions. In the case of Christmas pudding, brands and retailers have understood that the homemade feel is essential, which most of them have captured through their dome-shaped boxes and wrappings.
With both online shopping enthusiasts and window shoppers using web-based research to plan their daily and seasonal purchase choices, we must recognise the importance of online presence and digital representation of packaging to the consumers’ experience- an experience PRS IN VIVO can help you understand.
But more importantly… we want to know: have you decided where you are going to buy your Christmas pudding this year?
Jenna Meunier is a Qualitative Project Director at PRS IN VIVO based in the London office. Originally from France, she moved to London three years ago after receiving her Master’s degree in marketing and entrepreneurship.