The Easter opportunity goes much further than chocolate eggs as shoppers use the four-day break to celebrate together and indulge

There once was a time, not that long ago, when the concept of an Easter egg hunt quite simply consisted of some foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, an old basket or whatever receptacle mum had to hand, and a sweet toothed child. However, this time-honoured tradition has evolved somewhat, with egg hunts becoming increasingly elaborate affairs. In 2018 children and adults alike can take part in “scavenger hunts” across wild and challenging landscapes, smartphone-enabled GPS hunts, and for the nocturnal chocolate lover, even night hunts using glow-in-the-dark eggs and paint.

And it’s not just the Easter egg hunts that are evolving; the very way in which UK shoppers now celebrate the long Easter weekend is changing, with many families increasingly viewing the break as a “mini Christmas,” holding multiple get-togethers over the four-day holiday.

David Knight, of Knight’s Budgens Hassocks and Henfield, East Sussex, explains: “Easter has always been a big deal for us and it’s getting more substantial each year. We call it a mini Christmas as we see a significant sales spike in the run-up to it as people plan big family get-togethers.

“We spend quite a bit of time planning and preparing our fresh range so that local people have all they need to cook a fantastic roast lunch. We always ensure that we have a good supply of spring lamb for roasting, as well as whole chickens.

“Beef topside is also a safe bet and sells well. We even take orders for local turkey as some people, my family included, love to have a roast turkey on Easter Sunday. It’s far too nice just to keep for Christmas!”

The Southern Co-operative says it plans to have a lamb shoulder on special offer for Easter 2018 and is also planning to roll out a new chilled complete meal deal, which it says it is “confident will provide some growth in sales for Easter lunch”.

“Wine also does well at Easter, particularly prosecco, and we will have competitive promotional price points on prosecco,” a spokeswoman for The Southern Co-operative adds.

Port will also be on promotion. “Easter is the other time outside of Christmas that we promote Port, as people often have big family meal occasions and want something sweet for after dinner,” she adds.

The Co-operative Group sees a 60% uplift across its own brand red meat roasting offer during Easter (combined uplift based on beef, lamb and pork roasting joints). “For our customers, Easter at Co-op is all about British lamb, with volume up 86% over Easter,” Kim Eriksen, Co-op customer planner for fresh and frozen says.

However, the good old British weather can, and often does, throw a spanner in the works. Last year Easter fell very late and during a period of above-average temperatures, meaning that Easter roasts were out and BBQs and bangers were the order of the day.

Warmer weather was one of the reasons why Kantar Worldpanel data released by AHDB Beef & Lamb showed lacklustre lamb demand from UK consumers during Easter 2017.

In fact, in the 12-week period leading up to 24 April 2017, total lamb sales fell by 14% compared with the previous year. Leg roasting joints, which make up about half of the volume of lamb sold in the UK, declined by 17% last year.

It wasn’t only lamb that suffered, with roasts driving a decline across other proteins as well, with the traditional meal centrepiece recording a year-on-year drop in volumes sold, reports AHDB Beef & Lamb.

“With the good weather throughout April, BBQ sales were strong, pushing the demand for alternative proteins. Sales of sausages recorded growth over the 12 weeks, with an additional 450,000 households buying this product,” it adds.

David agrees that the weather can definitely pose a challenge to retailers going after the fresh and chilled Easter market, but obviously it depends on when Easter falls. “Easter Sunday falls on April 1 this year, though, so my money is on chillier temperatures and roasts all round!” he adds.

Soft drinks offer sweet opportunities

“Easter is a key time for socialising at home and celebrating the long bank holiday with family and friends,” says Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP).

“Whatever the reason for the gathering, it’s likely that an accompanying drink will be an essential purchase for most consumers over Easter, particularly given that 21% of people now choose not to drink alcohol,” explains Burgess.

She says that with many people planning impromptu get-togethers over the long weekend, it’s likely that they will turn to their local store to stock up at the last minute, so it’s important retailers focus on getting their range right to make the most of the opportunity.

Burgess adds: “Dedicated Easter shelves that showcase soft drinks alongside seasonal gifts and sharing snacks can encourage shoppers to stock up, leading to incremental growth for retailers. These displays can be located in prominent positions, such as near the entrance, or adjacent to the tills, encouraging shoppers to make impulse buys.

