With lockdown lifting, Christmas around the corner and the number of shopping days rapidly disappearing, there will be no shortage of eager present-pickers keen to get their hands on the perfect gift. While shops were shuttered, many people turned to online retailers, but that wasn’t without its difficulties, as the record rush meant pressure on couriers, leading to lengthy delays and disappointment. The nuisance of waiting on parcels and peoples’ desire to support hard-hit small businesses could see local companies doing a brisk trade in the run-up to the big day. Credit must be given to our food and drinks industry which, in the face of both Covid and Brexit, has worked hard to respond to the demand for local products, offering shoppers a wealth of gifts and experiences which are creative and imaginative. Here are just some examples of local gifts to inspire you to support local this Christmas. Hampers are a great way to experience an array of what a business has to offer and an opportunity to try products you might not normally buy. Long Meadow Cider’s Christmas hamper combines apple juice and apple cider with a range of local cheeses and chutneys while Broughgammon’s Christmas larder box offers a foraged syrup, Broughgammon homemade ketchup, pickles and their own cookbook along with a lot of other local kitchen cupboard goodies! For those foodies wishing to party at home this Christmas, a number of new possibilities have been created. The clever folks at Taste and Tour have a menu of ‘party apart’ virtual options, including a cocktail making master class, pizza and spritz, beer and cheese tasting as well as a chocolate campfire option. Bringing some festive cheer to the season is Symphonia Gin in Armagh, which launched its virtual ‘gin-gale’ party where boxes of gin and garnishes are delivered to your door ready for your celebration with friends. Or for those wishing to brush up on their cooking skills over Christmas, a range of virtual cooking lessons are available from Bakehouse NI. Offering subscription boxes is a great way to connect with customers and gain their feedback on the latest varieties of your product. Bailies offers a monthly microlot coffee subscription where you will receive their specially sourced coffee delivered to your door while, for tea lovers, Suki’s monthly subscription includes four packs of its blends selected by its tasting experts. But for those wanting a little surprise each month the Neary Nogs chocolate subscription includes a mystery item along with a variety of its tasty products, including cocoa nibs, chocolate slate, drinking chocolate and caramel cups … yum! While it has been reported in the media that luxury foods have been hit hard by the pandemic, Christmas is incentive enough to indulge in some plush pressies for your loved ones. Limited edition items like Copeland Gin’s Oloroso single cask rum not only comes in the most exquisitely designed bottle but each one is individually numbered, stamped and sealed by the distillery’s own founder, Gareth Irvine. Vincent Hurl at Crosskeys Inn, the oldest thatched pub in Ireland, has an eight-yearold Single Malt Irish Whisky available to buy directly in Single Cask bottles. For those looking for some foodie finds, Lisburn girls Holly and Abbey from Choc Berry offer festive mallows and strawberries which are all hand dipped and beautifully decorated while Lois at Buttercup Biscuits offers some festive homemade and hand painted iced biscuits in fun designs, including woolly jumpers and wreaths. These are just some of the festive innovations spotted locally which hopefully you still have time to snap up before the big day! I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Please stay safe and support local.
Dr Lynsey Hollywood manages the Food and Drink Business Development Centre at Ulster University Business School set up to support local industry.
The centre has recently launched three short new courses for businesses: ‘Creating captivating content for social media’, ‘Developing an Export Strategy’ and ‘Customer Insight and Marketing Tools’. n For further information please visit: https://store.ulster.ac.uk/short-courses/ food-drink-business-development-centre