Stephen Jardine: Supermarkets are turning Easter into Christmas

Is this a time for turkey, panettone and cranberry hot-cross buns, asks Stephen Jardine.
Easter has been turned into a celebration of eating chocolate eggs (Picture: PA)Easter has been turned into a celebration of eating chocolate eggs (Picture: PA)
Easter has been turned into a celebration of eating chocolate eggs (Picture: PA)

For 2,000 years, Easter managed quite well as a Christian celebration without the help of the supermarkets. The resurrection of Jesus proved to be enough of a draw.

Then along came Cadbury’s with their Crème Eggs. Introduced in 1963, they proved to be an instant hit and more than 200 million are now consumed every year. Spotting the opportunity, other chocolate makers soon jumped on the bandwagon and for the past half century Easter has been a festival of chocolate consumption, featuring everything from the Buckfast-filled egg to a £600 Valhrona version. But apparently that is no longer enough.

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This March the supermarkets have turned the full focus of their marketing efforts onto Easter. Aldi and Iceland are both pushing turkeys as the centrepiece for any Easter celebration, or rather Spring Turkey because that sounds much better than fleet-footed birds that managed to sidestep the Christmas slaughter.

The leftover Christmas vibe doesn’t end there. Panettone is a traditional festive treat but this year Waitrose have a special version instore at the moment. “The Italian classic is given an irresistible Easter twist with chocolate chips”, the companysays.

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In a nod to modern times, they’ve also introduced a chocolate egg which looks like an avocado inside to cater for millennials who can’t eat anything that isn’t green with a stone in the middle. Sales should be guaranteed as long as nobody mentions the thorny topic of crucifixion, which is likely to breach some safe space guidelines and lead to some people feeling a little bit uncomfortable. We wouldn’t want that at Easter.

Back in the supermarket, there is congestion in the bakery section due to the sheer number of hot cross bun options in the shops, from marmalade to chocolate to fudge. What was wrong with the plain old slightly spiced version really isn’t clear.

None of this is down to consumer demand. Literally no shopper has ever woken up craving a cranberry hot cross bun. Instead they are a product of the intense rivalry between supermarkets. The main battleground has been Christmas as retailers try to grab shoppers’ attention with something innovative like the M&S five-bird roast so they will be drawn into stores where the rest of their available spend can be unlocked.

With the December market now saturated, it was inevitable big retailers would look to take the war over consumer spending to the other big family holiday of the year. What they are trying to do is disrupt traditional supermarket brand loyalty as well as tempt increased spending.

Research shows people are consistently willing to pay more for food and drink at times of celebrations and family gatherings. The multiples can’t cash in on that by increasing prices on the basics so instead they seek to capture the extra spend using novelty or showstopper products like Sainsbury’s Simnel Cake, yours for a tenner.

In just a week all this will be over and normal service will be resumed until it is time for barbecue season. Judging by this weekend’s forecast, that remains a long time away.