Alan Toft believes there's an area of opportunity which could make a sweet point of difference

What's the difference between a Tesco Express and a neighbourhood independent shop? It's a question often asked by consumers in my circle.

My answer is that Tesco is controlled from Cheshunt, whereas the independent is controlled by the owner and his customers, whose needs he must meet, and that owner must offer a point of difference from the burgeoning multiple.

That point of difference, says one reader of this column, is increasingly to be found in... gobstoppers.

With margins in the region of 40%, the offering of pick 'n' mix and bottled sweets may jar (pun intended) with the innovative blue-chip big brands which drive our confectionery market. This sub-category is not price-sensitive, neither is it confined to children. Nostalgia and seeking intense flavours plays a large part in adult demand.

The politically correct overtones directed towards the children's confectionery market, based on obesity issues, are accommodated nowadays by sensible parents who will not allow their offspring to binge on aniseed balls. Dentists maintain an anti-sweet barrage, too.

But still children look for treats and rewards and adults search for 'something different'. In one small South Coast town high street there are two 'Olde English Sweet Shops' enjoying good trade.

It's said that some wholesalers Booker and Hancocks are exceptions do not fully grasp the weigh-out market and its opportunities. Specialist manufacturers in the category, it's also said, do not offer the range of marketing or promotional support which independent retailers interested in getting into bottled sweets might expect.

Meanwhile, as I write I am finding Cherry Lips a very soothing, satisfying and nostalgic taste and texture experience.

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