There are useful lessons to be borrowed from the coffee-house trade, where the seasonal rule is that nothing flies off the shelf so fast as gingerbread syrup.
Starbucks enjoyed immense success some years ago with its Á¢ÂÂtraditionalÁ¢ÂÂ gingerbread latte, which shot through the entire cafÁÂ© industry, and gingerbread lattes are now found everywhere in December.
Á¢ÂÂStarbucks managed to create a distinctive shift, in that we never used to think of gingerbread as something you would drink,Á¢ÂÂ observes Gary McGann, marketing director at Beyond the Bean, the coffee tradeÁ¢ÂÂs specialist wholesaler. Á¢ÂÂThereÁ¢ÂÂs no question that this became the chance to trade up, and Starbucks have always done it well Á¢ÂÂ" suddenly the special latte is 40-50p extra.
Á¢ÂÂWhat happens in the rest of the trade is that some people use the Á¢ÂÂfollow StarbucksÁ¢ÂÂ theory, and some take the opposite view and say we will not do what they do.Á¢ÂÂ
However, it is almost certain that every specialist coffee outlet will have some kind of seasonal latte on its menu, made simply and quickly with a flavoured syrup. Beyond the Bean has created a Á¢ÂÂChristmas boxÁ¢ÂÂ of the most useful (gingerbread, cinnamon, caramel and chai), paired with point-of-sale materials.
Á¢ÂÂWe sold hundreds of these last year. The reason they work is that the clever thing to do at Christmas is not to over-complicate things. Making your menu too big can kill your workflow at the most important time, and this box means you can have a selection of beverages ready to go,Á¢ÂÂ says McGann.
In recent years there have been several attempts to create a Christmas-cake flavoured syrup for use in lattes, and one of the most notable was by John TaylersonÁ¢ÂÂs Malmesbury Syrups. He also has a seasonal set available, which includes ginger (which goes remarkably well with coffee), cinnamon, chocolate orange (a usefully familiar name for a menu) andÁ his Christmas cake syrup.
Caterers with a sense of humour might take up TaylersonÁ¢ÂÂs limited-edition flavour this year Á¢ÂÂ" Bah Humbug Á¢ÂÂ" created for those who donÁ¢ÂÂt really want to offer a seasonal drink, but reluctantly feel they have to.
Á¢ÂÂIt doesnÁ¢ÂÂt claim to be able to deliver peace on earth and goodwill to all men, but it does replicate the mint humbug flavour,Á¢ÂÂ he says. Á¢ÂÂIt is a useful option to extract a little more revenue from consumers at one of their more vulnerable moments in the year!Á¢ÂÂ
One of the most novel flavours is by Cream Supplies, the wholesaler with probably the widest variety of flavourings. These are Christmas Pudding Flavour Drops, dispensed with a kind of baby-bottle dropper. They are highly concentrated, multi-use food flavourings. Each drop is 1ml, and two drops will flavour a litre of base liquid.
There are differing views on the ideal use of coffee at Christmas. Some roasters say certain origins and blends are naturally right for the season Á¢ÂÂ" at Union Hand-Roasted, the Equinox seasonal blend is sourced directly from smallholders in El Salvador, Rwanda and Sumatra, and is described as Á¢ÂÂplummy with sweet notes of Bakewell tart Á¢ÂÂ" the sugar-coated almond notes stride to the fore with a hint of boozy red fruit.Á¢ÂÂ
Other roasters prefer to devise a special Christmas blend. Cherizena does so every year, and sold three quarters of a tonne of its 2012 version. This Colombian coffee, flavoured with rum, hazelnut, cinnamon, vanilla, orange and pecan nut, is described as Á¢ÂÂreminiscent of plum puddingÁ¢ÂÂ.
There are also several flavoured instant coffees and, very unusually, Littles has produced itsÁ seasonal coffee in both instant and roast and ground formats. This Rainforest Alliance-certifiedÁ coffee contains orange oil, brandy extract, cinnamon and vanilla. The roaster says it also works well as a liqueur coffee.
Glenfinlas of Scotland imports its products from New England Coffee in America and says that the Americans seem to do flavoured coffees better than anyone else. As a result, Glenfinlas offers the unusual Caramel Apple coffee, although the Pumpkin Spice (another very familiar American seasonal flavour) and Blueberry Cobbler might also be attention-grabbing specials.
There is only one attitude to take with Christmas teas, says Marco Olmi at the Drury company Á¢ÂÂ" work them on the specials board for all youÁ¢ÂÂre worth in DecemberÁ¢ÂÂ¦ because you wonÁ¢ÂÂt sell a lot in January.
Á¢ÂÂProperly handled, they go very well Á¢ÂÂ" someone ordered a hundred cases of our Christmas tea this year,Á¢ÂÂ he says. Á¢ÂÂA very important thing is that this is a fast-throughput Á¢ÂÂspecialÁ¢ÂÂ, and should be good for an impulse retail sale as well. It has to be quick and convenient, so we find the pyramid tea-bag format works best.
