Forget summer, it’s time to prepare for Christmas

Boxes of panettone

A bit of fake snow can almost turn summer into Christmas

Many of us are still on our summer holidays so thinking about Christmas might seem premature. But for businesses providing festive food, drinks and presents, things are already gearing up.

The festive season begins for a lot of retailers when they send out their invitations for summer Christmas events. Companies hold them to make sure their products are included in the December issues of magazines.

On a balmy summer’s evening in London, while groups of people are enjoying a few cocktails under a cloudless sky, just off Oxford Street the Christmas festivities are already underway.

A branch of the Italian restaurant chain, Carluccio’s, is holding its Christmas press day. Amongst the mounds of fake snow, exquisitely wrapped presents and piles of slightly melted Italian chocolates, head of retail Emma Woodford stands proudly by the panettone display.

Image captionIf you’re fed up with Christmas pudding, you could always try panettone

“Christmas is the biggest time of the year for us and we love it,” she enthuses, showing off a novel twist on the sweet Italian bread. “This has a prosecco filling which is piped to get an even coverage. I think it’s a new classic.”

The panettone come into their stores in mid-October – so could it take over as the new Christmas pudding?

“I’m a big fan of both,” replies Emma diplomatically.

Waitrose is also looking to innovate when it comes to flavours. Last year, its Christmas range included a banana and bacon trifle. This year they’re experimenting with chocolate mince pies.

So how does the company get its Christmas stock right and make sure it doesn’t end up with piles of reduced food in January? Natalie Mitchell, head of brand development and product innovation says it’s all in the preparation.

“Planning starts 18-24 months in advance, we look at global trends and try to understand where customers might want something different. Forecasting is a military operation and the main thing is not to run out of products.”

Image captionWill Waitrose’s planned chocolate mince pies be this year’s festive food winner?

In an air-conditioned temporary show room on Baker Street, toy manufacturer Tomy is showing off its festive must-haves.

“I put up the Christmas tree this morning,” says Nicola Jenkins, Tomy’s UK head of marketing, above the noise of a video game.

“Predicting trends is always a bit of science and a bit of luck. We put the products in the hands of parents, children and influencers – word of mouth is really important.”

So what are Nicola’s picks for this year? “Pokemon is still really hot and we’re expecting the next level of Lightseekers games to do well.”

Someone has to deliver the presents and in an amusement park near Copenhagen, Santas from all over the world hold their annual congress at the end of July.

Image captionIt’s summer, it’s Copenhagen, so it must be time for the annual Santa congress

An attendee from northern Denmark explains why they meet up in the summer heat.

“We’re too busy in November and December, we have to make sure all the reindeer are fit and that the elves have made all their toys.”

So what do 160 Santas, elves and all the Mrs Santas get up to every year?

“Networking of course, then there’s the pentathlon event, a lovely lunch and a fashion show.”

Fun and frolics aside, Christmas is a serious business. A successful marketing campaign can hugely boost a brand and every year the supermarkets wage war for the best Christmas advert.

Theo Izzard-Brown of creative agency McCann London says that planning for a festive spectacular starts in January or February.

“It’s become like the Super Bowl. John Lewis has had great success, they’ve set the mould.”

Mr Izzard-Brown’s firm represents rival retail giant Aldi, which last year created a campaign featuring a carrot called Kevin.

“There was lots of discussion as to what his hair should look like and how tall he should be, but ultimately it became about how we could use this character in all our marketing and get people to talk about it.”

Mr Izzard-Brown says the campaign paid off: “We sold thousands of Kevin soft toys, I’m told you can still get them on Ebay for vastly inflated prices.”

Image captionCocktail bar chain Be At One reckons spiced pear could be this year’s Christmas drink

For bars and restaurants Christmas is one of the most hectic times of the year and Andrew Stones, of cocktail bar chain Be At One, starts planning as soon as the last Christmas party finishes.

“I try 800 cocktails over the year to make sure we’ve got the festive menu right. We like to incorporate seasonal flavours, this year I think spiced pear will do well.”

Be At One got its first Christmas bookings in March.

“One person’s often given the job of booking the office party and it’s a big responsibility so people like to get in early.”

Image captionThe Las Iguanas restaurant chain says it has already taken 1,700 Christmas bookings

At the Latin American themed restaurant group, Las Iguanas, Gareth Lock says that by July it had already had 1,700 Christmas bookings from guests looking for a non-traditional celebration.

Last year the top Christmas menu sellers were chicken fajita, sirloin steak and Bahian coconut chicken, and the festivities seem to be getting earlier every year, he says.

“At the end of July our teams got together in a boiling hot hotel in Birmingham dressed as Santas and reindeer to work out our strategy.”

That strategy includes adding a seasonal staple to the menu for the first time.

“We’re trialling Christmas Day opening so we’ve decided to offer turkey; but there’ll definitely be a twist.”

Image captionChristmas seems to come earlier every year – the trick is to get the seasonal planning done early

Corporate Britain gets into the Christmas spirit early but what about the people who all the effort’s aimed at, the public?

Outside Selfridges, a trio of visitors from Finland were more than happy to contemplate buying baubles in summer.

“I start planning in summer,” says Diina, “it takes away the stress at Christmas. In Finland you can’t start Christmas shopping until November, even though we’re the land of reindeer, snow and Santa Claus.”

In today’s competitive selling environment, shops, bars and restaurants have to get it right. George MacDonald, of Retail Week, says success boils to down to a few key rules.

“It’s about getting on top of new trends, having exclusive products and doing the basics perfectly.”