Stephen Jardine: No Christmas truce in store wars

Tesco spent �25 million on television advertising last Christmas. Picture: Getty

Tesco spent �25 million on television advertising last Christmas. Picture: Getty

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NOT so long ago, it was all very different. Rewind just a few years, and supermarket seasonal advertising was simply a competition to see who could flog the cheapest turkeys.

Then in 2007 John Lewis launched its £6 million TV advert and the marketing world changed for ever. Out went price promotions, in came an emotional pull on the heartstrings featuring visual and musical poignancy.

In the face of this, the supermarkets looked a bit crass, still advertising cheap chipolatas, so they, too, have switched to adverts guaranteed to have us reaching for a hankie.

No wonder. The next fortnight is the biggest time of the year for supermarkets, so the competition is cut-throat. Last Christmas, Tesco spent £25 million on television advertising, but it’s not just what is on screen that counts. Increasingly, supermarkets are looking to define themselves by different offers on the shelves as well.

In recent years Waitrose has led the pack with its Heston range of goodies. Starting with the “hidden orange” Christmas pudding a few years back, it has been deconstructing and then reconstructing festive food every year since.

This year’s big seller is bringing bling to the freezer section. Heston’s Ultimate Chocolate Bar Dessert features chocolate, caramel, nougat and ganache and is a classy alternative to the traditional Christmas pud.

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At Tesco, the emphasis is on trying to give customers exactly what they want. Given the year the company has just had, that’s probably a good idea. So for customers looking for something different in the Tesco aisles, salted caramel crisps and a 3D snowman cake for a tenner are this year’s must-buy items.

Last Christmas, Marks and Spencer saw a 1.6 per cent rise in food sales and this year it will be pinning its hopes on products like its White Chocolate Snow Bombe dessert or the four-bird roast featuring layers of turkey, duck, chicken and pheasant.

Alongside the established names, there is also a new kid on the block this Christmas. Booths is an upmarket chain with stores in the north of England, but this year for the first time it is offering nationwide delivery. If you fancy spending £30 on a Christmas cake cheesecake, look no further.

This has been a stupendous year for discounters such as Aldi and Lidl, so it will be interesting to see whether they can also deliver a cracking Christmas. Received wisdom is that people like to put their money on the table at Christmas so tend to trade up to the best food and drink they can afford. But that is ignoring the efforts the discounters have made to be all things to all people.

With Lidl offering lobsters for £5.99 and Aldi selling geese at just £8 per kilo, Father Christmas might be not the only one delivering surprises this Christmas.

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