Christmas without big parties

Smaller, simpler Christmas parties, but online alcohol sales are up

Ms Subashini Balakrishnan with her husband Prakash Somosundram and their two children. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - With restrictions on social gatherings this festive season, at-home parties are becoming smaller and spread out over a few days.

Ms Subashini Balakrishnan, 37, is used to having about 50 people over for extravagant Christmas parties at her condominium in Boon Keng.

Over the past four years, the head of marketing and communications at Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise has even hired carollers to perform for guests.

This year, however, it will be a toned-down affair, with a series of parties held over four days; home-cooked food prepared by her and bespoke cocktails made by her husband; as well as a coordinated Zoom call with her brother's family in London, who are unable to make it back home for the festivities.

Meanwhile, Italian expatriate Guido Sudero, 43, who works in shipping, was supposed to head back to the northern port city of Genoa with his wife to celebrate Christmas with his family.

But despite being grounded this year, they already have a packed schedule of parties here from Dec 24 to 26.

"I'll probably pick up a few bottles of wine and pastries from my usual - So France Bistro & Gourmet store - to take to friends' places. I'm sad I won't be able to see my family, but I get to celebrate with my community here instead," he says.

For many others, gatherings will be over Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime, with family members located or stranded overseas, but that does not mean the booze will stop flowing.

Major alcohol brands such as Moet Hennessy Diageo (MHD), William Grant & Sons (WGS) and Pernod Ricard all note that despite travel and movement restrictions, the demand for cheer is increasing as the captive markets hunker down for stay-home celebrations.

William Grant & Sons' suite of festive offerings including Glenfiddich, Hendrick's, Monkey Shoulder and The Balvenie. PHOTO: WILLIAM GRANT & SONS SINGAPORE

The pent-up demand has resulted in a shift in consumer behaviour, with more online procurement and home consumption of alcohol.

With international travel curtailed, Mr Kok Ping Lim, WGS' country manager and head of re-export (Singapore), notes that instead of buying booze at airport duty-free outlets, there has been an increase in people sourcing their alcohol domestically at brick-and-mortar stores and, increasingly, e-commerce platforms such as Shopee, Lazada and GrabMart.

MHD, whose portfolio comprises Krug, Ruinart, Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon champagnes, has noticed a "dramatic shift in consumption habits compared with previous years".

MHD Singapore managing director Claire Chiang says: "If you look at the champagne category in particular, while sales on trade are steady despite the 10.30pm drinking curfew, growth off trade is witnessing significant growth year-on-year driven primarily by e-commerce.

"In the absence of travel and late-night venues, consumers are celebrating with their loved ones at home this year."

GH Mumm champagne flute set. PHOTO: PERNOD RICARD SINGAPORE

Pernod Ricard Singapore is riding on the e-commerce wave and going all out with promotions for home delivery on platforms such as Shopee and Lazada, pushing former Changi airport duty-free top sellers like Martell VSOP cognac and Chivas Regal 18 scotch whisky, as well as cases of Mumm champagne.

Meanwhile, bars like Atlas have seen brisk sales of festive gin gift sets and a newly introduced curated gin subscription box, which customers from overseas are sending to their Singapore-based expatriate family members.

Ms Nadine Hosford, F&B director at Atlas, says: "In particular, Curiosity dry gin from New Zealand - which we specially imported as it was not locally available - has been popular among the New Zealand community, and we reckon that about 70 per cent of the sets sold has been to New Zealanders.

The Atlas Curiosity Gin festive gift pack has proven popular among the New Zealand expatriate community. PHOTO: ATLAS BAR

"We can see the heartwarming messages penned from family back home to bring a small piece of New Zealand to Singapore, as they can't travel home this Christmas."

Families, like Ms Balakrishnan's, are similarly learning to create new Christmas traditions with this year's scaled-down arrangements. Having also recently celebrated Deepavali the same way, she says she appreciates the "quality conversations and one-on-one time with guests".

"My Christmas dinner this year will be at 7.30pm so that my brother and his family can join us virtually at lunchtime from London. I've also ordered all the Christmas presents for his kids via Amazon and he has done the same for mine," she says.

"If anything, this year has proven that you can still have the celebration, music and drinks and still do your best.

"This situation is going to be the new norm. If we don't find a way to celebrate, we're going to be waiting indefinitely for joy to come."

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