Posted: 06/02/2020

Indies report good Christmas despite weather, the economy and politics

Independent food retailers have expressed relief after racking up bumper Christmas sales despite fears that an election and wet weather would dampen trade.

Farm shops, delis and specialists from around the UK told Fine Food Digest that they posted an end to 2019 on par with or better than recent years.

With most food specialists relying on the run-up to Christmas for a substantial proportion of their income, many were worried about the effects of political and economic uncertainty, and the weather.

Many parts of the UK were flooded in November, and rain continued to lash down as the nation took to the polls on 12th December after a year of Brexit deadlock.

Henry Mackley, director of the Harp Lane Deli in Ludlow, Shropshire, said: “The weather in November was appalling for us. If we get a few rainy Saturdays in a row at that time of year it can be hard to recover. 

“But people have to do their shopping eventually. Everything sells well in December: cheese is particularly big, as is smoked salmon.” 

Diane Brown, owner of the Provender Brown deli in Perth, central Scotland, had the opposite experience but again all ended well.

“November was better than usual even if December was slightly down,” she said. “We sold a lot of cheese, hampers, gin and chocolate. 

“We always have a bigger customer base at Christmas and the usual people spend more. We do 25% of our business in one month. I was worried the spending wouldn’t happen this year but it was just as normal.”

Kate Forbes, co-owner at the Trading Post Farm Shop in Lopenhead, Somerset, said festive takings were up 10% on 2018’s.

“The biggest increase in sales has been from our fresh cut cheese counter and our loose chocolate counter,” she said. “It was our second Christmas with both but we were blown away by the demand.” 

Forbes noted a decline in demand for “novelty” food and higher-than-expected interest in gluten-free Christmas puddings. 

James Rutter, operations director at cheesemaker Paxton & Whitfield – which has outlets in London, Stratford upon Avon and Bath – noted double-digit growth in the fourth quarter of 2019 compared to the same period the prior year.

“Customers want more of an experience element from their cheese, whether from a monthly subscription; a homeware gift such as a fondue set or cheese knife; or one of our biggest sellers was a Christmas cake made of cheese,” he said. 

This story appeared in the January/February issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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