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Christmas brings boost to York's economy
11:43am Tuesday 3rd December 2013 in Business news
Bethany Thomas, left, chairman John Thomas and Claire Simpson add Saltaire Brewery stout to the Thomas’s Triple Chocolate Stout Christmas Pudding
FESTIVITIES may start in December, but Christmas is pencilled into the business diary much further in advance. While we’re all used to tinsel and reindeer in October, preparations began far earlier in many industries. Business editor Laura Knowlson takes a look at the 365 days of Christmas and the boost they bring to York’s economy.
CHRISTMAS is big business. The total spend on the festive season by UK households is expected to hit £22.3 billion this year, with the average person planning to spend £822, according to statistics.
Throughout December the ringing of sleigh bells chime alongside the ringing of tills as the retail industry enjoys its busiest time of the year.
Experiencing a similar seasonal peak is the hospitality industry with bookings at hotels and restaurants soaring as the city’s workforce books its Christmas parties, and friends and relatives get together.
While Christmas comes as temperatures drop, with hopefully a sprinkling of snow, the benefit of Christmas is felt during a much warmer climate for packing firm IPS.
Each summer IPS will pack around 50 million consumer units for Christmas, including around four million selection boxes, 18 million confectionery tubes, and 30,000 branded displays known as shippers.
In response to the festive workload, IPS sees its workforce grow from a usual team of 80 to a total of 170 staff.
Andrew Dawson, managing director at IPS, said: “We do a huge amount of seasonal work. We generally start in July and have it all finished in October.
“We do selection boxes and tubes, and a lot of display items to go into retailers for Christmas. We do mini quality street cartons, and many of the seasonal lines for Nestlé.
“From an employment point of view we take on a large amount of people for the Christmas work, as a lot of it is manual. We take on a lot of students and people looking for short-term employment as we cover undoubtedly our busiest time of the year.”
Christmas planning begins even earlier for sister double-act Sara Hall and Emma Bensalem, who run greetings card design firm Lonetree Cards.
Working from a design studio at a former chapel in Claxton near York, the pair’s cards are stocked in Liberty London, the Design Museum and Fortnum & Mason, as well as branches of Waterstones and Paperchase.
Their cards for 2013 were designed in October 2012, ready to meet the retailers’ “call-up dates”.
Mrs Hall explained: “We design our Christmas cards in the October for the following Christmas. A lot of high street retailers will be looking at Christmas 2014 come the new year.
“They have deadlines for samples known as call-up dates. You have to work your designs and create your samples around these dates, then the retailers make their selection. They won’t necessarily order all your designs.
“We start to hear back in May to July, then from July to September the orders go out. We are very quiet this time of year. From a retail point of view they have taken their orders. We just get the occasional re-order.
“We are aware our designs have to sell for the next Christmas. Fashions and designs can change, so we try to keep them as classic as we can. Then once Christmas is out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about Valentines.”
Lonetree Cards will sell around 50,000 Christmas cards each year, and this year has four designs in Waterstones and six in Paperchase.
For Tockwith-based Rudgate Brewery, Christmas is its busiest selling period for bottled beers.
Bottle deals are agreed with retailers over the summer, with brewing getting under way in September.
Craig Lee, owner and director of the brewery, said: “We will produce and sell between 12,000 and 15,000 bottles over Christmas.That’s compared to an average 3,400 on a normal month.
“We’re obviously then hit by January when a lot of people stay off the drink but we’ve always done well enough over Christmas to more than make up for that.
“We also do a different cask beer every month. Our Christmas one for December is a 4.6 per cent brew called Rudolf.
“We start brewing that at the end of December. A lot of the pubs will want all their beers in for Christmas in the first two weeks in December.”
Christmas is one of the highlights of the Bettys calendar, with work going on through the year in preparation for December.
The development team at the Craft Bakery in Harrogate make regular visits to Europe across the year to gather fresh ideas and to keep abreast of Continental trends, while work on new specialities for Christmas 2014 began in November this year. This is the time too when new recipes for Christmas puddings are developed, and ideas gathered for other new Christmas products.
Paul Gray, bakery operations manager, said: “In spring, the craft bakery starts making Bettys Vintage Christmas Puddings to our time-honoured recipe. The vine fruits and cherries are first of all soaked in vintage port for two days. We then allow the puddings to mature for almost a year, ensuring a richer, more intense and rounded flavour.
“Come June, we make Bettys Vintage Port Fruit Cake, which requires four ‘feeds’ of vintage port before it goes on sale nearer Christmas. Packed with succulent fruits, these are decorated by hand.
“Bettys award-winning mince pies are baked fresh every day from early November right through to Christmas Eve.”
As Christmas draws nearer, the bakery is busier than ever, moulding the Swiss chocolate into handcrafted novelties and stocking fillers.
The business, which will see some of the largest queues outside its famous cafés over Christmas, has also seen an upturn in online trade.
In 2008, Bettys sent out 9,000 mince pies by post nationally through its online shopping service. Now, five years on, Bettys will send out more than 74,000 mince pies this year, through the same service.
The Bakery closes only three days of the entire year; Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. The first day back after the holidays, Bettys’ small team of chocolatiers take the egg moulds down from their shelves and start preparing for Easter.
This year has also been spent developing a new take on Thomas the Baker’s 70-year-old Christmas pudding recipe, with the Helmsley-based baker teaming up with Michelin-starred Yorkshire chef Jeff Baker and Saltaire Brewery.
Thomas’ special edition Triple Chocolate Stout Christmas Pudding has been given a “modern twist” with a splash of the Shipley brewery’s stout, which combines chocolate malts with cocoa and chocolate essence, as well as high-cocoa content chocolate nibs.
Mr Baker says he and the Thomas the Baker team did five or six trials before they achieved pudding perfection.
He said “The pudding was already an award winner, using top quality flour, vine fruits, Guinness and dark rum, so it was a tough one to improve, and I didn’t want to compromise its luscious character.
“So we swapped the Guinness for stout and soaked the fruit in this for a week to get just the right savoury”flavour. The finished pudding has an unctuous fruity tang and a wonderful aroma.”
Judges at the 2012 Great Taste Awards dubbed the family bakery’s Christmas Pudding “near perfect,” awarding it a coveted Gold Star.
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