Archives for posts with tag: popcorn

Christmas is almost upon us and this weekend consumer are predicted by the BRC to break sales records with a £5billion spend as last minute shoppers go in search of price deals on their perfect gift.

All your shopping needs taken care of by the magical elfridge

All your shopping needs taken care of by the magical elfridge

My search of London didn’t really excite too much with predictable gifts for a food lover like me. I trawled the big department stores in the hope that places like Liberty, Fortnums and Harrods would inspire but to be honest none are a patch on Selfridges, who just got it right. It may have been the brigade of Elfridges, complete with Vivienne Westwood red ballgowns and roller skates, or perhaps the many one off concessions, or even the samplings and demos, but the overall experience is just top class.


I managed to find my whole popcorn shopping here at a better price than I was looking at online. I went for the more traditional stove top version with funky containers and obviously lots of interesting corns. You could also add a jar of Joe and Seph’s if you wanted something ready made. As in the US, popcorn, waffles, DIY sets and all things with coffee or chocolate were featured in abundance.

Alcohol is also excelling itself with cocktails, one off unique blends, fantastic packaging and lots more to entice, but I am not a big drinker so I focused on the food this year.

Love brownies

For my gift buying, there were a few people that I would like to recommend. Firstly Love Brownies. The wonderful Chantal is from my home county of Yorkshire and bakes superb award winning brownies, but the real treat is the packaging which is clever, contemporary and colourful. Easy to order, simply delivered and great value, these are perfect for all occasions.


The other Yorkshire company that has been a personal favourite of mine is Lauden Chocolates. This husband and wife team make incredible one off chocolates with real fruit centres and different chocolate coatings to match the filling. I am not one for fruit and chocolate but these really make you re-evaluate all that. And there is a fantastic salted caramel version just in case you want something else. Of course, there are the usual chocolate shops such as Paul Young and Marc de Marquette, but I like to support Lauden and again their product is superb and their packaging  clean and contemporary.

Other shops on my list which have continued to excite this year are The Sampler in Islington for wonderful wines, Ottolenghi if only for their clementine jam, La Fromagerie for great, if very pricey cheese, Sally Clarkes for general yumminess and of course my lovely friends at Melrose and Morgan. They just make the most wonderful things and a trip to either of their shops in Hampstead or Primrose Hill will inspire you to leave with huge armfuls of their home made treats, plus the best sausage roll around as a treat for you to indulge in … well, you have been schlepping around all day. This year, M&M’s stollen has been the surprise treat which has been added to their catalogue of wonderful things including their light, tasty Christmas pudding made with Clay Barn Orchard quinces and the best mince pies with crumbly buttery pastry and a juicy tasty filling. I don’t even like mince pies!

At this point, I do have to mention Anthropologie which is great for kitchen and gift inspiration. A friend of mine went there today having been all over trying to find something for her 21 year old daughter and was amazed and delighted. And for online inspiration, I like Not on the High Street. Once again, they have one-off gifts and great things to personalise. For something different and spot on with the whole Scandinavian trend, have a look at Daniel’s website: Bageriet. These treats are all home made and he is a superb baker. If you really want to push the boat out ask him about his gingerbread houses. I know they are not shown on the website, but take my word for it, they are amazing.


Finally, for something a little different, the big fashion this year is to give an experience rather than a product. Book a course to learn how to make bread, or honey, or all things fishy, or even a full on butchery course. And if you want to send something out there, you could do worse than repeat my Rent a Cherry Tree gift (even if the weather ruined the crop this year) or adopt an olive tree for a year which promises quarterly deliveries of oil made from your very own olives. I used Nudo last year and their packaging seemed to impress my friend over in New Zealand.

So Merry Christmas one and all. Let me know if there was anything that you were particularly impressed with this year and have a wonderful celebration. Here’s to 2013.


As Christmas approaches, I am once again pondering the great gifts for this year. Inevitably I like all the food related gifts and now that I am in the US, I am indulging in their take on the ‘holiday season’ and the wonderful offerings over this side of the pond.

My parents went into a shop the other day and were greeted by a guy on the door who smiled, welcomed them and then added: “Don’t deny yourself anything”. Only in the US, I know you are saying, but I love the fact that our experience has been that everyone is engaging that way with us. There are a load of cynical Brits who automatically hate the US way, but personally I would rather have that man greet me in the shop than the majority of people I see in the UK. There is no doubt that the yanks do Christmas so well, combining sights, smells, colours and flavours in each and every shop adding in a huge dollop of great service plus incredible offers to tempt.

So in the spirit of no denial, here are a few ideas and places to inspire.

I tend to prefer small one off independents to shop in but when in the US, there are a few places that I frequent. For gifts, we are now blessed with Anthropologie here in the UK so that treat is available here now. Still to venture over here are my three other favourites: Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Williams Sonoma.

Pottery Barn has lost its sparkle in recent years and whilst Crate & Barrel do a great job, it is Williams Sonoma that really do excite me. Their merchandising skills are second to none telling great stories and bringing products together in an interesting and shop-able way.

gingerbread boy maple syrup


The first thing I saw on entering the shop was this gorgeous little boy. How cute is this? and of course, he wasn’t alone as he was standing amongst a whole waffle display with waffle mixes, waffle makers and stirrers and bowls. What a welcome at the front door.


