Marks & Spencer has topped the major categories in an independent taste test of Christmas food and drink, winning with its turkey, cranberry sauce and sparkling wine, and taking more high ratings than any other supermarket.
The store had 14 products in the top five for each category in the annual exercise by Good Housekeeping magazine, although budget chain Aldi had the best Christmas pudding and tastiest vegetarian meal – its £1.99 spinach, leek and cheddar cheese parcels.
This year, for the first time, vegetarian main courses and stuffings were added to the “basket” of the usual Christmas staples: a 16-strong list including champagne and sparkling wine, mince pies, frozen turkey, smoked salmon, Christmaspudding and brandy butter – which were blind-tasted (all packaging removed) by a panel of experts.
This reflected the rise of vegetarianism and “flexitarianism” in the UK, Good Housekeeping said, with festive diners expecting supermarkets to offer much more than a token nut roast for their Christmas dinner.
The best Christmas pudding was Aldi’s Specially Selected Golden Topped Christmas Pudding (£7.99), while the tastiest mince pies were Tesco Finest six mince pies (£2). Iceland’s pigs in blankets (10 for £3) came top of their class.
Taking the overall turkey crown this year was Marks & Spencer’s British Oakham turkey crown with pork, sage and onion stuffing (£27). Shoppers were also advised to head to M&S for its winning prosecco (£10) or to Sainsbury’s, where its Taste the Difference NV Champagne Brut (£18) – which goes on sale in November – scored top marks.
“Supermarkets understand that consumers tend to trade up over Christmas and many have focused on their premium ranges,” said Angela Trofymova, food testing manager at Good Housekeeping.
“M&S has proved that shelling out a little more where possible can take your festive dining experience to the next level, while budget supermarket Aldi shows you can get cost-effective quality without breaking the bank.”
In its quest to find the best, the Good Housekeeping taste test team and consumer panel ate and drank their way through 316 different festive foods in 16 different categories from more than 30 retailers.
Positive recommendations in influential national taste tests can clear supermarket shelves. Last year, own-brand “luxury” mince pies from frozen food giant Iceland sold out in many parts of the UK after being judged the best, beating 24 other brands including Harrods and Selfridges.
And Marks & Spencer’s Belgian Chocolate and Orange Star Christmas Pudding – last year crowned the best of the Christmas pudding bunch – was a strong seller that other retailers sought to emulate.
Aldi’s award-winning Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut NV – at £10.99 – was again highly rated this year.
Frozen turkeys and crowns (16 tested)
Winner Marks & Spencer British Oakham turkey crown with pork, sage and onion stuffing, £27 (serves four to five). Score: 88/100.
Runner-up Marks & Spencer British whole turkey, £11.25/kg (serves four to five). Score: 87/100.
Best of the rest COOK stuffed crown of turkey, £45. Score: 83/100.
Vegetarian mains (23 tested)
Winner Aldi Specially Selected vegetable parcels – spinach, leek and West Country cheddar, £1.99. Score: 81/100.
Runner-up Aldi Specially Selected vegetable parcels – mushroom trio, £1.99. Score: 80/100.
Best of the rest Marks & Spencer butternut squash and sweet potato rosti, £6. Score: 79/100.
Smoked salmon (23 tested)
Winner Waitrose 1 Chestnut smoked salmon, £5.99. Score: 86/100.
Runner-up Morrisons The Best whisky bronze smoked salmon, £4.50. Score: 84/100.
Best of the rest Marks & Spencer Scottish Lochmuir oak and applewood smoked salmon, £4.50. Score: 79/100.
Pigs in blankets (14 tested)
Winner Iceland Luxury 10 pigs in blankets, £3. Score: 82/100.
Runner-up Aldi’s Butcher’s Select 12 bacon-wrapped sausages, £1.99. Score: 81/100.
Best of the rest Marks & Spencer 16 British outdoor bred pigs in blankets, £5. Score: 79/100.
Christmas pudding (33 tested)
Winner Aldi Specially Selected golden topped Christmas pudding, £7.99. Score: 80/100.
Runner-up Aldi Specially Selected exquisite vintage Christmas pudding, £9.99. Score: 78/100.
Best of the rest Marks & Spencer collection 12-month matured vintage Christmas pudding, £14. Score: 78/100.
Mince pies (26 tested)
Winner Tesco Finest six mince pies, £2. Score: 82/100.
Runner-up Iceland six luxury mince pies, £1.50. Score: 81/100.
Best of the rest Gail’s mince pies, £1.50 each, £8 for six-pack. Score: 76/100.
Non-vintage (NV) brut champagne under £40 (26 tested)
Winner Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference NV Champagne Brut, £18. Score: 79/100.
Runner-up Sainsbury’s Winemaker’s Selection Blanc de Noirs Champagne Brut NV, £20. Score: 78/100.
Best of the rest Aldi Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut NV, £10.99. Score: 77/100.
Prosecco under £15 (24 tested)
Winner Marks & Spencer Prosecco, £10. Score: 82/100.
Runner-up Tesco Finest Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco NV, £10. Score: 78/100.
Best of the rest Lidl Allini Prosecco Spumante Conegliano, £7.99. Score: 78/100.
Read more at theguardian.com