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The spirit of Christmas.

Rum, brandy, whisky, Tia Maria, Grand Marnier - sounds like the makings of a great Christmas party.

But we are not talking the drinking variety, but rather the natural ingredients for a whole variety of foods which make their appearance during the run-up to the festive season and add an appropriate touch of the Christmas spirit. Foods such as cakes, preserves, bottled fruit, confectionery and, of course, the traditional Christmas pudding.

Why should there be this seasonal upsurge in demand for products flavoured with real alcohol? Partly because the addition of brandy, rum or whisky brings a 'natural' touch that consumers look for at Christmas. And partly because the discreet use of established brand names such as Grand Marnier, Lambs Navy Rum, Tia Maria creates connotations of luxury - whether in expensive hampers given as business gifts or the individual pots of jams or mini puddings that we treat ourselves to once a year.

Both these attributes are recognised by the marketing and production staff of food manufacturers and retailers, and by the major supplier of specially blended spirits and liqueurs for use in food manufacturing processes.

For the past ten years Thomas Lowndes has been developing a portfolio of spirits and liqueurs to cater for most sectors of the food industry - bakery, confectionery, preserves, dairy, sauces, frozen food etc. The emphasis has been on natural spirits which retain the maximum original flavour even when used in mass-production processes - in many cases using specially blended or more concentrated versions of well-known spirits and liqueurs.

Many of Lowndes regular customers use the culinary versions of rum or brandy or whisky for their year-round food products which do not necessarily need the cachet of a brand name. But for Christmas there is the understandable attraction of being able to advertise to consumers that the ingredients include prestigious names like Bols Liqueurs, Ballantines Finest Scotch Whisky, Dettling Kirsch, Tia Maria, Harveys Bristol Cream, Cockburns Special Reservce Port, Grand Marnier and many, many more.

The displays at BHS stores are witness to this when the special Christmas Gift ranges are introduced for the festive seasonal period. The gift buyer at BHS, Bridget Townsend, has worked very closely with Lowndes on the development of a range of jams, marmalades, cakes and puddings which appeal to both the eye and the taste buds of consumers looking for that little touch of affordable luxury at Christmas. And it is no accident that the attractive packaging for these food lines carries the names and logos of ingredients such as Teachers Highland Cream Scotch Whisky, Lambs Navy Rum and Grand Marnier.

BHS are constantly considering potential food products for their seasonal gift range; foods which emphasize quality through product specification, natural ingredients and prestige names. Which is why Bridget Townsend liaises closely with Thomas Lowndes because of their wide-ranging product portfolio and their expertise in the correct use of international brand names of spirits and liqueurs.

And, like BHS, most of the other major stores are bedecked with special seasonal lines; everything from the expensively exotic to the more affordable but equally delicious - such as Cadbury's Luxury Cake Selection of small cakes with Tia Maria, Grand Marnier, Rum & Raisin or Cadbury's Cream Liqueur.

Confectionery, is of course, another major gift-purchase, especially liqueur chocolates. And confectioners have for years accepted spirits and liqueurs as an essential element in their more upmarket selections.

Thorntons - a name synonymous with quality - have for decades been associated with liqueur chocolates, and when they launched an assortment of 15 exquisite creations, five of them were based on spirits supplied by Thomas Lowndes - rum truffle, brandy cup, walnut kirsch, champagne truffle and Grand Marnier truffle.

The confectionery industry is particularly conscious of the increasing Continental influence on UK tastes, and of the growing consumer awareness of natural ingredients with a genuine rather than artificial flavour.

Exactly the same awareness is spreading throughout the food industry generally, and manufacturers are looking for product developments which enhance both the taste and the quality image of their brands and justify a premium price - not just for Christmas but all year round.

Many processors are discovering that alcohol is that magic extra ingredient which can provide the attributes of taste, quality and premium price, and that there is no great mystique in introducing real spirits to the production process.

It is a 'discovery' that was made some 400 years ago by Catherine de Medici who also wanted to impress her customers with her culinary skills. So the procedure can be described as well and truly tested!
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Title Annotation:alcoholic beverages in Christmas cookery
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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