With retailers busy improving their fresh and chilled range, it’s important to remember to pull in canned and ambient sales through strong cross-merchandising. 

Though many retailers may be turning their attention away from ambient and towards fresh and chilled foods to attract today’s shoppers, there is an unquestionable need for a good range within the canned & ambient category. Not only does it feature many regularly-purchased staple foods – 99% of UK households buy canned goods (Kantar Worldpanel 52 week ending 22 May 2016) – but it is also evolving with the trend towards fresher, healthier foods.

Gary Bilbrough, manager of Nisa Local in Toddington, Bedfordshire, says it is one of the most important categories in his store.

“Canned & ambient and fresh are the first two categories my shoppers see on entering the store, because those are the two most important to their shopping needs. Someone might buy an ambient stir-in sauce one day and on the next shopping trip they’ll buy the fresh ingredients to make the sauce themselves.”

He thinks his shoppers are becoming more adventurous with their home cooking, which is why he increased his world cuisine range of ambient products about six months ago. He noticed more people picking up cooking sauces to help create dishes with ease.

Gary also observes the influence of the seasons. “Several lines are extremely important at different times of the year, as the category is so weather dependent. In the summer we sell loads of salad dressings, bbq sauces and tinned new potatoes. In a month or so we’ll be selling loads of soup,” he says.

To add to the theme, in a recent Usage & Attitudinal study conducted for Heinz (June 2016), canned soup was highlighted as the number one convenient format for in-home consumption.

Chris King, assistant manager at Budgens Broadstairs in Kent, agrees that the category is one of the essentials for the store.

“The staple items are very important, such as the Heinz baked beans. In a convenience store, people expect to be able to walk in and pick up those sorts of basic, necessary items.”

Across grocery, convenience is increasingly influencing shoppers as they seek quick and easy mealtime solutions. Yilmaz Erceyes, brand director of savoury meals at Premier Foods, says: “Convenient, time-saving products remain popular, and with the top-up shop occasion becoming more common, it is vital that independent retailers are stocking a range of ambient products that offer quick meal solutions.”

Premier Foods gets trendy

Premier Foods hopes to attract younger, health-conscious consumers to the soup category with its new Batchelors High Protein Cup-a- Soup range which comes in spicy chorizo bean, Mediterranean vegetable & bean, Mexican bean and spiced lentil.

Antonia Goldring, senior brand manager for Batchelors, says: “As the first cup soup brand to have a high-protein claim, our new High Protein range has 20% of its calorie content derived from protein, so is a great step towards targeting the younger generation who are becoming increasingly health conscious. People are now more aware of the benefits of protein and almost 20% of UK adults are actively upping their consumption of this nutrient (Kantar Usage Data 2016).”

In addition, the Sharwood’s brand now has a pan-Asian ‘World Inspired’ range, alongside microwavable side dishes that include saag aloo, Bombay potatoes, chickpea sabji and tarka dahl.

Premier Foods brand director for cooking sauces, 
kits and accompaniments, Yilmaz Erceyes, says: “92% of UK households are buying into the cooking sauces category (Kantar Worldpanel), but younger shoppers are not that excited by what they are seeing on shelves. Our research has also shown that there is an opportunity to attract younger consumers with the flavours from their out-of-home favourites.”

Meanwhile, Homepride has added an ‘Extra Veg’ Pasta Bakes range.

Heinz’ canned and ambient product portfolio offers consumers side-of-plate meal accompaniments such as Flavoured Beanz, as well as complete meal solutions such as the Creationz, soups and pasta ranges.

Umme Ali, assistant brand manager for Heinz Beanz, says: “Kraft Heinz tapped into consumer feedback for new flavours with the extension of its Heinz Beanz portfolio. Peri peri beanz and smokey bacon beanz have joined the existing Flavoured Beanz range of bbq, curry and fiery chilli.”

This July, Kraft Heinz revamped its Heinz Creationz beans and pulses range by introducing Mexican beanz, veg chilli beanz, curry lentils and tagine chickpeas.

“With consumers increasingly looking for more excitement from their evening meal, but having less and less time to do so, the Heinz Beanz Flavours range helps consumers to add some interest to their meal with minimal effort.”

Gary has noticed more people picking up variants of products with added flavour. For example, he’s had to expand his cooking oils range to include several infused options such as chilli or garlic.

Many brands are playing on this trend with NPD. Empire Bespoke Foods, for example, has just added spice to its offering with new French’s Classic Yellow Spicy Mustard (rrp £1.25). The new variant offers the same taste of the classic product but with a hint of cayenne pepper.

