No one could accuse the bread and milk market of being boring - the milk market is a hotbed of debate, and bread is being defined by innovation.

Twenty years ago the white stuff was considered the innocent staple of a wholesome diet - today it’s become collateral damage in supermarket discounting wars and the focus of fierce arguments between suppliers and producers.

But in whichever way milk is hitting the headlines there’s one thing for sure - it’s still a must-stock item for UK c-stores.

“The most important thing to c-stores is top-up shoppers,” says Robert Wiseman Dairies sales development manager Barry Cuthbertson.

“The convenience sector has to focus on top-up missions, or they’ll lose out - and the number one top-up mission is milk.”

Jason Tamplin from Symonds’ Budgens in Wells, Somerset, certainly understands the power of the humble pinta. His store scooped the Best Milk Retailer Award at this year’s Convenience Retail Awards, with the judges praising the depth of his offer (which includes 13 skus), as well as his dedication to good housekeeping and innovative promotions.

“Milk is a very important product in our store as everyone uses milk on a daily basis,” says Jason.

“When we are looking to target new customers we will offer milk at a discounted price as customers are always on the lookout for great offers. It helps to draw new people into our store.”

Of course, that kind of sales uplift doesn’t happen by magic, although some customers might like to believe it does. “The poor wee milk is delivered every day, gets put in a fridge and sells out every day. And people think it does that by itself!” says Cuthbertson ruefully.

Ones to watch

Home run

Cravendale is targeting dads who do the top-up shopping in a partnership with talkSPORT. The campaign has the strapline ‘Bringing home the milk’, a phrase that has been integrated into the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast to describe players who deliver a great performance.

tel: 0845 600 6688

Morning mash-up

Like Fruit ‘n Fibre but also fancy a bit of bread? For customers who hate the thought of choosing comes Kingsmill’s new breakfast-time hybrid - and with a £2.5m marketing push behind the product, it could be great news for sales, too.

rrp: £1.39

tel: 0800 316 0092

Suck it to them

Everyone loves felines doing wacky things. With this in mind, Cravendale’s kooky cats are back for a run of TV ads, and with them the chance for shoppers to score a new branded ‘Epic Straw’ by collecting coupons from special packs.

rrp: £1.80, 2ltr

tel: 0845 600 6688

Moo-free magic

Sales of Alpro products rose by 30% in 2011 - proof that the free-from/allergy category isn’t to be sneezed at. Capturing 88% of dairy-free value share, Alpro Original could still provide a reliable gateway to this growing sector.

rrp: £1.55

tel: 0800 018 8180

Batch makers

Warburtons 800g Seeded Batch Five Seeds Loaf is the number-one branded SKU within the seeds and grains category - proof that the public want products they perceive as healthy and that wholesome bread buys are far from going to seed.

rrp: £1.80

tel: 01204 531 004

He believes that behind strong milk sales lies a commitment to ensuring fresh milk is available right throughout the day. Research shows that contemporary top-up shoppers no longer just pop in early in the morning for their milk. Office workers and school-run mums are just as likely to

Meeting the needs of these shoppers means ensuring a regular fresh milk supply. And that means a six-day-a-week delivery schedule, says Jason.

“We have six-day deliveries with Budgens. We order smaller amounts, but order every day and this ensures that we have the freshest milk for our customers,” he explains.

“We employ a chilled specialist who looks after the chilled area, including the milk section, and they do all the ordering.”

As well as supplying milk when customers need it most, the chiller cabinet has to look presentable, too. Shoppers put off by smelly and untidy chillers that appear randomly merchandised will quickly move on elsewhere.

“We recommend a routine check called ‘on the hour, every hour,’” says Cuthbertson.

“This is where every hour someone checks the milk fixture, checks the rotation and quickly faces everything up.

“It’s barely a 30-second to a minute job, but this kind of best practice makes a big difference to the bottom line. It gives you the peace of mind that the category is being properly looked after.”

To help keep this routine at the forefront of retailers’ minds, Wiseman offers a special clock for stores, which moos every hour to remind staff to face-up and rotate.

Cuthbertson says that the mooing clock is just one of the ways the company tries to make an everyday item more exciting. And that’s a challenge that is facing the whole industry. According to Kantar Worldpanel, in the past 12 months milk value sales have remained flat, with volume up only 1.5% year on year.

To try to add more value and volume sales Cravendale has picked up the baton for brands with a kooky cat-based advert, designed to promote its range of premium products.

The campaign, which includes an ad spot during The X Factor, is being backed up with an on-pack promotion offering customers limited-edition ‘Epic straws’ so they can slurp up more milk.

“We wanted to launch an on-pack promotion that was fun and engaging for consumers, and which stayed true to our mantra that the milk matters,” says Cravendale brand manager Sophie Macaulay.

“Epic straws, the cat’s very own creation, will enable children and families to make milk consumption occasions that bit more special, whether it’s coming together over a bowl of cereal at the breakfast table, or for a glass of milk in the afternoon.”

These days c-stores’ milk offer doesn’t have to be confined to simple moo-juice, though. As allergy awareness rises there’s a growing market for ‘milk’ that has never seen a cow.

“It’s important to have a good selection of milk products, but then to build up the range depending on what your customers want,” points out Jason.

“We stock soya milk as this was requested by a number of our local customers. These people were going elsewhere for their soya milk until we started to stock it, now they buy it from us and also purchase other products while they are here as well.”

