For­get choco­late: Ad­vent cal­en­dars go for booze, cheese

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - BUSINESS REPORT - By Joseph Pisani

Ad­vent cal­en­dars are hit­ting the bot­tle.

The card­board cal­en­dars, typ­i­cally filled with choco­lates, are now be­ing stuffed with cans of beer and bot­tles of wine. Oth­ers have chunks of cheese be­hind each door.

They’re meant to ap­peal to nos­tal­gic adults who want to count the days till Christ­mas with some­thing other than sweets. They’re sold for a lim­ited time, get ma­jor so­cial me­dia buzz and tend to sell out quickly.

Many are avail­able in the United States for the first time this year af­ter gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity dur­ing the past few hol­i­day sea­sons in Eu­rope. Ger­man gro­cer Aldi, for in­stance, says it brought its wine ad­vent cal­en­dar to its U.S. stores af­ter sell­ing it in the United King­dom last year. It also in­tro­duced a new cheese one.

Dara Collins waited out­side an Aldi store be­fore 9 a.m. in early Novem­ber to buy the ad­vent cal­en­dars af­ter she saw them on Twit­ter. One had 24 mini bot­tles of Prosecco and Pinot Gri­gio for $70. The cheese one, which cost $12.99, had rect­an­gle-shaped ched­dar and Havarti. Collins didn’t wait to open them: She drank a bot­tle of bub­bly wine and ate a piece of cheese weeks be­fore Dec. 1.

“I’m Jewish,” says Collins, a for­mer at­tor­ney in Hol­ly­wood, Fla., who is now a stay-ath­ome mom. “I just thought it was a re­ally cute gift for my­self.” Adult ad­vent cal­en­dars fit into an on­go­ing trend: peo­ple who want prod­ucts and ex­pe­ri­ences that “let them em­brace their in­ner child,” says Caleb Bryant, a se­nior bev­er­age an­a­lyst at trend-track­ing firm Min­tel. “Kids don’t need to have all the fun with ad­vent cal­en­dars.”

Ian Hamil­ton, a ra­dio pro­ducer in Manch­ester, Eng­land, bought a cheese ad­vent cal­en­dar last year and tweeted that it was “prob­a­bly the best day of my life.”

“Choco­late was get­ting a lit­tle bit bor­ing,” Hamil­ton says.

One sour note: un­like the choco­late ones, the cheese ad­vent cal­en­dar needs to be chilled, so he had to pull it out of the fridge each time to show it off to guests. He still bought an­other one this year: “I def­i­nitely don’t want to miss out.”

The in­ven­tor of the cheese ad­vent cal­en­dar is An­nem Hob­son, who cred­its her­self

with cre­at­ing it back in 2015 when she de­con­structed a Cad­bury one and re­placed the choco­lates with Gouda and Ger­man smoked cheese. “I’ve al­ways been a fan of sa­vory things,” says Hob­son, who lives in London.

The in­struc­tions she posted on her blog, SoWrongIt­sNom.com, went vi­ral and the at­ten­tion was enough to con­vince cheese maker Norse­land to make the cal­en­dars in 2017 for Bri­tish gro­cer Asda. This year they’re in more stores and coun­tries, in­clud­ing the U.S., where they’re sold in the spe­cialty cheese sec­tion of nearly 250 Tar­get stores.

An­other com­pany, Kalea, makes a nearly 2-foot-tall cal­en­dar with 24 cans of Ger­man beer that is sold at Costco and other re­tail­ers. Kalea, from Aus­tria, says it shipped 50,000 beer cal­en­dars to the U.S. this year. Next year, it ex­pects to send dou­ble that.

“It took off,” says CEO Peter Reimann, who has been sell­ing sim­i­lar cal­en­dars in Eu­rope for a decade.

GiveThemBeer.com, an on­line al­co­hol seller in St. Peters­burg, Fla., of­fered beer cal­en­dars last year as an al­ter­na­tive to gift bas­kets. All 500 sold out quickly, says Kym Toner, the com­pany’s co-founder. So this year, it in­tro­duced a wine one. Both have 12 glass bot­tles in­stead of 24, be­cause any more would be too ex­pen­sive to ship, Toner says.

She ex­pected to sell 1,000 of them each, but so many or­ders came in at the be­gin­ning of Novem­ber that Toner now ex­pects to sell more than 2,000 each.

“Things have gone crazy,” she says. “You would not be­lieve the de­mand for boozy ad­vent cal­en­dars.”

Mark Lennihan / As­so­ci­ated Press

Aldi’s Wine Ad­vent Cal­en­dar is one of many that gained pop­u­lar­ity as al­ter­na­tives to choco­late.

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