07/10/2008 - 00:00

At a time when the cost of staple food has increased by something approaching 30%, Christmas is bound to be a sensitive time, when people want to splash out on festive fun, food and fancies, but at the same time are aware that costs can escalate surreptitiously and rapidly at this time of the year. Meticulous planning now will help to control costs and ensure options offered are tasty and look the part. Tweaking the trimmings and perking up the presentation may go a long way to keep profits on a high. Traditional Christmas fare may well be tried and tested, so with barely a bird in sight this year, a tempting twist to tee up the long Christmas season are toasted teasers such as indulgent open topped sarnies. Bakehouse marketing director Kate Raison says: "There is a noticeable trend in sandwich shops and eat- in establishments towards consumers 'treating' themselves to a more premium option quite regularly. We anticipate people will allow themselves small affordable luxuries if the current economic climate continues. Caterers could benefit from this trend for using lunchtime as a regular personal reward by introducing a seasonal special sandwich for December to link into consumers' love affair with festive themed produce." Market analyst Mintel's 2008 Christmas foods report found "seasonal packaged cakes, seasonal biscuits and snacking nuts were the star performers between 2005 and 2007 as a result of innovation and premiumisation", and the result is teatime treating cup cakes and slices have gone festive and desserts have gone miniature. Kate's Cakes has already won four Great Taste Awards this year. Its offer includes the Berry Christmas all butter dark Belgian chocolate brownie with cranberries and the Christmas slice combo of mixed fruit, treacle marzipan and regal icing. European account manager Frank Bird is upbeat about indulgence and the economic squeeze, saying that going for a coffee and a cake is a social activity that consumers are not willing to give up. "While people are cutting back in certain areas of their life, they still want the pleasure of good food and a little bit of affordable luxury. That's why our indulgent impulse slices are so popular –and never more so than during the Christmas season." Also, according to Mintel, frozen desserts have begun to flourish again thanks to premiumisation in the sector and the arrival of exciting new brands and products. Sales were valued at £258m in 2007, up 2% on the previous year, and this growth is peaking over the festive season, with diners indulging more in frozen desserts during this time. Responding to the demand for a dessert with festive twist, Alveston Kitchens, part of Heinz Foodservice, has launched a range of hand finished desserts in time for Christmas laden with favourite ingredients such as zesty cranberry, rich cream and indulgent chocolate. These include cranberry and orange brûlée cheesecake, nougat roulade with brandy cream, Black Forest meringue roulade, and chocolate and orange trifle. Sticking with sweeties, Go On! Mini desserts from Atlantic Foods such as Tia Maria profiteroles, mini crème Anglais pancakes and real Belgian waffles, fit into the tasty treat cake sector. Commercial director Nigel Parkes says: "These mini temptations make the perfect share dessert and are ideal for Xmas gatherings as they bring a sense of occasion and a point of difference to any Xmas menu. A share platter is the perfect choice for customers who previously would have turned down dessert due to being too full or health conscious to enjoy a big traditional dessert." Yet miniature doesn't just apply to sweets this year. 3663 marketing manager Rachel Kingdon-Saxby's big tip for a successful Christmas is starters and smaller dishes as a way of extending the menu and making it more flexible. "Doubling up starters as sharing platters or combo options for a main course or snacking option gives choice to your customer and can encourage snackers who do not want a complete mea

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