The smartest retailers are already racking up decent Easter sales thanks to a raft of seasonal treats and sharing options.

Mothering Sunday may be the next event in the calendar, but the smartest retailers will have already racked up some decent Easter sales. Hordes of c-stores started selling Cadbury Creme Eggs in December, and in January these were joined by a raft of seasonal treats and sharing options, including Mini Eggs, Lindt Bunnies, Malteaster Bunnies and new Galaxy Golden Eggs.

And if they weren’t already front of mind for consumers, they certainly will be over the coming weeks. Cadbury Creme Egg is being supported by a £4m marketing spend, while the Lindt Bunny will be hopping onto TV screens during the three-week run-up to Easter.

Backed by strong marketing campaigns, and taking up minimal shelf space, seasonal treat and sharing items are a no-brainer for the convenience market. And there’s no doubting that these winning Easter products will continue to sell all the way through to Easter Sunday itself.

But with Easter weekend just six weeks away, it’s time to consider expanding your offer beyond treating and sharing and into gifting products and shell eggs. With the fear of ending up with unsold seasonal stock gathering dust, this may be a daunting prospect for some. But ignoring shell eggs altogether could leave you looking a real Humpty Dumpty.

In 2015 8.3 million households bought in the early season, with 80% of shoppers buying again, notes Nestlé. “However, 50% of all sales are still made in the late season, highlighting the importance of stocking the right packs at the right times, and ensuring availability right up to Easter Sunday,” says shopper marketing manager Rosamunde Hobson.

Mondelez International believes that consumers are buying into Easter more as an occasion. “There’s a lot of positivity around Easter. The days get longer, lighter and warmer, and kids start going outdoors again,” says brand manager for Easter Jan Trichterborn. “Whereas with Christmas there are rituals, at Easter people are only just starting that – Easter decorations doubled in sales last year.”

Saki Ghafoor, who owns two Nisa stores in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear, concurs that Easter is growing in importance for consumers. “In the UK, events are coming in the spotlight more than they used to – look at Halloween, it’s getting bigger and bigger. It’s the same with Easter – we saw a definite uplift in sales last year.”

However, he is wary of putting his larger Easter items on shelf too early, instead opting to change his offering with each of the key spring events. “Getting products out in a timely manner is important. You have to judge what will be an annoyance and what will be appreciated.

“In the second week of January, we’ll have our Valentine’s display, then Mother’s Day and then Easter. It depends on what suppliers have available as to what we’ll have out. Any product which has a bit of effect and thought behind it works. Customers like a good display and they will buy it.”

While it is vital that retailers make the most of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day sales, this doesn’t have to be at the expense of their Easter offerings, claims Dr Oetker UK. The company suggests that c-stores create a seasonal fixture, which allows them to incorporate multiple spring occasions simultaneously.

“Easter 2016 falls much earlier in the year so retailers will need to start preparing as soon as possible after Christmas,” says executive head of marketing Jan McKee. “There won’t be much of a gap between occasions in store, and promotions may overlap with other key dates such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. However, an overall spring fixture can incorporate a number of occasions and help to put Easter and general seasonal lines in the minds of customers at an early date.”

Peter Singh Dhesi of Nisa Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire has adopted this approach and is hopeful that Easter will deliver good sales. “I did my Easter order at the beginning of November,” he says. “We have shell eggs out in February along with gifting novelty items. We did really well last year. I bought more than the previous year and we still sold out, so I’ve ordered more this time round.”

It’s all about the chocolate

Mars points out that chocolate is at the very heart of Easter. “The chocolate market peaks at Easter – the season delivers 10% of annual chocolate sales,” says trade relations manager Bep Dhaliwal. “Chocolate was the number one answer when we asked consumers what Easter is about!” She claims that 73% of shoppers will buy into chocolate at Easter versus cake and biscuits (42%), flowers (37%) and cards (28%).

“Gifting and sharing continue to be major drivers of sales within the confectionery category, and this trend rings especially true in the spring when 78% of shoppers buy chocolate to enjoy with or give to friends or family members for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter,” adds Dhaliwal.

“To capitalise on these seasonal consumption occasions and with Christmas now behind us, retailers should be looking to update their shelves with the latest stock as soon as possible, if they have not done so already. With Easter falling in March, it’s even more important for retailers to ensure they’re ahead of the curve and displaying their new seasonal stock this month.”

Chocolate is even more of a focal point at Easter than it was at Christmas, agrees Trichterborn. “At Christmas, it’s a top-up gift in addition to everything else, whereas at Easter chocolate is the main gift.” He notes that Mondelez has a 63% share of independent Easter sales and that Cadbury has a sales value of £154m, with eight out of the top 10 shell eggs being Cadbury.

