As I write, the office is festooned in tinsel, and most of my colleagues are dressed as elves (it’s Christmas Jumper day so why not?) and we’re all in very festive mood!  Obviously the time to start thinking about NEXT Christmas if you’re an FMCG brand. If you’ve not already done so, I know it’s as soon as you start in the New Year.

It’s a well-known fact that major retailers’ plans are pretty much locked and loaded in February for the following Christmas, after solid analysis of the previous year.   And in all likelihood any NPD/ gift- with-purchase plans are also well underway by now (if they aren’t, do come and talk to us!)

But how do you make sure your plans meet with universal retailer approval? How do you land the hearts and minds of your buyers?  Here are some of our suggestions:

(1) Learn from last year. Let’s start by stating the obvious. There are no sacred cows in the pursuit of profit. If it didn’t work, why not? Does it need to be culled from the range or merely tweaked? Have consumer tastes changed year on year or just the way they buy the product?

(2) Which retailers deserve more share of your budget? As I write, Sainsbury’s is leading the march on the Christmas market and the only one of the big 4 to have a rise in sales. Sainsbury's edge ahead of rivals

(3) Conversely, the discounters have rocketed. 70% of shoppers have said they intend to visit Aldi and Lidl in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and a THIRD of people are expecting to do their main Christmas shop there, according to Nielsen. If your plans next year don’t include the discounters, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

(4) Tailor your plans by retailer, by their format, and their customers. Nothing sells like exclusivity.

(5) Could Christmas be a testbed for new packaging formats, products or flavours? It’s one of the few times of year gaining a temporary listing is (relatively) straightforward.

(6) Research research research! Are you sure your genius gift-with-purchase idea that will be made in its thousands in the Far East has real shopper appeal? It’s not too late to ratify your assumptions. Online research can be switched on quickly and is great value, and will add credibility to your sell.

(7) How do you bring in early sales? Do you have an alternative to the ubiquitous tin of confec with its wafer thin margin? Buyers will welcome you with open arms.

(8) Consider overlays…. Festive competitions running in September with prizes delivered in December will give shoppers a warm glow, and start them thinking about Christmas early.

(9) What does your .com strategy look like? Any big or heavy or frozen products over index online, as does Christmas generally. Are you advertising in the right places online?  Are your banner ads triggering the right consumer messages? Can you block book now, and secure a discount?

(10) And finally: Sell with panache. Ditch the Powerpoint. Build a grotto and invite them in. Hire in reindeer. Break from the day to day and create the magic!  In the past we’ve written illustrated storybooks with a category management theme (yes really!).

If any of this sounds interesting, drop me a line. I’d love to chat over a mince pie. Or a carrot stick…

And may I be the first to wish you a very merry (and profitable) Christmas in 2016.