How we’re getting ready for Christmas
Daniel Williams, Project Manager, Godfrey C. Williams & Son, Sandbach, Cheshire
Catalogues from big wholesalers started coming through to Godfrey C. Williams & Sons in Sanbach as early as March, so the family-run business had sent off orders by May Bank holiday.
“For the smaller, local companies selling local cheese and meats, we’ll go closer to the time, like October-November,” fifth generation grocer Daniel Williams tells FFD.
Christmas for the past two years has been a bit of a guessing game, so it will be this year.
They expect customers will prioritise value for money, so the Williams’ have cut back on premium products.
“We will still be sticking with statement pieces for Christmas,” he says, like the Tenuta Marmorelle limoncello Panettone, and a good range of English wine, both of which have done well.
Other items will be dropped, like the salt and pepper gift packs they previously stocked but can now be found in TK Maxx.
“Not that we classify TK Maxx as a direct competitor,” he laughs, “but it’s little things like that where you have to plan ahead against.”
As customers also look to increase support for local producers, the shop will turn to Cheshire and nearby Shropshire for cheeses, apple juice, chutneys, biscuits and chocolates. Hampers will likely be dominated by local items too.
Like-for-like counter cheeses have changed in recent months, which will be reflected in their Christmas orders.
“We don’t tend to stock Brie de Meaux on the counter on a regular basis now because they’ll all go for a Baron Bigod,” says Williams. “For Roquefort, we’ve switched over to Mrs Bells Blue or Leeds Blue when we can get it. We get Tunworth instead of petit Camembert.”
While they will continue to stock cheeses at the higher end of the price spectrum, Williams understands that customers are reluctant to buy anything above the £4.00 per 100 gram mark, spare the odd exception.
“Giving a cheese a try always helps, we’ve always got Buffalo Blue by Shepherds Purse on for £4 per 100 grams but you can’t get much of it around,” he says.
Meanwhile, Sharpham Brie, Cornish Yarg, Waterloo, Rosary Goats all gravitate around the £2.50 per 100 grams mark. “That’s great value for the quality of cheese it is.”
Shane Godwin, Managing Director, Macknade, Faversham and Ashford, Kent
Macknade Food Halls in Ashford and Faversham have navigated the past two years by striving to be both flexible and attentive.
In 2020, Christmas was more or less cancelled, then last year “footfall was up and people were spending money on fine food, which was great,” MD Shane Godwin tells FFD.
Festivities will still go ahead in 2022, as Britons are enjoying more quality time with friends and family. However, buying patterns already show that the cost-of-living crisis will have an effect.
“People are making sure they get the value out of what they’re buying so the higher end range is becoming a little more pressed,” he says, “so ultimately we’re restricting our range in that top end.”
Instead of buying a kilo Panettone or a large Christmas pudding, people might opt for the smaller versions. “They’ll be thinking, ‘what do I actually need,’ but still getting a little bit of what I want with those indulgences.”
Not all the changes brought about in the past two years will disappear, however, as the trend towards more online sales continues in that direction.
“It’s not completely to do with any reaction to Covid,” Godwin says, “it’s just the reality that people like the convenience of being able to buy online, and we’re lucky because we’re strongly positioned to deliver high-quality items,” differentiating them from multinationals with more buying power and operational finesse.
To counter the effects of Brexit, Covid, and now, the war in Ukraine on the supply chain, Macknade’s Christmas orders have focused on local, artisan products, so far sparing them the news that items won’t be delivered.
“But ultimately, it’s the price that we’re still nervous about,” he adds.
Striking the right balance between absorbing rising costs and passing them on to customers has been the company’s biggest challenge in recent months, involving a case-by-case approach of swallowing as much as possible within the margins.
With this in mind, “we’re confident that we will still have a successful Christmas, we’re just at this reaction time in the businesses, making sure that we are driving our customers in to get what they need – and getting the full range of produce in.”