“Consumers are demanding choice, so retailers should begin keeping stock of as wide a range of soft drinks variants as possible, helping to make the most of the opportunity the Bank Holiday presents.”

CCEP also recommends that retailers display a good range of adult soft drinks such as Appletiser and Schweppes tonic, for consumers looking to curb their Easter indulgence.

“Retailers can also benefit from increasing demand for reduced-sugar soft drinks by stocking a variety of products, such as Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Fanta Zero, Schweppes Slimline and Glacéau Smartwater,” Burgess 


Party time

Easter isn’t just about the one big Sunday meal, David adds. “We have also noticed that more people are entertaining friends and having drinks parties over the Easter weekend, in addition to the big family lunch, which means that having a good range of party foods and canapés is also important, although they can be trickier to source than at Christmas,” he says.

His comments are echoed by IGD data, which finds that many shoppers are moving on from the conventional Easter Sunday lunch, with 26% opting for weekend-long celebrations that extend beyond cooking one big meal.

IGD shopper insight manager Vanessa Henry says: “Our research shows a clear move away from the traditional Easter celebrations that centre around cooking one main meal on the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend with lamb being the conventional choice.

“Instead, shoppers are now viewing the holiday as a four-day event that brings with it multiple opportunities for meals and entertaining, one key part of which is experimenting with alternative main meal options such as fish and chicken.

“Retailers should see this as an opportunity to drive a broader range of different meal occasions instead of just the traditional one celebratory meal, and the spontaneous nature of shopper planning for the holiday means businesses can successfully engage with their customers up until the last minute to influence and support with meal planning.

“Although most shoppers aren’t planning to eat out over the bank holiday to celebrate Easter, the large proportion of those without plans present a last-minute opportunity for out-of-home as well as for dining in.”

Provenance also plays a part of the bank holiday meal planning, with 17% of shoppers saying they buy more British-sourced food and grocery products at Easter, IGD reports.

And you can’t get more British or local than homemade. As such Easter also represents a big opportunity for home-baking, with ingredients such as margarine, flour and cooking chocolate all enjoying increased sales during the period, Julie Salhotra, senior brand manager for Jus-Rol says.

In 2017 the Easter period saw a 20% rise for total baking and 22% for Jus-Rol sales in the convenience channel alone.

“Easter is the holiday of pies and tarts, and Google searches for the term ‘pastry’ rise by 13% in Easter week, compared with the previous week, as people seek recipes to feed their families over the break,” Jus-Rol claims.

“As the first family holiday since Christmas, Easter represents a welcome break from work or school and families can capitalise on that by creating fun around baking at home,” Salhotra says.

“The sweet shortcrust pastry sheets are a particularly good option for Easter, allowing the user to bake dessert pies or tarts. Alternatively, Jus-Rol produces a range of ready-to-bake items, such as chocolate chip cookie dough and cinnamon swirls, which can be baked off and shared as treats over the Easter period,” she adds.

And while classic Easter bakes such as Simnel Cakes and Chocolate Nests still rank highly in the home-baking popularity stakes, many shoppers are also looking to add fresh twists to classics – for example, hot cross cupcakes, scones or loaves, says Jan McKee, executive head of marketing at Dr Oetker UK.

She adds: “Chocolate macaroon simnel cakes are also becoming popular. Home bakers are also being more creative with ingredients, particularly with hot cross buns. Chocolate is a huge trend, and chocolate chips, caramel and toffee are appearing in more hot cross bun recipes, whether as an addition or to make a chocolate dough.”

In fact, a quick Google search also returns a haul of delicious savoury hot cross bun recipes such as cheddar cheese and onion and chili and tomato, perfect for lunchtime munching.

“Easter is the second biggest occasion in the home baking calendar after Christmas as it appeals to a range of demographics,” McKee explains. “From families baking themed mini treats for parties or as gifts, to proud home bakers producing stunning centerpieces for family gatherings, and the older generation rustling up traditional cakes and buns, there’s a huge opportunity for sales.

“The cake decoration and ingredients sector, worth £138m, was up 36% in value sales in the week before Easter compared with the annual average, showing the opportunity for sales during this period,” she adds.

And for those who prefer not to have to sweat it out in the kitchen and buy their bakes, pre-made cakes and biscuits are also a must over the Easter period.