Á¢ÂÂWhen we used flat tea-bags for our Christmas teas, we had to use ground spices, which we didnÁ¢ÂÂt like. Now we have a pyramid-bagging facility, we are able to tinker a bit with better ingredients. We started with an apple-flavoured fruit tea, added our herbs and spices (cinnamon, apple, cloves, fennel seeds) for flavour, and hibiscus and rosehip for colour. It looks good in a glass Á¢ÂÂ" if youÁ¢ÂÂre selling at a premium, you can add a slice of orange or a cinnamon stick.
Á¢ÂÂA pyramid bag allows the aroma to work for you Á¢ÂÂ" a basket of pyramid bags on the bar will also infuse your premises like a great pot-pourri. Otherwise, display it in jars, and be ready to take the lid off and invite the customer to have a sniff.Á¢ÂÂ
Taylors of Harrogate has launched two festive blends: a tea and a coffee. The Spiced Christmas Tea is blended with lemon, orange and spices; the coffee isa blend of south American and Ethiopian beans for a floral note, said to go well with rich and fruity Christmas foods.
Newby has devised a quite romantic tea. Its Winter Dream is mainly black tea, but with 13% ginger pieces and 5% lemon and a little lemon peel as well. It was inspired by Russian winter fairy tales, says Newby (the brand is very big in that country) and the result is Á¢ÂÂa joyful bright cup with an invigorating punch of sharp ginger notes and refreshing lemony finish.Á¢ÂÂ
Canton teas have gone for the more Á¢ÂÂindulgentÁ¢ÂÂ kind of seasonal tea Á¢ÂÂ" the Canton Chocolate Vanilla is a blend of Assam and Yunnan black teas blended with cocoa nibs and vanilla pods Á¢ÂÂ" it has Á¢ÂÂa more-ish natural sweetnessÁ¢ÂÂ, says the brand.
JoeÁ¢ÂÂs TeaÁ¢ÂÂs has combined both a chai and a rooibos tea together for its seasonal product Á¢ÂÂ" the Christmas Chai Rooibos. This is a fusion of rooibos, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Á¢ÂÂSpicy chai meets naturally organic and caffeine-free winter flavours,Á¢ÂÂ says the maker.
Novus has done something similar with its Spicy Rooibos. Á¢ÂÂA super-grade rooibos with cinnamon, whole cardamon pods and whole cloves, with orange flavours and whole Brazilian red peppers for that little heat on the finish,Á¢ÂÂ says the company. Á¢ÂÂItÁ¢ÂÂs a really great winter-warmer tea, and good with milk and sugar Á¢ÂÂ" all the depth of English Breakfast, but with no caffeine and a kick.Á¢ÂÂ
LuLin Teas has created a new spiced chai, blending Assam tea with ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel and red peppercorns, and recommends that caterers think about the concept of the chai latte Á¢ÂÂ" this drink, possibly invented by the Teapigs brand, involves steaming the milk as would be done for a milky coffee, but then combining it with a spicy tea. The result can be remarkably substantial.
There are several other ideas with chai Á¢ÂÂ" a slightly surprising one is the Persian Liquorice Chai from Hello Good Sip. Liquorice is said to be very popular in Denmark, and it turns out to make an extremely effective winter drink.
GINGERBREAD MAN GETS HIS LADY
A biscuit can be a useful little add-on sale beside a beverage, and Peros recently devised George the gingerbread man as part of its One World bakery range. George has now been joined by Georgina, the very tasty gingerbread lady in a seasonal santa design.
SOMETHING ON THE SIDE
In recent years, the big partner product to a speciality coffee has been the muffin and Dawn has devised two seasonally-flavoured filled tulip versions. Its orange and cranberry muffin has been Á¢ÂÂdelicately injectedÁ¢ÂÂ with a tangy orange sauce and finished with extra fine sugar Á¢ÂÂfor a truly festive feelÁ¢ÂÂ. Dawn also says that carrot cake is a good winter warmer, and has created a tulip muffin version filled with raisins, shredded carrot and ground cinnamon.
WINNING WINTER WOOLLIES
The big coffee-house chains start servingÁ their takeaways in festive cups well before Christmas. Vegware has devised a Á¢ÂÂChristmas jumperÁ¢ÂÂ cup with a double layer of sustainably-sourced EU board, lined with cornstarch instead of plastic, which is completely compostable. It won best new product in the Climate Week Awards.
WINTER WARMER FROM THE COLD SHELF
Several dessert companies have tried the idea of a Christmas-themed ice-cream, and the New Forest Ice Cream company thinks it has discovered the right one for this year Á¢ÂÂ" its Mince Pie Ice Cream is made by blending a brandy ice-cream with pieces of real shortcake pastry and mincemeat. The makers say the result is the curious-sounding Á¢ÂÂwarming winter ice-creamÁ¢ÂÂ.
Beyond the Beanwww.beyondthebean.com
Hello Good Sipwww.hellogoodsip.com
New Forest Ice Creamwww.newforesticecream.com
TaylersonÁ¢ÂÂs Malmesbury Syrupswww.malmesburysyrups.co.uk