A matured Christmas pudding from Lidl
A matured Christmas pudding from Lidl, which has a 5% share of the market. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/Press Association Images

As the warmed, mahogany coloured pudding is gently released from its bowl on to a plate, the air fills with the aroma of French Courvoisier brandy and spices.

At the first tasting of this new line of puddings in the kitchens of manufacturer Matthew Walker, chef David Sanderson notes the Californian almonds, walnuts and pecans, Chilean flame raisins and Vostizza currants. Consumers will have to wait two years before this particular pudding goes on sale.

But it is no exaggeration to say that the vast majority of households up and down the country will be tucking into other creations by the Derby-based firm on Friday, because it supplies 95% of the UK Christmas pudding market.

That means turning out 26m individual puds a year for all the major supermarkets and brands – from discounters such as Lidl and Aldi through toHarrods and Waitrose.

This particular tasting, under top secret conditions, is of the UK’s first 24-month “matured” Christmas pudding – developed for Lidl.

The German discount supermarket already sells an 18-month matured pudding, as does Sainsbury’s, but this new one will further push culinary boundaries.

“It’s only three months into maturation but eventually it will have a truly unique flavour – unlike anything else on the market,” said Sanderson, chef and product developer.

During peak manufacturing time from May to November, the company, part of the giant 2 Sisters Food Group, mixes and steams 700,000 puddings a week in a slick, semi-automated operation.

Supplying hospitals, prisons and caterers as well as most popular high street retailers, the scale of Matthew Walker’s production and the volume of ingredients used is mind-boggling.

Last Christmas it took delivery of 1.3m litres of brandy, cider and sherry – enough to more than half fill an Olympic-size swimming pool.

It does make other desserts – sponge puddings and bombes – but they amount to only 3% of its business. The rest is earmarked to be eaten on one day in the year.

But despite the huge energy invested, the commercial reality is that Christmas puddings, although worth £40.6m last year, are not a growth market. Data company IRI this week calculated sales of Christmas puddings and cakes this year were down by 5.3%.

But at Matthew Walker, the work goes on. In the experimental kitchen, dozens of new recipes are developed and tested every year in conjunction with the UK’s major retailers – all in strictest confidence.

It has had to respond to changing consumer tastes and competition from lighter desserts and panettone.

But talk of the death of the Christmas pudding is premature, says Sanderson. “If anything, it has got more interesting. Consumers want more variety and we have moved towards more premium products, with everything from jewelled top, glittered, gluten-free, alcohol-free, nut-free and in a range of different sizes.”

He jokes that the only ones he has not yet cracked are self-combusting, while “the only disastrous flavour combination I have ever produced was Drambuie and honey”.

Lidl – which has a 5% share of the market – vouches for the pudding’s continued popularity. Richard Inglis, buying manager for biscuits, crackers and cakes, said: “Most popular by far are the larger puddings feeding eight. However, the smaller Christmas puddings have been a strong area of growth over the last few years, and this year we have introduced a new four-pack of 100g individual Christmas puddings. We expect to increase our Christmas pudding sales by over 30% year on year.”

Shoppers are loyal in this sector and Matthew Walker’s research shows that they are most likely to buy a pudding from their usual retailer – and nine in 10 will buy from a store rather than online.

The new generation of matured puddings – “fed” by alcohol to give them a richer flavour – are extremely popular and in a recent blind testing by food researchers Campden, 57% of consumers said they preferred matured products.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference 18-month matured Cognac Laced pudding has been its bestseller this year. A spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s points out that it has won a number of taste tests, including Good Housekeeping’s.

Tesco also said single-portion 100g puddings were selling well – with demand up nearly 25% compared with last year. It expects to sell more of them than family-sized puddings for the first time: 450,000 against 400,000.

“We know many of our customers still love a traditional Christmas pudding, but alternatives have become increasingly popular with younger families,” said Tesco Christmas pudding buyer James Taylor.

“Over the last few years we’ve seen growing demand for alternatives such as chocolate bombes and panettone sponges and this year we’re offering more choice than ever.

“We now have three times as many Christmas pudding alternatives than we did 10 years ago.”

[Source:- the gurdian]

By Adam