1. Confectionery topped £2bn last Christmas
After a tough year at the tills, Christmas confectionery could be the gift that retailers have been waiting for all year. This impulse-ready category really sparkled in 2022, with shoppers stocking up on seasonal treats.
“The confectionery category performed strongly during last year’s festive period and was worth over £2bn during Christmas 2022 [IRI],” says Andy Mutton, managing director at Storck UK.
“In fact, 97% of UK households purchased confectionery in the run up to Christmas, spending on average of £55 per person over the season [Kantar] which demonstrates the continued importance of the occasion among consumers and the opportunity for retailers to drive sales.”
Mondelez International believes last year’s success may roll into 2023. “Christmas ’22 was the biggest ever,” says Katie Hill, junior brand manager - Christmas at Mondelez. “Hopefully the snowball effect will [see this] continue in 2023.”
Richard Inglis, owner of several shops in Southampton, says that the category can be a real winner for indies – especially as they have more freedom to merchandise than the mults.
“Christmas confectionery is something that us independents can always make look a little more interesting for customers,” he explains.
“When you go into Tesco you see all the stock on the top of the gondola shelves because they can’t take three days to remerchandise the whole category.”
The fairy on top of the tree is c-stores’ capacity to get properly seasonal. Richard says that there’s no point being a grinch if you’re looking to capitalise on Christmas cheer.
“We try and create a Christmas vibe in-store and make it look a bit different for customers by putting up some decorations,” he says.
“Even if someone comes in and doesn’t buy a huge tub of chocolate they may buy a pack of chocolate coins or something like that. It all counts.”
2. Cost-of-living is the ghost at the feast this Xmas
Beyond all the Christmas baubles there’s no question shoppers have had a hard time in 2022, with inflation making every part of life more expensive. The cost-of-living crisis has certainly shaped Richard’s ordering strategy this Santa season.
“The cost-of-living crisis is going to have an impact [on the category],” he says. “The problem is that you have to order Christmas confectionery very early so it’s always a bit of a gamble. I’ve had to ask myself: are the bigger, more expensive chocolate items going to sell this year?”
In response, Richard says that he’s backed off the bigger chocolate tubs a little. He adds that it’s also impossible to predict the mults’ big confectionery promos.
“A lot of what we order is stuff like the Celebration Tubs and Quality Street Tins,” he says.
“We get a good price from the Co-op. But the market is incredibly price-driven. So if Tesco under-cut us by two pounds then people are going to flood there.”
However, Richard’s sure that people aren’t going to scrimp when it comes to brands this year. He insists that customers will always choose brands over own-brand – especially when it comes to gifting.
Valerie Aston, director at The Proudfoot Group, agrees that at Christmas shoppers are willing to splurge on the right products.
“Customers may well look for value this Christmas, but they will happily spend on gifting and seasonal stock in general,” she says.
Mondelez International is equally confident that the category will continue to perform well following last year’s impressive performance. “Christmas can be difficult (for some) but food and drink is protected,” claims Hill. She points to a consumer research panel the firm set up where people shared plans to save throughout the year in order to be able to continue with family Christmas treats and traditions in 2023.
Chocolate remains an inexpensive way to celebrate Christmas, adds Mars Wrigley UK. “With gifting and sharing remaining an important festive tradition, despite the cost-of-living crisis, consumers are looking for cost-effective ways to provide indulgent treats to loved ones,” says senior Christmas brand manager Cybi Capaldi.
3. Nearly half of shoppers planned to shop earlier last Christmas
Whether the subject is rip-off Christmas fairs, or the size of selection boxes, having a good old moan is as much a great British Christmas tradition as the Royal speech. And one of the things people love to criticise is when Xmas stock goes out “too early.”
Yet they still buy it. “Customers question why the Christmas stock is going out so early – but sales start as soon as the stock is on the shelf,” says Valerie.
Valerie’s strategy is to set out her £1.25/£1.35 confectionery lines, and some of the large tins, in August. Then the full range, crowned with a seasonal aisle, goes live in September. She believes keeping subcategories (like impulse, boxes, tins and advent calendars) clear is essential for success.
“If I could have a Christmas wish for suppliers it would be for them to keep the ranges simple and to price points – don’t overcomplicate the design and packaging but have a clear offering for consumers,” she says.
Early-bird buys can be a smart move from the customer’s point of view too. “Avoiding the last-minute rush, and stocking up from the end of September, is a great way for consumers to space out the amount of money they’re looking to spend over the festive period and so having fully stocked shelves around that time is essential to maximise sales,” says Clare Newton, trade marketing manager at Swizzels.
To meet the lucrative pre-December market Swizzels is bringing back its Mr Swizzels Sweet Shop Advent Calendars featuring Refreshers, Love Hearts and other successful sweetie lines.
4. Sharing novelty formats are now the highest repeat buy at Christmas
Traditional confectionery always earns its place under the tree. But conjuring fresh sales out of Santa’s sack means offering something new on the shelves too.
“In Christmas Confectionery, customers are looking for a point of difference,” says Valerie.
Richard agrees. “I always like to have a punt on the new stuff where I have no idea exactly what it’s going to look like,” he says.“With existing lines you might be looking for the new twist – like a white chocolate or salted caramel variant that wasn’t around last year.”
For manufacturers that means supplying some seasonal novelty in the all-important sharing segment.
Last year, Mondelēz International launched the Cadbury Mini Snowballs Block, which saw the nation’s number two sharing novelty treat (Nielsen), Cadbury Mini Snowballs Bag 80g, take on a tablet format. It has since become the best NPD launch in Christmas sharing novelties in five years, Mondelez claims. For Christmas 2023 Mondelez has added a 296g bag format for Cadbury’s Mini Snowballs range to drive retailers’ incremental sales, as sharing novelty formats are now the highest repeat buy at Christmas (Nielsen).
Also adding interest, Mars is dropping a new Maltesers Christmas Mix, including Reindeers in both milk chocolate and mint flavours, plus a new Celebrations Advent Calendar.
In sweets Kathryn Hague, head of marketing at Hancocks, is expecting happy returns from the pocket-money friendly Candy Realm collection.
“We expect the festive NPD products from the popular Candy Realms brand to be in demand this Christmas,” she says. “Their Christmas range includes affordable impulse buy products, including Festive Mallows, Festive Gummy Pops, Snow Globe, Festive Flash Pop and Festive Mallow Pops.”
5. C-stores are still navigating Ho-Ho-HFSS
For convenience stores that have to cope with them, regulations around products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) are severely depleting Christmas cheer. Despite this, canny retailers are finding work-arounds to keep sales cheerful.
Valerie says that she moved her store’s seasonal focus away from confectionery tubs, which drew footfall but offered poor margins, in light of HFSS laws.
“We moved this volume onto larger tins and displayed [them] in our seasonal aisles. It worked, and we maintained our seasonal sales year-on-year with improved margin,” she says.
Over in Southampton, Richard has seen his counter-top grab and go confectionery swept away by the regulations – so is investing in clip-strips.
“Clip strips are definitely something I’ve been going for [instead] because it’s something that I can stick into aisles all around the shop,” he says.