While the Olympics didn’t deliver for everyone, one event guaranteed to get shoppers spending in c-stores is Christmas. “Christmas continues to be the peak of the confectionery calendar - no doom and gloom can stop that being the case,” says Hancocks purchasing director Jonathan Summerley.

“Representing 10% of total confectionery sales during the last 12 weeks of the year, Christmas confectionery is a key area for independent retailers,” says trade communications manager Graham Walker. “Therefore it’s essential for retailers to stock the right range throughout the season in order to capitalise fully on this opportunity.”

Summerley agrees that timing is crucial. “For most retailers, Christmas should have started by September, even if that is just the space and range planning,” he says. “Leave it too late and another retailer will pick up business that should have been yours.”

Hancocks has witnessed that many consumers are buying into Christmas earlier than they have in the past. “A significant number of shoppers start planning their own Christmas early, preferring to pick up gifts, decorations and other items gradually, helping to spread the cost over a number of months,” says Summerley.

Kraft has also noted that the season is starting earlier. “Consumer trends, dictated by the current economic climate, have changed the way that shoppers spend at this time of year,” says trade communications manager Susan Nash. “Last year, shoppers bought their Christmas tree on average one week earlier than in 2010, therefore, retailers need to be ready to get a fast start on the season.”

The firm has launched a Seasons Made Simple guide to help retailers work out what to put on shelf when. “Seasons Made Simple should help de-mystify some of the things suppliers do,” says customer marketing controller Dave Evans. “Retailers have worries and concerns about what to stock - they have so many choices. We want to simplify this for them. Timing is everything and it is one of the biggest features retailers have. Getting started early can be a real chance to get sales.”

Retailer view

Vip Panchmatia

“We’ve seen the likes of Thorntons chocolates and other premium lines do well, rather than the mainstream tubs of Celebrations. We can’t compete with the big boys with the tins, so they’re out of the equation.

Novelty packaging, such as foil-wrapped characters, still does well. We have a school nearby and the kids buy them as gifts for their friends and the teachers, while parents buy them for their kids.

There have been spending cutbacks in recent years, but certain lines still do well. Cadbury Wishes did well last year, so did the Aero Christmas Tree and the Quality Street Purple bars, which I had in dumpbins around the store. I had self-eats in-store from October, and then I had boxed chocolates out in November, and a bigger display come December.

We get last minute purchases on the day itself because we’re open til 3pm. Boxed chocolates, such as Ferrero Rocher and Milk Tray are popular gifts.”

Vip Panchmatia, Hexagon Stores, Andover, Hants

Early season impulse plays a key role in September and October, says Phil Sargison, Thorntons’ commercial director: “Look out for imaginative Christmas self-eat lines, including chocolate lollies like Thorntons Santa & Reindeer offerings to get people into the spirit of Christmas.” This year, Thorntons has extended the range to include white chocolate lolly Sydney Snowman (rrp 75p).

Another new self-eat hoping to get tills ringing is Galaxy Gift For You Truffle (rrp 65p). Mars Chocolate’s Christmas self-eat category experienced a whopping 60% growth rate in 2011 when it unveiled Galaxy Gift For You Caramel. The company is confident that the truffle variant, which comprises one half solid chocolate and the other filled with truffle, can drive further growth.

“Seasonal impulse confectionery is fantastic news for independent retailers and should be their number one area of focus,” adds Nestlé’s Walker. “With sales up 53% over the past two years, seasonal impulse brings new shoppers into the singles category with an additional 1.25 million shoppers buying into chocolate singles in 2011. These shoppers are typically attracted by the novelty of the packs and the big brand appeal.”

The firm’s Aero Christmas Tree and Quality Street My Purple Bar will be brightening shelves for another year. “In 2011 not only was My Purple Bar the season’s biggest confectionery launch it was also the number one seasonal confectionery product within independents full stop, contributing £1.1m in value sales,” says Walker. This year My Purple Bar has received a packaging revamp, plus outers have been reduced to 30 to make them more affordable for independents.

Aero Christmas Tree will also boast new packaging in order to make it more appealing to women.

Cadbury Wishes was another big seller last Christmas and will be available to order from August this year. As in previous years, 10% of all profits from Cadbury Wishes will be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “This makes the novelty product ideal for a time of year when giving and charity are at the front of consumers’ minds and is something that retailers can dial up in their displays to increase sales,” says Nash.

Cadbury also has a few more self-eat treats up its sleeve with Magic Elves, Snowbites, and Cadbury Dairy Milk Coins all returning to the fore.

