Deprived of in-person gatherings, and with fewer reasons to celebrate, Christmas 2020 was a sombre affair. Now consumers face less restrictions (for now), what does Christmas 2021 hold?
It’s been a tough old 18 months, and with new Covid-variants taking us a few steps back in the journey towards normality, we’re certainly not out of the woods yet. But with Christmas fast approaching, how will consumers let their hair down this year?
Prior to the emergence of the new strain of Coronavirus, you could be forgiven for thinking 2021’s festive celebrations would be frivolous and indulgent. After so much time spent at home, separated from loved ones, and with limited reasons to celebrate, the stage looked set for some high-level partying. A sense of pent-up fun abounds.
Are consumers in a playful, decadent mood? If champagne sales are anything to go by, then yes. According to data from Nielsen published in the Grocer, sales of champagne in the UK are up by almost a third (to 11 September 2021) compared to last year, equating to an additional 2.3 million litres. As consumers continue to follow the mindset instilled during lockdowns of shopping local, expect English and other regional fizz to experience strong sales too.
Though premium options are important for those wanting to celebrate, expect many to prioritise fun instead. Converse to high-end treats, comes a wave of unabashed whimsy. The ‘life is too short’ mentality sees consumers in a playful mood, rejecting notions of what they should and should not like, and indulging in kitsch enjoyment. Gone is the need to outwardly demonstrate connoisseurship, replaced by an openness to embrace fun where it can be had.
Translated into drinks, expect retro festive serves such as the snowball to make a strong return, perhaps modified and upgraded for modern palates. In a similar throwback mentality, drinks like sherry and port well-placed to experience a boom this year, as comforting nostalgia helps people create a sense of occasion, a sense of returning to the ‘good old days’.
Similarly, a return to tradition will see whisky sales increase this year, as consumers look to do things ‘properly’. Those that have explored the whisky category during lockdown, will use to occasion to upgrade to more premium pours, while those looking to mix into cocktails, will look to bolder flavour profiles, such as peaty products.
Packaging-wise, things are also notably kitsch. A trend for bulging drinks advent calendars – filled with everything from super-premium whisky to tea – and Christmas crackers, looks to be easing slightly, perhaps as a mood for materialism shifts to one of frivolity. Instead, bottles themselves have become throwback festive gifts, as more snow globe light-up bottled come to market, alongside liqueurs housed in Christmas pudding shaped vessels.
Nostalgia looms large when it comes to flavours too. But that’s not to say that the sense of exploration consumers have built-up during lockdown is subsiding. The huge trend in the US for peanut butter whisky may not have reached the UK in any convincing way, but the trend for bold, confectionary-inspired flavours has. From candy cane vodka, gin and bourbon, to products distilled with Christmas pudding itself, the flavours may be playful, but many brands are giving them an elevated twist.
Gone is the novelty bottle of chocolate port, that forever sits on the shelf gathering dust. Brands such as Black Cow (with its Christmas vodka), That Boutique-y Gin Company (its Yuletide Gin contains mince pies, Panettone, an entire gingerbread house), and Warner’s (with its Christmas Cake Gin) offer fun flavours, but with a high-quality base liquid.
In fact, the growing ‘base-liquid’ of choice seems to be rum. Christmas pudding and jam brand Tiptree has launched an English small-batch rum, distilled with its handmade pudding. Atom Brands’ experimental rum range Project #173 are all naturally flavoured, with nostalgic flavours already appearing in its roster, from gingerbread, to black cherry and butterscotch. It plans to add a Christmas pudding flavour very soon. And it’s this product that truly demonstrates this new high-low mentality. The inclusion of gold leaf may have seem like a throwback to the 80s and 90s, but it’s steadily creeping back into a number of products, including this one.
After so much upheaval, and so much deprivation of the treats that make life meaningful – friends, family, holidays, concerts, et al – consumers will not hold back this year when it comes to festive celebrations. Fun is definitely the priority. However, high-quality fun is the preference. Consumers will seek out products and serves that offer either comforting nostalgia, a treat, unabashed fun, or preferably, all three.
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