The company is investing a whopping £10m into its Easter offering, including a new Cadbury Dairy Milk Hollow Bunny range. This comprises three gifting formats: a hollow bunny in both small (rrp £1.49) and large (rrp £3.09) sizes; and Cadbury Dairy Milk Mini Hollow Bunnies (rrp £2.99), featuring five chocolates. “The bunny is an appropriate indulgence focused on smaller formats for gifting to kids,” says Trichterborn. “The smaller size will come at an attractive price point for the convenience market.”

Spar has also released some family-friendly own-label options for Easter in the form of a Spar-branded Easter Bunny 150g (rrp £1.50) and an Easter Egg Hunt Selection Bag 150g (rrp £1.50).

Sales of kids’ Easter confectionery gifts are worth more than £110m, adds Nestlé. The kids’ added-value segment is in both long- and short-term growth, up 46% since 2011 and attracting three million more shoppers, as well as growing 3% in 2015 despite a shorter season, claims the company.

Returning for 2016 are the Smarties and Milkybar Farmyard Fun Eggs (rrp £4.99), which together accounted for 13% of kids’ fun egg sales in 2015, claims Nestlé.

The company is adding to its brood for 2016 with the Smarties Chick in Egg (rrp £2.55). The eye-catching foil wrapper depicts a chick with the words “I’m in here”, inviting consumers to break open their milk chocolate egg and discover the milk chocolate chick and the mini Smarties inside.

This follows on from the success of last year’s Smarties Egg Hunt pack (rrp £3.99), which is back for 2016. Nestlé claims the product sold more than any other branded egg hunt pack on the market.

Family favourites

Also appealing to the family market is Mars’ Malteaster Family Mix pack (rrp £3.99), which it claims is “ideal for an Easter hunt”. The pack contains four Malteaster bunnies, six mini bunnies and two bags of Maltesers fun size.

“Eggs remain the traditional product that most customers will be looking to give at Easter. But novelty shapes such as bunnies and chicks also help to build on the chocolate occasion,” says Dhaliwal.

This year also sees the introduction of premium Galaxy Golden Eggs to the Mars range. Galaxy is the number two chocolate brand in the UK and is in growth of 10%, claims Mars. Galaxy Golden Eggs are available in sharing (rrp £1.30 for an 80g bag) and large egg (rrp £5.29) variants. And while sharing bags are largely recognised as a must-stock for convenience retailers, the latter is becoming an increasingly important format.

“Our Maltesers Teasers Large Egg, Malteaster Bunny Extra Large Egg and Celebrations Large Egg made up three of the top 10 bestsellers in this category last year,” says Dhaliwal. “They not only make great gifts for any member of the family, but provide a strong option for stores that have limited space as they offer a great return per unit sold.”

The bigger the better

The notion that big eggs are a winner for 2016 is supported by Nestlé. “Giant eggs make ideal ‘big gesture’ gifts for shoppers to give to special people in their lives,” says Rosamunde Hobson. “The Nestlé range accounts for 35% of giant eggs sales, with the total segment growing 19% since 2011.” 

New from Nestlé is the Crunch Collection, which joins the Kit Kat Chunky giant egg – the priority pack for retailers with limited shelf space – as well as the Nestlé Caramel Collection giant egg, Aero Selection giant egg and Yorkie giant egg (all rrp £7.49).

The firm claims sales of its premium eggs grew 129% in 2015 (IRI total market value sales 2015).

Hobson says that Black Magic and Dairy Box premium eggs (rrp £9.99), which launched in 2015, target the gap in the market for older, more affluent shoppers. Both are set to return this spring.

Nestlé’s After Eight Premium Egg (rrp £9.99) is also back for 2016. After being given new, more premium packaging, it grew 35% in 2015.

Indeed, Nisa Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire sells its fair share of premium and large eggs. “We have a whole 2m section at the front of the store dedicated to Easter eggs,” says Peter. “At the more premium end, we stock After Eight, Elizabeth Shaw, Ferrero Rocher and Thorntons, as well as large Cadbury and Galaxy eggs.”

Ian Mitchell, who owns three Premier Stores in Ayrshire, has witnessed demand for bigger shell eggs. “About six weeks before Easter, we get in the larger novelty items and shell eggs,” he says. “We usually have them on promotion. We have very large Cadbury eggs. I try to sell out two days before Easter. It’s a big gamble if you stock too many. The supermarkets are hard to beat, but they tend to run out of their better lines three or four days before Easter.”