Broadening tastes

Dean Holborn, owner of two Holborns stores in Redhill and Nutfield, Surrey, has noticed shoppers wanting more interesting flavours and has been driving interest in this category by introducing more premium and ‘quirky’ lines alongside the mainstay ranges.

“One really popular range is from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of White. They have a wide range of ambient products with good margins and they provide a great point of difference. We found them at the National Convenience Show and we devoted our table to a selection of their products to see how they went, and they went really well.”

The range includes a host of sauces, spreads, salad dressings and chutneys, including Toasted Garlic Mayonnaise, Garlic Jam, Tomato Ketchup & Chilli and Garlic Dressing.

Consumers are showing an increasing interest in unusual flavours when it comes to ambient fruit, too, says Georgina Edmonds, marketing manager at Nature’s Finest. In response, Nature’s Finest has introduced a range of premium fruit snacks: juicy pineapple in coconut water and juicy mango in coconut water.

Graham Breed, marketing director at Princes, says canned fruit is worth £89m (SIG all outlets data 52 weeks ending 21 May 2016) as more than half of all UK households buy canned fruit (Kantar Worldpanel 52 weeks ending 19 June 2015). In independents and symbols, Princes is the brand leader and now accounts for 53% of total value sales (IRI Independent and symbols data 52 weeks ending 21 May 2016).

Edmonds adds: “Convenience stores should look to position ambient fruit pots in the chilled cabinets alongside sandwiches for a healthy snack solution in meal deal offerings.”

Gary uses this sort of thinking to increase impulse purchasing across the category. He explains: “I’ll put the baked beans under the chilled bacon and I’ll put the salad dressings next to packs of salad. It encourages people to pick up a well-suited product they may not have bothered to find otherwise.”

Edmonds says: “The main consumer trend to impact the category is health. Consumers continue to be extremely health conscious.”

Gary says people are choosing alternatives with less salt and sugar, such as butter beans instead of baked beans. He has also noticed an increase in the types of tinned veg people want to purchase. He now stocks tinned runner beans and asparagus.

Pippa Murray, founder of Pip & Nut, says there is no doubt sugar is on the agenda across the board. In the spreads category it is impacting sales of jams and honey, which are in decline, compared with nut butter which is in 11.4% year-on-year growth in supermarkets due to its perception as a healthy alternative that is also high in protein.

Cirio’s joint managing director Diego Pariotti says Cirio tomatoes have no added sugar and consumers’ heightened awareness of hidden salt and sugar in sauces may be the reason that Cirio has noticed an increase in scratch cooking.

“Volume sales of ambient tomatoes are up by 3% year on year. Tomato products including passata, purée and speciality are soaring, with combined volume growth of 10.6% (+£3.3m) over the past three years,” he says.

The range of on-trend NPD and continued positive sales figures shows the importance of this category, despite some retailers viewing it as untrendy or tired.

Susie Hawkins, director of Simon Smith Group, invigorates the category by bringing in ‘niche’ lines.

“All traditional lines such as baked beans and soups are relatively steady in terms of their performance, but we have complemented that range with lines from smaller, lesser-known suppliers who can help us offer niche products.”

Some examples of Susie’s niche offering include Eat 17 bacon jams, Atkins sauces and Scarlett and Mustard salad dressings.

“It’s important to keep the standard items, but these [different products] help us to stand out from the competition,” Susie concludes.

A fresh take on ambient from I Am Super Foods

Barney Mauleverer, co-founder of I Am Super Foods, says the I Am Souper and I Am Super Grains ranges are aimed at anyone looking for convenient meals which are high in protein and fibre and low in sugar.

“The high-profile media focus on reducing excessive sugar is pushing younger consumers to be more discerning when looking for fast and nutritious meal time solutions – one thing they are looking for more and more is protein with fewer calories, less sugar and less fat.”

I Am Souper looks and tastes like fresh soup but offers protein-boosted benefits along with the convenience of long-life products with a 12-month shelf life. Four high protein flavours are available: peppered beef & superbeans; chicken & supergrains; supergreens; and pulled pork & jalapeno. They have an rrp of £1.49.

I Am Super Grains is a new range of ready-to-eat grain mixes in microwaveable pouches (rrp £1.99 per 250g). Combinations in the range include: barley, sweet potato & chorizo; quinoa, mixed peppers & lentils; bulgur wheat, chickpea & chive; and spelt, borlotti bean and mint.