Supermarkets have really upped their game for vegetarians at Christmas with Beet Wellington that looks so good you might not miss the beef, writes Stephen Jardine.
In the words of the late, great Freddie Mercury, “Thank God it’s Christmas”. As we sit here amid Brexit chaos, the festive season offers a dependable distraction from the chaos and uncertainty.
For most of us, Christmas is a blessed break at the bleakest time of year but for our manufacturers and retailers, it is much more than that. Amid warnings that a no-deal Brexit could be catastrophic in the short term for the economy, Christmas offers one last chance for the sector to fill it’s pockets at the busiest shopping time of the year.
Last Christmas, UK shoppers spent an extra £1 billion on groceries over the festive period. Across all supermarkets, sales were up 3.8 per cent and retailers will be hoping for one last spending spree before we step into the unknown next year.
With such high stakes, supermarkets are fighting hard for market share. One battleground is TV and online advertising, with all the major brands going head to head onscreen to try to capture our attention.
The other place they can make a difference is on the shelves. It may have sufficed for generations but in this Instagram age, smoked salmon, roast turkey and Christmas pudding is no longer enough for some consumers.
Instead the supermarkets compete with showstopper products designed to grab attention. From five-bird roasts to deer in duvets and super-sized chocolate coins, the emphasis is on creating a wow factor that will attract shoppers from rivals. It all started in 2010 when chef Heston Blumenthal created for Waitrose a range of Christmas puddings featuring a hidden orange. The upmarket retailer has continued to set the pace every year since and this Christmas offers up a stolen wreath, a Golden Delicious Christmas Pudding and even Heston Gin to turn heads and reel in consumers.
But the biggest opportunity to stake a claim of difference this year has been around the great food trend of 2018.
According to the annual Food and Drink Report from Waitrose, 21 per cent of people now identify as flexitarian and the brand have increased their range of vegan and vegetarian products by more than 200 per cent to cater for them.
In the past, the vegan at the Christmas dinner table was likely to be your weird cousin who had just returned from studying in India and giving all their money to the Bhagwan. A microwaved vegetable lasagne was their likely reward for that. Now it could be anyone and in some cases, everyone.
Tesco reckons one-in-five households will have a meat-free Christmas dinner this year. As a result, retailers are looking to cash in on the boom with centrepiece dishes that don’t just seem like an afterthought. So Tesco has an amazing-sounding butternut squash filled with tangy beetroot and apple, while Marks and Spencer offers a parsnip, camembert and chestnut pithivier and Waitrose has a Beet Wellington that looks so good you might even not miss the beef.
If your tastes are simpler, Morrisons has its £2.50 three-course dinner: a Cornish pasty featuring pate on one side, Christmas pudding on the other and turkey in the middle. How does it taste? I’m happy to say I have absolutely no idea and intend to keep it that way.