“Easter opens up multiple opportunities in the convenience channel, including impulse purchases, self-treating and sharing,” says Jess Ali, marketing controller of seasonal Cadbury and Mr Kipling at Premier Foods.

“We know shoppers consider Easter as a family-orientated occasion and we want to offer a selection of exciting treats that can be shared with friends and family during the seasonal occasion, with our variety of small and large cakes.

“Over Easter last year, our Cadbury Mini Egg Choc Cakes and Mr Kipling Lemon Fancies were our two most popular products. Both of these iconic cakes can help independent retailers compete with the multiples and attract customers who need to top up in between their weekly shops.

“In the build-up to Easter 2017, Mr Kipling and Cadbury Cakes both saw growth on the previous year’s performance; combined Easter sales of Mr Kipling and Cadbury Cakes were up £1.6m, demonstrating the demand for sweet treats at this time of year and the sales opportunity for independent,” she adds.

Top tips for cracking Easter displays

Retailers must not underestimate the importance and impact of merchandising products correctly, and the effect this can have on sales, says Hancocks purchasing director Jonathan Summerley.

He has these tips to help retailers get the most from their confectionery category:

Ensure regularly updated fixtures are located in high footfall areas. This will keep the store looking fresh and enticing

Improve incremental sales by placing products around the store and away from the main fixture – 
for example, on gondola ends – as this encourages customers to walk down aisles they may not have done initially. Displaying countlines and sharing packs near the tills as well as on gondola ends are sure to increase impulse purchases

Retailers should ensure displays are changed to suit seasonality and should use the opportunity to communicate to their customers exactly what they are planning to sell and when

Consider cross-merchandising, which is becoming ever more popular as it can vastly increase impulse purchases and is perfect for creating interesting and engaging displays. Cross-merchandising also makes it easier for customers to shop

Retailers need to ensure products are balanced and not asymmetrical; consumers tend to take notice of evenly displayed items. It’s good practice to work in groups of threes instead of just displaying one item

Create a focal point that draws consumers to the display and then keep their attention by catering for as many senses as possible. Taste is a great way to engage customers and measure the popularity of products

Utilise all the space around a display, suspend props from the ceiling and use floor stickers to achieve maximum impact. Price all items clearly and stock pricemarked packs prominently because in addition to making products stand out on shelves, they help independent retailers break down the misconception that convenience stores are more expensive than multiples. PMPs reassure customers they are getting value for money and therefore build consumer trust.


Flower power

But, of course, Easter isn’t all about edible delights. Cut flowers and plants also form a key part of many store’s sales mixes and the Southern Co-operative says that this Easter it’s expecting a 20% uplift on flower sales compared with 2017.

The Co-operative Group, meanwhile, says that horticulture “is a real hero for Co-op at Easter, as convenience comes into play, with sales increasing by up to 70% compared with a normal week”.

Sally Croft of Croft Stores (Nisa) in Silverstone, Northamptonshire, sources a range of cut flowers from two local suppliers.

“Flowers are becoming a really big seller and we source our range from a couple of local suppliers in and around Northampton. It’s important to have a good range of price points, from small bunches of daffodils priced at £2.50 that children can gift to their mothers, right up to larger, beautiful bouquets 
for £20.”

David also stocks an attractive cut flower offer, but adds a wow factor with beautiful spring planters. “Flower sales also do really well. We always have a good range of cut flowers such as daffodils and tulips, but planters are what it’s all about for us. We sell literally thousands of pounds-worth of attractive spring planters. People buy them as gifts, but also for themselves, using them to brighten their homes for guests when entertaining.”

Using flowers as a USP is also a trick of Harry and Roger Sraw’s. The husband and wife duo always make a point of visiting their local fresh produce market to buy blooms to brighten their Today’s Extra store in Basingstoke.

“We used to stock lots of shell eggs, but we have decided to do less and less as it’s just impossible to compete with the likes of Lidl and Tesco locally. Plants, however, are an area that we can definitely compete on, though. We go to the local fresh produce market, Western International, and pick up some really pretty plants and cut flowers for gifting which are always a big hit with shoppers and create an attractive display in the front of the store,” Harry says.