Brands such as Alpro are keen to offer c-stores support in accessing the £115.3m plant-based, non-dairy market.

“The convenience sector is one that can really benefit from offering shoppers a choice,” says Alpro UK commercial director John Allaway. “Last year, we saw 30% growth in volume and added more than 1,000 new stockists. We believe there is a real opportunity for those retailers who stock the right plant-based range.”

Bread lines

Like milk, bread is a product with near total consumer penetration - and the popularity of low-carb diets hasn’t done much to dent its everyday popularity in c-stores.

“Bread sales are an important component of the convenience market - worth £650m - and bakery is the third largest category in convenience,” says Allied Bakeries category director Guy Shepherd.

“Moreover, bread shoppers generate 80% more turnover than the average shopper, so getting the bread category right can boost sales across the store.”

At the heart of c-store bread sales lies traditional sliced white bread, which formed the basis of 300 million meal occasions in the UK last year, according to Kantar Worldpanel. Data from Nielsen reveals that Kingsmill Soft White is the fastest-selling 800g loaf in the impulse category.

Like milk, the bread industry is seeking innovation to drive value and volume sales in a category that many shoppers simply take for granted. To add an injection of excitement to bread, Allied has given some key products a breakfast-time boost.

“Breakfast is a lucrative market for retailers, having grown 4% since 2007, with Britons enjoying 16.6 billion breakfasts in 2011, equating to £7.3bn,” says Shepherd.

“This presents a huge opportunity, which has been estimated at a potential £18m over the next three years. Kingsmill wants to bring the breakfast occasion back to the bakery category with an innovative new range: Kingsmill Fruit & Fibre. This wholesome and fruity breakfast bakery range is tasty, healthy and also convenient - ideal for the modern consumer.”

The range, which takes in muffins, bagels and bread, aims to be healthy (providing a nutritious hit of whole grain) as well as delivering consumers fruity bread which doesn’t feel heavy.

Elsewhere in the aisle, c-store shoppers don’t mind paying a premium for convenience - and research shows that higher rrps aren’t a barrier to trading-up.

A report from Mintel shows that price is only the third main consideration for buying bread, with 38% of shoppers expressing a willingness to pay more for a better quality loaf. With this in mind, Hovis earlier this year launched a loaf which taps into the trend for quality while tipping a nod to consumers’ appreciation of provenance.

Hovis brand director Matthew Hunt explains: “The new Hovis British Farmers Loaf has all the right ingredients to deliver this - it not only makes heroes of our farmers and British credentials, but offers a unique, quality product with a home-baked feel.”

But although premium products are important for discerning consumers, staying price-sensitive continues to be key on the shop floor. “Customers are always looking for cheaper prices these days, especially on everyday lines,” asserts Jason.

“Generally, price is the main focus of customers, especially new customers, which helps build our business for the future.”•

The sweet spot

sweet bread

As any retailer who has witnessed Britain’s evolution from a bread ‘n butter nation to a brioche ‘n bagel society knows, modern consumers have developed a growing taste for more adventurous bread products.

“Younger consumers appear keen to eat a broad repertoire of baked goods, suggesting a keenness to experiment with new products and flavours beyond just toast,” says Mintel senior food analyst Alex Beckett. “Bread brands can capitalise on this cosmopolitan trend by introducing a wider variety of sweet baked goods to their portfolios,” he adds.

According to Mintel, brioche sales rose a quarter between 2010 and 2011, with the 16-24 age group demanding more sweet stuff to be eaten on-the-go. Pain au chocolat sales were also up 14% over the same period.

Suppliers have been quick to realise this trend and introduce lines to tempt those with a sweet tooth. Allied Bakeries category director Guy Shepherd says: “Kingsmill has recently launched plain and chocolate chip brioche ranges to help retailers take advantage of this growing market.”

The company is also cashing in on the growing bagel market with its new white and 50/50 bagels, which are available in four-packs of white, 50/50 and fruit & fibre.

“Bagels are more popular than ever before, currently being enjoyed at 3.5 million more breakfast occasions than three years ago,” says Janene Warsap, head of innovation at Allied Bakeries. “With 41% of bagels being consumed by families, we’re keen to support our busy consumers by providing a delicious alternative for breakfast.”

The slice is right


According to Guy Shepherd, category director at Allied Bakeries, the secret to good bread sales lies in its merchandising.

He says: “As one of the nation’s favourite foods, consumed by 99% of the population, bread is a crucial category for any c-store retailer. However, with consumption habits constantly evolving, it is important for retailers to stay ahead of trends to ensure that they can maintain and grow their bread sales.”

Here are his top tips:

l Freshness is key. Some 71% of customers check the sell-by dates on bread products in store. To keep the products on-shelf as fresh as possible, make sure staff carry out regular and timely stock rotation

l Consider cross-selling. Bakery is the fourth most important category for bringing customers into a convenience store - so make sure the category is prominently located, and consider cross-selling by placing it near milk to make the most of the morning rush, or spreads for teatime treats

l Ensure that you stay well stocked up throughout the day. Remember that not all bread purchases take place in the morning - 45% take place after 3pm

l Wake and think bake. Having a full fixture between 7am and 9am is crucial as it’s the biggest time for bakery shoppers. Retailers not prepared for the rush may find they miss out on sales.