Food is a big part of Gibraltarian culture and it is during the festivities that families pull out all the stops to fabricate a dazzling display of mouth-watering Christmas goodness. The very thought of a traditional Christmas dinner sends the mind down memory lane, generating warm feelings inside, perhaps picturing the calm, serene glow of the fireplace and the call of ‘dinner’s ready!’ summoning you to feast on the culinary masterpiece. But that is the final product. All the ingredients to this glorious concoction have to come from somewhere.
It’s the busiest time of the year for retailers as the holiday season enters the fold. The excitement is brewing as tons of new stock come pouring in through the border within huge containers and distributed amongst the myriad of mega stores and shops on the high street. Some of the stock would have been ordered up to a year ago in preparation for the ‘mad rush’, with retailers now possessing infinite amounts of stats on the community’s shopping habits. Christmas is here and licensed traders are preparing to crank the numbers and give service with a jolly smile. The pressure to satisfy every customer’s need in a store buzzing with activity sparks scenes of pandemonium as emotions peak, tensions rise, but ultimately, everyone (by the most part) manages to get what they need to have a memorable Christmas.
Locally run Basque supermarket chain Eroski evokes the best of both worlds in terms of the products they offer to a community that demands top quality goods and service, “People don’t just look at prices, even though we are one of the most competitive in Gibraltar, they want to have a close relationship with the staff also,” said Head Office Manager Daniel Massias. “They may want to have a chat, share a recipe or get some advice. You can ask our fishmonger how to cook a particular fish or our butcher about the best way to prepare each cut. They are more than happy to share their personal recipes, and they are pretty good I might add.” Daniel takes personal service to another level and takes it upon himself to manage the supermarket’s Facebook page, always trying to find a solution for each customer, “This is a ‘truly Gibraltarian’ supermarket where we aim to satisfy the needs of every customer and are always trying to improve.”
From ‘jamón ibérico’, turrónes and polvorónes to the exquisite mince pies, turkeys and Christmas gammon from Waitrose, Eroski has the lot. But absolutely everyone is catered for which means that there are products that are gluten free; vegetarian; vegan; lactose free; halal; kosher and many others. They are all clearly marked and the staff is prepared to offer any information to aid your choice. The people of Gibraltar stay loyal to the British in many ways, but a lesser known love is that of the mince pie. It is quite typical to find some minced pies coupled with a few pieces of turrón in the same sweets bowl. Perhaps a few long-term British expats up the coast might recreate something similar, but it is widespread in Gibraltar, “It is challenging to bring the best Waitrose products to Gibraltar, but it is totally worth it when you receive such positive feedback from the community. These guys leave no stone unturned in terms of quality. It has been a wonderful marriage between Waitrose and Eroski.” A new toy shop will also open up extra options for customers, and it is a nice addition to the customer’s shopping experience. Fresh Christmas trees from forests in Germany and Denmark (see p. 38) are once again available to give an even more authentic feel to the holidays, “Customers were asking for them in our first year, so when the next season rolled around, we had them in stock. Every year we order more and there is nothing like the smell of a fresh Christmas tree.” Finding a parking close to home in Gibraltar after a large shop can be a challenging affair to those who don’t own a private spot. Eroski goes that extra mile with their service to deliver food right to your kitchen, “We have taken orders all the way to the top of the Rock and have never said no to a customer.”
The local franchise of Marks & Spencer sees around 10,000 transactions per week during the Christmas period, but they also sell a lot of cookies (especially with Santa around), so that figure can be a little deceptive. Nevertheless, the popularity of the store is absolute and the quality the product exuberates ensnares customers and allows them to shop with confidence. With questions of morality and accusations of breaches of human rights surrounding the controversial supply chain of materials, especially clothing, people are now more cautious than ever of what they purchase, “Everything comes from Marks & Spencer UK. We are not the cheapest but we are very confident in the fact that all the goods are ethically sourced and we go about doing business in the right way,” said General Manager Chris Walker. “The whole supply chain is managed properly and it is about gaining that trust. None of our food has artificial colours and none of the cosmetics are tested on animals. We have been doing this for years. We also try to reduce our carbon footprint.”
M&S Christmas food is very big in Gibraltar. Mince pies, turkeys, Christmas puddings, cakes and chocolates are the norm, but, according to Chris, it depends on what Eroski and Morrison’s run out of when his store tends to pick up the additional business, “One of these ‘classic situations’ takes place on Christmas Eve and it involves men rushing around looking for ladies lingerie. This year, it falls on a weekend so on Saturday morning, we expect to have more men than women running around on our first floor (women’s section) trying desperately to find a present for their partner.”
Online purchases have grown exponentially over the years as people search for cheaper alternatives to their Christmas shopping. The reality of the situation is a smack in the face to retailers who are in a constant struggle to remain competitive in this increasingly digital world where your favourite product is merely a click away, and maybe a couple of weeks in the post albeit. All the Main Street merchants will lose out in one form or another to this ‘buy online’ trend, which is showing no signs of diminishing, “It is difficult to compensate and we try to make ourselves as competitive as possible. Ironically, people pay less than us to bring things over when they purchase online. If the cost of postage is under a certain amount then it is likely going to be free for the person collecting it. As a licensed trader, we need to pay import duties on all our products down to the last penny. It is tough to compete and we are actually at a disadvantage.”
One of the main features for M&S Gibraltar to look forward to is the prospect of another year involved in the Charity Christmas Jumper Campaign that raises money to help save children’s lives, “This has become a highlight for us. We buy the product well in advance. We change the display at the front of the store and then we calculate from the sales how much to give to charity. We give a donation for every jumper sold. It ranges in the hundreds of pounds,” he said with his smile now broadening. “It’s about getting into the Christmas spirit and having a bit of fun. Throughout December and certainly during Christmas week, we will also have mulled wine and mince pies for our customers to try. We are also thinking of getting some carol singers to come down to add to the festive spirit, so we are all looking forward to a very merry Christmas with all our customers.”