One of the displays that struck a cord with me was the popcorn. This has to be the product of 2012 on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether it is a popcorn making machine, a stove top or microwaveable popping vessel, the corn itself or the many accessories to go with it, popcorn in all its guises makes a great family present. For interesting corns, try Zaramama. And if you are feeling adventurous, I can recommend Bill Granger’s caramel popcorn recipe which is a lovely home-made addition to any popcorn gift.



The other range of products that interested me in Williams Sonoma was the many branded products coming from top chefs such as Tom Colicchio and Thomas Keller. It amazes me that chefs of this calibre feel the need to produce long life retail products. They follow in the footsteps of places like Sprinkles and their cupcake mix but I am just not sure that this is a route to take. For me it cheapens their brand but maybe the money is worth it.

williams sonoma mushroom logThe range of food gifts that most interest me sit under the banner DIY and Homemade Kits. Homemade is clearly a big fashion and this year there have been many books published to tell us how to do it along with a range of gift packs and Williams Sonoma showcases the best here. The butter and cheese sets are lovely, but the one that drew me were the mushroom logs which allow you to cultivate a range of different mushrooms. Delivered in chilled boxes, these are just wonderful. Go online and peruse the shop yourself. They do ship internationally even if Christmas is rushing towards us.

Ginvent-CalendarFinally, I need to make special mention of this Ginvent calendar which I first heard about on The Foodinista’s blog. She always has her finger on the food and wine fashion pulse so is worth looking into and invariably I will take her recommendations. When I looked into this calendar, I found that you can buy it, or a whisky version, here in the UK. I just love the fact that they chose gin as this is by far the trendiest spirit of 2012 and these samples cover tried and tested as well as interesting brands to try…and all in this lovely packaging. I will definitely earmark this for next year.

I’ve always been a fan of supermarkets and believe they have a necessary and significant place in the food retail universe. Maybe it’s all my years at M&S, but I think it is important to have a place that plays the generalist role for food shopping. This in theory gives the space for specialists like those I have been writing about. And each should know their place in the overall hierarchy so that they deliver against their proposition.

There has certainly been good progress in the supermarket world with great leaders like Archie Norman, Terry Leahy, Justin King and Mark Price really pushing the UK standards over the years. And then there are players who extend the boundaries even further. I remember making many a trip to the wonderful Wholefoods in the US as part of my old M&S role in order to bring back best practices to our teams. Whilst Wholefoods hasn’t translated commercially over here in the UK, there is a lot to be said for the retailing of the Kensington branch and I for one am a big fan of what they deliver in terms of customer experience.

So I was interested when friends in Cape Town were talking about a new supermarket opening. I visited Fruit & Veg City and their Food Lovers Market concept on previous South African trips but heard that this new opening in the less well off suburb of Tokai was a must see.


Food Lovers Market is the third incarnation of Fruit & Veg City which complements the original, produce based outlets and their FreshStop concepts at petrol stations. And it really does cater for the food lover adding an array of wonderful sections to their already impressive produce section.

VM to match Wholefoods

Quality VM consistently maintained

At times, their visual merchandising competes at the same level as Wholefoods, particularly on produce, and there are certainly lots of keen staff around to help you with finding things, tasting things and suggesting recipes. What’s impressive here is not necessarily the number of staff as labour is cheaper here, but their knowledge and skills which have been well trained. Take it from me, that is difficult and rare to consistently achieve in South Africa.

However, the most exciting thing for me is their ability to be spot on with the offer. That is, spot on trend, offering popcorn, bottle your own ozone friendly water, freshly made doughnuts on the bakery section (always the longest queue there) and semi prepared meal solutions:

Traditional popcorn unit

Bottle your own, ozone friendly water unit

Fresh doughnuts made at the bakery counter: batter into fryer into topping.

Always a queue for fresh doughnuts

Added value, prepared meats for this carnivorous nation

They are also spot on with some of the other sections they have created: spices, nibbles, a coffee beanery, bottle your own olive oil and of course biltong, as well as impressive rear service counters for cheese, meat, fish, deli, bakery, salads and hot food to go.

Bag your own spices

Everything you could want to nibble...and more!

Biltong bonanza

Cheese galore

Fish supper anyone?

The other thing they seem to have addressed here is value. The original Fruit & Veg City concept cut out the middle man by working directly with the farmers, having them deliver directly into F&V depots. It seems this same principle is addressed with all the rear service sections cutting out the production third party. This Tokai outlet was packed every time I went and as I said, this is not a wealthy area. My baker friend tells me that the unit price of their bread is crazy cheap, which probably explains the gang of customers waiting literally tongs in hand for the next batch of ciabatta to hit the counter:

Tongs aloft on the right hand side

Not everything is perfect here. The challenge with direct deliveries is consistency of quality which was not always there. I also found the rear service staff less capable than those on the shop floor. But there is still a lot to be taken from here and clearly it is working as there are now 60 Food Lovers Markets to add to the 60 Fruit & Veg City and 66 Freshstops already in the empire.

This is a food emporium worth seeing … but please don’t copy their spelling!

Grares anyone?