UNITED KINGDOM (THE GUARDIAN) - Move over prawn cocktails and vol-au-vents. Sales of upmarket readymade Christmas canapes are booming as hosts stock up with delights such as miniature prawn doughnuts and salmon carpaccio.
With tills ringing as Christmas food shopping gets under way, this week will be the busiest in the United Kingdom for sales of party food and snacks over the festive season, according to supermarkets. This year, unusual and eye-catching modern “sweet made savoury” treats inspired by luxury delicacies from top Parisian stores and patisseries such as Fauchon have emerged as a striking trend in some supermarket aisles.
New from Marks & Spencer, for example – which has launched a record 260 new food and drink products for this year’s festive season – are seafood knickerbocker glories, hot and sour prawn doughnuts and smoked salmon carpaccio, while among Waitrose’s nibbles with a savoury twist are salmon and crab profiteroles and mini beef and chicken pies that resemble mince pies. With Christmas Day breakfast of growing importance, breakfast canapes are expected to be popular.
“It’s clear customers are getting more and more sophisticated in their taste and are really looking for something out of the ordinary,” said Sandra Ziles, head of product development at M&S.
“Food has become the most important part of Christmas and customers want to wow their guests. It’s interesting to see how traditions have changed – 1970s favourites prawn cocktail and vol-au-vents are now losing out to fresher, cleaner flavours with a twist.”
M&S expects to sell a staggering 140m pieces of party food over the festive season, washed down by 10m glasses of Prosecco.
A key source of inspiration for Ziles and her team is Paris – which they typically visit at least a year ahead of Christmas to scour the shelves and aisles of top groceries, tasting the products as they go along. The smoked salmon carpaccio in its new range, for example, was inspired last year by a similar product in the department store Le Bon Marché’s Grande Épicerie – a recently reopened food hall famous for its desserts and patisserie as well as gourmet savoury products. The retailer was similarly inspired by sweet products for the smoked salmon mousse-filled, gilded baubles that adorn its seafood starters and terrine.
The Co-op – the UK’s largest convenience retailer with 2,800 outlets – predicts revellers will snap up a record 56m canapes and 26m glasses of Prosecco. It is expecting to see sales of buffet favourites soar – including 22m cocktail sausage rolls and 4.4m mini-bites. Sales of chilled party foods are up 4% on the same time last year, according to a spokesperson, who added: “Co-op is the country’s leading community food retailer and our stores are open over the festive period to meet customer needs. We are expecting a busy Christmas Eve and our stores have been manned efficiently to ensure customers receive the best service.”
Now on sale at Waitrose is its large version of arguably the most eye-catching dessert to grace the Christmas table – a bacon and banana-flavoured trifle devised by Heston Blumenthal – which, dusted with gold “nibs”, is among the many puddings this year with the bling factor.
Fresh and pre-ordered turkeys go into most stores on Monday. The big supermarkets are expecting Christmas food shopping to start in earnest mid-week and peak on so-called festive Friday, which will be the busiest trading day of the whole year. Shoppers are likely to leave buying festive fresh vegetables as late as possible to ensure tip-top condition, but the latest supermarket price war means they can snap up potatoes, carrots and sprouts for as little as 19p from German discounter Aldi, 20p from Asda and 29p from Lidl.
Last year’s trend of “posh crisps” – featuring flavours such as gin and tonic and even pulled pork – has gone from strength to strength. The Co-op has already raised eyebrows with its Christmas Dinner crisps, described as “a delicious mix of turkey and stuffing, carrot, maple parsnip, and everyone’s favourite... sprout crisps”.