Hancocks also has plenty of smaller products that retailers can use to ease consumers into the festive spirit. The firm’s Chocolate Coins are a proven winner, whilst Snowman and Santa Christmas Chocolate Pops (rrp 75p) offer something new for 2012.

Further down the line, towards the end of October retailers can begin to build on their gifting ranges. One gifting line never far from consumers’ minds come Christmas is Terry’s Chocolate Orange, which has received a winter makeover resulting in better stand out. Kraft is introducing a new toffee crunch flavour to the range for 2012, priced at £2.69.

Another favourite is Toblerone, which sold over seven million 400g bars in the run up to Christmas 2011. This year, the bar will be decorated in a festive sleeve featuring snow and silhouettes of Santa.

Tubes have also proven a popular stocking filler in recent years. Mars’ Maltesers and Galaxy’s Minstrels will be returning for 2012. The square format of Mars tubes makes them more space efficient and easier to stack, notes trade communications manager Bep Dhaliwal.

A value range of tubes is available from Hancocks, with 14 lines the selection, all priced at £1. “The popularity of and high demand for £1 confectionery products continues to be an important trend in the market place and will certainly continue into the festive season,” says Summerley. “There are endless occasions when shoppers need to grab a token gift and confectionery easily fits the bill, whether for friends, family, colleagues or teachers.”

Not wanting to miss out, Nestlé will also be back with its giant tubes featuring Smarties and Milkybar. “In 2011 Nestlé giant tubes performed ahead of the market, with sales up 3.8% and 400,000 more households buying into this segment,” says Walker.

The firm’s novelty Smarties Penguin and Milkybar Polar Bear will also be back for 2012, having undergone a redesign to make the characters more appealing.

Other Christmas characters making an appearance over the festive period will be Kraft’s foil-wrapped Cadbury Santa and Snowman.

Thorntons is also making waves in novelties with total growth rising from £700,000 in 2010 to £2.7m in 2011. This was driven by sales of chocolate models, with a 250g Jolly Santa being a key seller. This year, the firm has added a 250g Ronnie Reindeer to the range.

But it’s not all about giving - consumers will also be looking for products they can enjoy with others. “Don’t forget Christmas is also about sharing,” reminds Sargison. “Ensure products are available for people to buy for occasions they spend with friends and family - twistwrap boxes and after dinner chocolates such as mints will be key.”

The prevalence of the sharing trend is continuing, concurs Dhaliwal. “The festive season gives the category an added boost as consumers look to stock up on treats to enjoy with friends and family and to gift to others.”

Celebrations is now the number one twistwrap brand and has been given a packaging redesign with a new ‘8 famous brands’ message.

Nestlé agrees that twistwraps are must-stock products for c-stores. “For independent retailers looking to capitalise on sharing confectionery, twistwrap cartons are a key distress purchase,” says Walker. “And, with 37% of twistwrap bought on impulse, standout on fixture is essential.” For this reason, the firm has launched a new look 350g Quality Street gift carton (rrp £4.38). “The design has a more contemporary and giftworthy feel,” says Walker. Sales of the carton were up 5% in independents last year.

The confectioner is also hoping to give Black Magic packs a more giftworthy feel with a redesign.

Meanwhile, Ferrero is working its magic this Christmas with over three million limited edition Rocher packs being launched from September. Three-piece treat packs and 16-piece gifting boxes are labelled with ‘celebrate with us’ messaging in aid of Rocher’s 30th birthday.

Ferrero Rocher and Collection are also returning to TV screens this year. “Both Ferrero Rocher and Collection will benefit from a heavyweight £6m marketing investment strongly weighted towards TV advertising, which is set to give the Ferrero brand number one share of voice in food during the Christmas period for a second consecutive year,” says customer development director Levi Boorer. The Rocher ad will run for eight weeks from November 1 and Collection for five weeks from mid-November.

The Ferrero Collection 16-pack alone has added £1m to category sales, up 65% year-on-year, claims the firm. This year, coconut variant Raffaello is being given greater recognition alongside Rocher and Rond Noir.

With an increase in family get togethers come Christmas time, there is plenty of demand for after-dinner treats. “There is a clear trend in boxed chocolates for growth with dessert boxes, up 44% in the last year,” claims Sargison. “This Christmas, Thorntons has created a box of chocolates that is inspired by favourite British puddings with classic favourites such as rhubarb crumble, jam roly poly and sticky toffee pudding.” Great British Puddings are priced at £5.99.

Also new are Mint Batons. Boxes contain 16 peppermint-centred batons wrapped in dark chocolate, retailing at £3.99.

Elizabeth Shaw is also adding some innovation to the festive mix with Amaretto Crisp. The 175g packs have been launched to build on the popularity of Amaretto-flavoured drinks at Christmas time and are priced at £3.69.