Cards are also becoming an increasingly big win at Easter, Sally points out. “We’ve always done quite well with cards, but Easter is a really key time and we make sure to expand our range with a wide variety of Easter occasion cards and we are noticing sales growth here. I think Easter is becoming a bigger and bigger event, almost like a second Christmas and as a result more people are starting to send cards and are being invited to Easter get-togethers or entertaining themselves which in turn boosts sales.”

What’s hot in home baking this Easter

Bunny cupcakes – rabbits are synonymous with Easter and hugely popular with children. Dr Oetker says it is seeing the rise in creative bunny-themed cupcakes and biscuits, with home bakers creating bunnies or bunny ears out of icing.

Branded confectionery – Easter Eggs are a key treat for the occasion, and this crosses over into home baking with consumers increasingly adding confectionery to their bakes. 
Dr Oetker has seen creative ideas such as Creme Egg brownies or donuts, and Mini Egg rocky road.

Stunning centrepieces – indulgent cakes with stunning decoration will continue to be a huge trend. Elaborate themed decorations such as a variety of branded confectionery and chocolate bars, drip cakes and mirror glazing with a spring or Easter theme will be prominent.

Permissible health – the use of nuts and raw ingredients will be more frequent in baking throughout the spring and 2018.

Source: Dr Oetker


Get crafty

In addition, craft kits for children are another great way to add interest to retailers’ Easter ranges and engage young shoppers, she adds. “Last Easter we did really well selling little felt bags that children could decorate to collect their eggs in and then have a keepsake after the chocolates have been eaten!

“We also sell things such as PVA glue, coloured tissue paper and sequins for children and adults alike to decorate eggs with. From talking to parents it seems like it’s not all about chocolate at Easter egg hunts. Apparently, decorating eggs to be hidden is also growing in popularity so we try to cater for that too,” she adds.

Anita Nye of Premier Eldred Drive Stores in Orpington, Kent, is also keen to encourage crafty kids this Easter and ensures she has lines to keep children busy.

“This year we’ll be stocking craft packs from PMS International to enable kids to make their own Easter Bonnets, which I’m expecting to sell well. It’s nice to offer something different and creative for the kids to get stuck into and they’re always keen to give things a go. I’ll probably make up a few myself to decorate the store with, which should create some impact,” she says.

Anita also stocks a range of small teddy bears which she says make popular gifts for those people who don’t necessarily want to buy chocolate eggs, and Easter money wallets for those who prefer to give cash. “Sales of sugar confectionery also rise in the run-up to Easter as not everyone necessarily wants chocolate,” she adds.

“Last year we added some Haribo tubs to the range, which were really popular, so we’ll be doing more of those this year, too,” she adds.

Sugar confectionery sales do indeed accelerate in the run-up to Easter. According to Tangerine Confectionery, during the eight weeks ahead of Easter last year, sales grew by a substantial 14%.

Tangerine Confectionery’s category and marketing director Russell Tanner advises retailers to focus on the largest growth areas of sugar confectionery, which he says are the gummy and chewy sharing bags and kids’ singles sweets.

As consumers are increasingly opting for a variety of Easter treats, not just the chocolate egg, sugar confectionery plays a vital role during the season, he adds.

“Tangerine’s single-pack treats, such as Wham Bamz Sour Cosmic Jelly Beans, are expected to fly off shelves this Easter, with March and April being two of the strongest months for Jelly Bean sales. The small size bags are an appealing alternative for parents who are looking to treat their children while remaining conscious of portion control.”

Tanner adds that the modern addition to the Wham family is also expected to be in high demand with adults, who grew up with the much-loved Wham Bars and who want to relive memories of their childhoods.”

Egg-citing opportunities from Cadbury

To celebrate the release of Peter Rabbit in UK cinemas from 16 March, Cadbury is teaming up with the film for an on-pack promotion offering five families the chance to win a holiday in the Lake District – the home of Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter.

Other Peter Rabbit-themed prizes include tote bags, bunny ears and carrot pens. The promotional packs will span the brand’s family sharing and gifting ranges.

Cadbury is also adding to its shell egg range with the launch of Cadbury Dairy Milk Peter Rabbit Easter Egg and Toy pack (72g, £6.99 rrp). The new product will combine the Cadbury Easter egg with a toy character from the film.

Hortense Rothenburger, senior brand manager for Easter at Mondelez International, says the collaboration will drive even more excitement during the season.

“What’s more, toys are the third biggest gift category after chocolate and flowers at Easter so we believe we can drive more value to the category with our new NPD,” she adds.

