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Start to the season

Early celebration: Christmas begins in September

Gingerbread, Spekulatius (almond biscuit), and other Christmas baked goods - the long-standing debate on lining supermarket shelves with Christmas goods is rekindled in late summer every year. This debate may raise a great many questions for consumers but they offer decisive benefits for suppliers. A look at Christmas shopping season from the viewpoint of the confectionary industry and the logistics sector.

It is the end of September. The setting sun cajoles you into having another BBQ with friends in the garden. A short stop at the supermarket on the way home from work. Waiting at the checkout, the gaze rests on a shelf. It is full of baked goods and other nibbles that belong to the winter months, the first harbingers of Christmas. "September marks the start of meteorological autumn. So-called autumnal baked goods like gingerbread, Spekulatius, etc. can be found on supermarket shelves at this time every year," explains Dr Torben Erbrath, Director at the Association of the German Confectionery Industry (BDSI) .

A third of the Germans are irritated by this phenomenon according to a study conducted by the polling company YouGov. Why do we find Spekulatius in the supermarkets in September and not just in time for advent? There is more to this than customers think.

It is not just about manufacturing and packaging Christmas classics like Lebkuchen (German gingerbread) and Christstollen (German fruit cake). The sales figures also play a decisive role for manufacturers and retailers. The products arrive in the market in September. The customers now have four months to enjoy the abundance of sweets. Chocolate, marzipan or Spekulatius, Christmas baked goods have something on offer for everyone and it also results in large gains for the confectionary industry. "According to figures from the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, per capita consumption of these treats is around 900 grams per year. This figure has remained relatively stable over many years. German manufacturers produced 81,000 tonnes of these products in 2015, most of which was produced for the domestic market. Around 18% was exported," says Erbrath.

Christmas shopping season is both an advantage and a challenge

Many food items for Christmas are transported at the end of August

The seemingly premature start also delivers positive benefits for the logistics sector. Ben Klaassen, Nagel-Group Manager European Full Truck Load, knows that demand in Full-Truck-Load business (FTL) is particularly high at Christmas and Easter, "This is why, wherever possible, many food items for Christmas are transported at the end of August." Logistic companies like the Nagel-Group thus complete most of their orders in late summer. Bottlenecks are avoided during seasonal peak just before 24 December. According to Klaassen, deliveries for Easter start as early as February. "In both festive seasons, the vehicles are often laden with confectionery, especially chocolate,” says Klaassen.

In addition to seasonal products, manufacturers and logistic companies have to ensure smooth flow of all other food items. "Additional seasonal peaks like Christmas are not handled differently in retail than other seasonal products like fresh fruit or vegetables which are in demand throughout the year," says John Steventon, Tesco's Primary Operations Manager for Europe. Chocolate, Spekulatius, etc. constitute an increase in volume for food logistics companies. This means a massive additional burden in terms of human resources. "The increase in quantity is felt throughout the whole process. It starts with the volume of order-picking and stops when deliveries are made to the recipient. In the meantime, our employees have to be able to cope quickly and accurately with the drastically increased throughput in trans-shipment, packing, and dispatch,," says Sven Neumann, Driver Schedules Planning Manager at the Nagel-Group’s Borgholzhausen branch.

Market demand determines logistics volume

Experts are clear that the early start to the Christmas shopping season is quite clever in terms of sales tactics. Psychologists believe, for instance, that anticipation makes up a big part of the festive atmosphere. In short, the longer the period of anticipation lasts, the more money people are willing to spend. Consequently, retailers are only satisfying the consumer's need for pre-Christmas feeling.

The well-known principle of supply and demand applies here. The retail sector has to adapt to this shift every year. "The customer determines what retailers offer. Our supply chain reacts accordingly to ensure that we always have sufficient capacity as a retailer," says Steventon. At the same time, logistics has to adapt annually to the needs of retail and act accordingly. This requires flexible and precise material planning and timely deliveries which begin in late summer in order to cope with the extra expenditure on logistics.

Easter immediately follows Christmas in the logistics sector

This is an interesting point that the critics should not ignore in the debate: gingerbread was consumed all year round until the Thirty Years War. The decision to declare this year-round treat as a special Christmas treat only came about as it became increasingly difficult to replenish supplies during the course of the war. However, this has not affected the popularity of gingerbread. Consumer interest is still high according to BDSI's market research data. In terms of figures, this means: sales of gingerbread amount to about 38% from a total of 92,640 tonnes of baked goods.

If this explanation does not convince you, there is one consolation: Christmas baked goods disappear very quickly from shelves after 24 December; a result of launching sales early. Food retailers sell the remaining stock at reduced prices to get it off their shelves. Leftover seasonal items are given to charities. According to the Association of the German Confectionery Industry, a big number of chocolate Father Christmas make their way to NGOs free of charge.

Soon the next trucks will roll – with new chocolate figures, not in the form of Father Christmas but in the form of the Easter bunny.

After the season comes the next season.

Header Photo: © HandmadePictures - Fotolia.com

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