Britons are starting Christmas early, with sales of mince pies on track to top £100m amid a fierce supermarket bake-off.
The popularity of the mince pie is rivalled only by pigs in blankets at Christmas and this year a welter of new flavours, including cookie-style and plant-based pastries, are on the menu as stores seek to appeal to younger taste buds.
The restrictions on household mixing last year resulted in a drop in mince pie sales but grocery market analysts Kantar said demand had roared back to pre-Covid levels.
Its data shows 5.5 million people have already bought mince pies in the supermarket which is 200,000 more than at this point of 2020.
“There is a lot of pent-up “want” for a decent festive season so I think people are getting into the spirit early and looking forward to a bigger than usual celebration,” said Tesni Steele Jones, consumer insight director at Kantar.
Two-thirds of the population buy mince pies at least once each Christmas so they are a vital part of a store’s festive repertoire.
The battle rages between supermarket own-labels, with luxury ranges a key battleground as consumers splash out. The average price for six pies is £1.12, far cheaper than buying the ingredients to bake your own.
Waitrose, which has a dozen mince pie variations in its range, thinks its No 1 Brown Butter Mince Pies are a standout after months of work by its pastry chef, Will Torrent. Sainsbury’s said it had made a “few tweaks” to its Taste the Difference mince pie recipe which resulted in a “glossier” mincemeat.
But this traditional formula is fighting for shelf space alongside alternative toppings, as well as plant-based versions that promise to taste as good as the real thing.
Many stores are offering other twists. In Asda, one recipe is laced with sloe gin while in Tesco it is spiced rum. Sainsbury’s has pushed the envelope with “cookie cup” pies which stray from the brief with a cookie-style pastry, speculoos-flavoured caramel filling and crumble topping.
“It is always a competition between the retailers at Christmas so it is about how you keep it interesting,” said Steele Jones. “A retailer should always have a core mince pie that’s got good pastry and flavours and then other varieties people can buy into for something different; if that’s what they want.”
The proliferation of flavours could be also a nod to changing tastes, said Steele Jones. At 28, she is the eldest in her team at work and the only one partial to a mince pie. Her younger colleagues did not like the consistency or flavour and in many cases were not fans of Christmas cake either.
“For mince pies you have to think about who the shopper is. They are maybe someone a little bit older who has grown up with some of these flavours. Something like the cookie cup is obviously targeted at a younger shopper who maybe isn’t as keen on a traditional mince pie.”