Another after dinner treat, Nestlé’s Matchmakers, is making its mark over Christmas with a new pack design, which helps to better differentiate the Mint and Orange flavours.

After Eight, which is now in its 50th year, is also expected to perform well this Christmas, with limited edition packs featuring celebratory fireworks. The 300g format is worth £13.6m, and has been the best-selling Christmas confectionery pack outside of tins for the past three years, claims Nestlé. And for consumers looking to trade up, the firm has launched a £3.99 premium box of assorted mint chocolates, After Eight Collection, in time for Christmas.

With so much on offer, it is vital that retailers take time to consider all their options before choosing the most suitable lines for their stores. “The allocation of space on specific sub-categories is different for many individual stores. Retailers should make decisions based on their own product performance in sales and margin,” says Nisa trading controller Brian Porter. “Controlling seasonal range sizes is a good idea as less can often be more.”

But provided they choose wisely, Christmas 2012 could well prove to deliver on the confectionery front, claims Mars. “Retailers should be looking forward to a strong seasonal period as shoppers look to treat themselves as well as others,” says Dhaliwal.

Summerley is equally confident. “2011 demonstrated that shoppers continue to buy festive treats and gifts, sometimes replacing more expensive gifts with more affordable sweets and chocolates,” he says. “Confectionery is definitely a good place to be at Christmas.” ■

Santa’s sugar fix

While chocolate may be very much a focal point at Christmas, it is also worth considering alternatives. “Chocolate is always going to dominate the Christmas confectionery season, however we believe there is the opportunity for sugar confectionery,” says Stuart Lane, commercial director at Leaf. The firm’s Chewits Selection Box is back for 2012.

Nisa trading controller Brian Porter agrees: “As long as a product is well branded and in a good seasonal pack that will add value then it would be beneficial for retailers to stock additional sugar seasonal lines.”

With tubes a proven winner, Nestlé’s Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles and Pick n Mix options (rrp: £1.38) are sure to have festive appeal.

And for something a little different, The Jelly Bean Factory’s new 100g Christmas tubes (rrp £2) are available in Santa’s Sleigh Beans Snowbeans and the delightfully-sounding Red Nosed Rudolph variants.

Sugar cartons are another popular format, with value sales up 5.7% in 2011, according to Nestlé. The firm claims that 67% of Rowntree’s Randoms carton (rrp £3.07) sales are incremental to the category.

Kraft Foods achieved a 68% share of the sugar cartons sub-category last year. The likes of Maynards Wine Gums and Bassetts Allsorts will be given a yuletide spruce up, with Kraft adding gift tags to packs.

Thorntons is also venturing into sugar confectionery with the launch of strawberry-flavoured Christmas Rocks, retailing at £1.

Another chocolate alternative set is Walkers Nonsuch toffee. The Duo contains one Nutty Brazil and one Original Creamy bar, along with a novelty toffee hammer and instructions on how to break each bar. The firm also has a 250g Toffees and Eclairs carton, which is ideal for sharing.

ones to watch

Posh chocs

Nestlé’s premium boxed chocolates After Eight Collection make ideal dinner party gifts. Boxes contain a selection of moulded dark and white mint chocolates. Packs are decorated with firework imagery to celebrate 50 years of After Eight.

rrp: £3.99

tel: 01904 604604

Christmas puds

Thorntons has devised an after dinner sweet selection to appeal to patriotic consumers. Great British Puddings is a box of chocolates inspired by traditional dessert recipes, including rhubarb crumble, jam roly poly and sticky toffee pudding.

rrp: £5.99

tel: 01773 542392

Boxing clever

Hancocks has a Christmas gifting solution in form of a new range of boxed Kingsway Liqueurs. The chocolates are available in five varieties: Remy liqueurs, cherry brandy liqueurs, Cointreau liqueurs, Teachers liqueurs and Irish Cream Liqueurs.

rrp: £1

tel: 01509 216644

Gourmet gifting

This September the Jelly Bean Factory is launching a range of Gourmet Jelly Beans coated in Belgian chocolate. Priced at £3.50 for 110g, the collection comprises four single flavour packs in raspberry, mint, coffee and cherry (rrp: £3.50 for 110g) plus a 110g fruit mix flavour pack.

tel: 00353 1640 9333.

Birthday bonanza

To celebrate Ferrero Rocher’s 30th birthday, Ferrero will be offering limited edition packs on promotion through cash and carry and wholesale partners throughout the festive season. Along with Ferrero Collection, Rocher will be supported by £6m media spend over Christmas.

tel: 01923 690 300