January also saw the start of a hunt exclusive to the convenience channel – hunt the white Cadbury Creme Egg. The hunt runs until Easter Sunday and will see one consumer unwrapping a unique Cadbury White Creme Egg every day and winning up to £1,000.


Also new in sugar confectionery for Easter 2018 is the Swizzels’ Fun Mix. Filled with some of Swizzels’ most popular sweets including Refreshers, Love Hearts and Drumstick lollies, the pack also contains wax crayons, a colouring page and a selection of fun puzzles. Featuring a novelty Easter bunny design, it is sure to catch the eye of parents and other family members looking for a treat to entertain the children during the Easter break, Swizzles says.

Swizzels’ Easter Mix Tub is also returning for this year. Filled with a variety of individually-wrapped sweets, the Easter-themed tub with handle is ideal for Easter egg hunts or family sharing.

And, of course, Easter crafts, mouth-watering meats, beautiful blooms and juicy jellies are all key over the Easter period, but the sweet sticky glue holding it all together is chocolate.

Shelled eggs have continued to show strong growth over the past two years (up 12%, Nielsen, 12 w/e 15 March 2017) and gifting grew by 7.7% last Easter (Nielsen). Meanwhile, small treating products such as the Malteaster Bunny grew by 12% over Easter 2017 and drive the majority of growth early on in the season, according to Mars Chocolate UK.

However, with a long lead up to Easter, fierce price competition from the multiples and shelf space tight, stocking the right chocolate range can be a challenge for small stores.

Chaz Chahal, of Simply Fresh Inkberrow, Worcestershire, explains: “In a small store it can be very tricky. I’d like to have the space to do a lot more theatre, but in a small store it’s essential to get the basics right and make sure you have enough of the chocolates such as Creme Eggs. You are better off sticking to the basics and getting them right rather than trying to sell lots of other more premium items and perhaps failing to give them the space they need. If you try to do too much in too small a space it can end up confusing your customer,” he says.

One way that retailers can meet the challenge is to change the products that they prioritise in the run-up to Easter, Mars Chocolate UK says. It recommends focusing on treating products early on in the season before shifting towards boxed chocolates and other gifting formats from February onwards.

According to Mondelez International, gifting accounts for more than 60% of chocolate occasion at Easter with shell eggs being the number one gifting format.

Simon Lunn, owner of Simply Fresh in Axebridge, Somerset, says that Easter Sunday itself tends to be a good sales day when it comes to shifting gifts of shell eggs as the large multiples aren’t open.

“With the supermarkets closed, small stores such as ours can pick up valuable extra sales in the form of distress purchases. Funnily enough, we often sell quite a few shell eggs on Easter Sunday itself as customers rush in to buy quick gifts for family and friends who they are seeing at the last minute,” he says.

Mars’ blockbuster brands such as Malteser, M&M’s and Mars are available in the medium egg format for Easter 2018. “These eggs have been consistent performers year after year and make great gifts for friends and relatives of all ages. They are available at an rrp of £3.05,” Mars UK says.

Recommended products also include Cadbury Dairy Milk small shell egg and Cadbury Creme Egg medium egg – the number one shell egg, worth £10.1m, according to Mondelez International.

And after experiencing double-digit growth of 16% last year, Ferrero’s Kinder Surprise 100g Pink and Blue Eggs have also received a spring makeover. Teaming up with Warner Bros Consumer Products, the eggs will contain DC Superhero Girls and Justice League toys. The eggs carry an rrp of 92p (20g) and will be supported with a £1.7m campaign.

The company says smaller, more practical freestanding display units are available for stores with limited floor space.

Easter launches from Premier Foods

Premier Foods is making sure it has all tastes covered this Easter with new products designed for chocolate lovers 
and fruit fans.

Chocolate is still the number one product to be eaten at Easter and Premier Foods has added to the portfolio this year with Mr Kipling Chocolate Whirls.

Consumers still enjoy traditional flavours, though, with Hot Cross Buns growing at 3.7%. As a result, the Premier range has been bolstered with Mr Kipling Hot Cross Slices and Mr Kipling Marzipan & Fruit Slices.

Premier Foods is also adding a new individually-wrapped Mr Kipling
Hot Cross Square to the range, helping retailers capitalise on the on-the-go opportunity.