Remember the frenzy around the Waitrose hidden orange Christmas pudding? When a pudding you could buy in store for under £15 started selling on eBay for £250? Unbelievable. It was almost 10 years ago. That’s even more unbelievable.
This is how food innovation used be – one or two products with a tempting (but not too dramatic) twist. They were super exciting – they sold out fast, drew the attention of food critics and made the newspapers.
Now, innovations are more spectacular than ever, miles from the old innocent times of extortionate orange puddings. Today, it feels almost every product has a twist, and sometimes a giant, unrecognisable U-turn. We watch hosts obsess over the assembling of several varieties of sliders and miniature hot dogs in their party food selection. We spot a new variety of every favourite: sage and onion Yorkshire puddings, honeyed parsnips, chestnut and pancetta brussels and giant pigs in blankets. Have we gone too far? Does this have the air of the Rowan Atkinson scene in Love Actually?
More than ever, Christmas and all of its surrounding celebrations are taking place at home. In a world where we seek experiences over things, and photos for Instagram above anything else, there’s naturally a role for immersive food and drink. But we predict that, as a tough and turbulent year draws to a close, we’ll look for comfort in tradition, in crowd-pleasers that bring us together with simple pleasures.
Rather than over-innovated products, we predict those which more closely represent loved traditions will win. Some gentle twists on a favourite will, granted, be popular. We’ll also find newness by discovering traditions from overseas – Aldi and Lidl in particular will help us there. The biggest messages we predict will gain attention by delivering innovation via specialness – messages of premium ingredients and quality techniques will cut through. This year the battle for best pudding won’t lie in a hidden orange, but the amount of alcohol and length of time maturing. Lidl looks set to win, matured for 24 months but we doubt you’ll be able to make a killing with it on eBay though.