Charles Brady, owner of Vic’s Stores in Nettlestone, Isle of Wight, saw great results when he stocked large and premium varieties last year. “We sell large After Eight eggs at £10 and Thorntons eggs at £14, which are especially popular. Last year we sold 20-30 premium eggs.”

Saki has gone for an even bigger option to capture his customers’ attention. “We look for something different that entices the customer,” he says. “We sell premium Lindt bunnies costing £40 for about 1.5kg of chocolate. Things like that appeal as a gift for people looking to buy something for their parents, or for their other half. People recognise the brand and appreciate the gesture.”

Hancocks agrees that when it comes to Easter chocolate, it’s a case of the bigger, the better. “A key trend expected to be literally huge this year is the demand for ever-larger novelty chocolate products, such as 1kg eggs,” says purchasing director Jonathan Summerley. “We saw this trend starting to emerge at Christmas and this is expected to continue into the spring confectionery.

“It can be challenging for independents to compete with the low prices the multiples offer around the spring season. However, we believe customers are turning away from the homogenous products offered by the multiples and are looking for products which are uniquely branded. Independents can capitalise on this trend by stocking tertiary brands which stand out on shelf and offer higher margins for the retailer.”

The firm has launched a 1kg Easter Egg, which offers retailers a margin of 40% when sold at rrp of £19.99.

Grand gestures

Another premium seasonal option that offers a point of difference is Ferrero’s Grand Rocher. The firm introduced a 240g version in December after the success of a 125g variant the previous Christmas.

“The smaller Grand Rocher achieved £1.3m of sales last Christmas,” says customer development director Levi Boorer. “This year the larger and smaller Grand Rochers are available until Easter. By making Grand Rocher seasonal, it will be more popular with consumers because it will only be available for a limited period.”

He does not believe that the new product will cannibalise sales of the firm’s Ferrero Egg. “We believe it has a slightly different shopper to the premium Ferrero Egg. The Ferrero Egg is bought by fans of premium eggs, whereas people who have the Grand Rocher on their [shopping] list will only want Grand Rocher.”

Boorer says that by stocking more unusual lines, convenience retailers will be able to stand out better from the multiples. “Retailers have to understand that they can be priced out of the market on structured shell eggs by bigger multiples. I’d always be wary as a smaller retailer of where I can win with shoppers and think about people looking for something a bit special. Fundamentally, your core range can’t be one that will only appeal to price-sensitive shoppers. It’s about stocking brands that invest heavily with above-the-line support.”

Of course, stocking the right products is only part of the challenge. If retailers really want to win over customers during the spring period, then customer engagement is essential. Richard Dance, who owns a chain of Co-op Welcome franchise stores in Southampton, is supporting the local community’s seasonal celebrations. 
His Marchwood store gives customers an extra reason to visit on Mother’s Day.

“We give bunches of daffodils to all children who come in to the shop on Mothering Sunday to give to their mums, which is very popular.”

The business also connects with locals at Easter. “We provide Easter eggs to the local children’s group for their annual Easter Egg hunt.”

Jai Singh is also planning to attract families with an Easter egg hunt at his Go Local Extra Store in Sheffield. “We’re thinking of hiding some golden eggs in-store. Anyone who finds them will get a voucher to spend in the store. It’ll get kids pushing their parents in!”

Ferrero will also be running Easter Egg hunts at convenience stores this year. The firm will be working with 10 retailers over the Easter weekend, providing them with everything they need to execute an Easter egg hunt in their store or around their local area. The activity focuses on the new Kinder Joy limited-edition product – a plastic egg featuring a toy and a spoonable milk and cocoa cream. “We admire and value everything that our retailer partners do to give back to the communities they operate in, and we want to lend a helping hand and spread some joy in-store at Easter,” says Boorer.

Sally Read of Spar Bodicote in Oxfordshire is making a real effort to reach out to shoppers at Easter by raising money for good causes. “We have a local chap who makes a giant chocolate Easter egg that we raffle off in-store and we put in a couple of other items, too.”

Play to your strengths

Hancocks also urges c-stores to go the extra mile on customer service over spring seasonal events. “Use your size to your advantage,” asserts Summerley. “Multiples are large and impersonal so exploit this by offering a more specialised service. Gift wrapping or hamper building is an easy and cost effective way to build a unique selling point which can add value and increase profits.”

By stocking large and premium eggs, as well as seasonal sharing and treat items, and by putting your own unique spin on celebrations, you’ll have everything you need for strong spring sales.