On New Year’s Eve your customers will be planning a dieting regime. On January 1, your egg display will crack their resolve.

Barely have Big Ben's chimes stopped ringing than the cannier c-store retailers will be unpacking their boxes of filled eggs for counter-top display. And while customers might raise an eyebrow at having Easter treats out while the mistletoe is still up, they won't be able to stop themselves buying them by the truckload.

Cadbury Easter brand manager Kate Knight says: "The one thing we hear time and again anecdotely is that it's the thing that breaks their diet."

And what a season 2011 promises to be, with a whopping three extra trading weeks until Easter Sunday on April 24 the longest in many c-store operators' retailing memory providing a huge window to really boost filled egg, self-eat and novelty sales. As Helen Olley, customer development manager for Kinder, points out: "This coming year we've got extra selling days so it's important to get off on the front foot with consumers who are expecting to see the products."

Bep Dhaliwal, Mars trade relations manager, says that the early Easter season is key for c-stores: "So much will be impulse driven. The supermarkets won't even tap into that market until much later and even then don't have the offering that the convenience sector does."

According to Graham Walker, Nestlé UK trade communications manager, last Easter saw an extra 540,000 shoppers enter the market despite the season being a week shorter compared with the year before. "Ultimately, confectionery is the only category that drives footfall over the spring period," he says. Last season the convenience channel outperformed the total market with sales up 15% versus total market at 9.7% (source IRI Easter Weekly Impulse). Walker says that seasonal impulse saw 2.4 million more households come into the category in 2010, with one in four Easter shoppers purchasing seasonal impulse products in January, according to Kantar Worldpanel.

That was the value of the Easter confectionery market in 2010, according to IRI data for the 12 weeks ending April 24, 2010.
That's all good news for c-stores says Olley: "The Easter behaviour seems to be that people are buying less, but shopping more often, which lends itself very well into this category, because it's buying for me for now, and it's that group of consumers we want to capture."

According to Dhaliwal, the nature of self-eat isn't all selfish, and brings out the generous nature of at least half of the population. "Research shows that female shoppers tend to buy for others as well as themselves," she says.

For Mars, the main focus for the self-eat season will be the MaltEaster Bunny which had, according to Dhaliwal, a "phenomenal year" in 2010. "MaltEaster brought new people into the brand who hadn't had Malteasers in a while," she says.

The product exceeded the company's expectations, which meant some retailers found it difficult to get hold of a problem she promises won't happen in 2011. "I think it sold out really early on in 2010, so we're increasing volume availability next year. In 2009 it took us by surprise and then in 2010 we looked to double that and it did even better. We're expecting big things."

The brand will be backed with TV advertising from February.

For the first time Mars is engaging its M&Ms brand with Easter, imprinting bunny ears on the peanut and chocolate sweets in sharing bags. Dhaliwal says that the focus will be on the mini eggs market: "We know that the mini egg category is worth about £25m, so it's worth getting into."

The packs will be available from January with clip strips.

 "Research shows that female shoppers tend to buy for others as well as for themselves"
Obviously, think early season Easter and the Cadbury Crème Egg will come to mind. In 2010 the brand focused on highlighting its limited availability with, Cadbury claims, the biggest above-the-line confectionery spend of all the brands at Easter. According to Kate Knight, the campaign has proved a huge success: "Before we started the campaign the awareness of the limited availability was 40% in the target audience, and by the end of the campaign it had risen to 70%. Of those who were not aware, 40% said that they would have bought more if they had been, which in sales terms is an opportunity."

This year Cadbury will be continuing the Spots and Stripes theme, which it is running across its major brands as the Official Treat Provider of the London 2012 Olympic games, on to Crème Egg with a Goo Dares Wins campaign. The campaign encourages people to engage in dares against each other to gain points for their Spots or Stripes team, which they can register on a special online website.

Knight says that the new campaign reflects the fun nature of the product. She says the company spent a lot of time thinking of what makes a good dare and came up with the idea that it's something slightly cringeworthy for the person involved and doesn't involve anyone else. Goo Dares Wins will run from January 1 and will include a heavyweight poster campaign in the early Easter period, with a second burst in mid- and late- February. A 17-week television campaign will run from January to Easter. POS will feature the phrase 'Gooo on', included in the Goo Dares Wins campaign.

Back this year is the Caramel Bunny, which will be backed with £1m support in magazines plus a flatpack Caramel Bunny unit.

Four-legged friends play a leading role this spring, from hopping bunnies to Nestlé's focus for 2011, the Aero Bubbly Lamb a 30g lamb self-eat novelty figure filled with bubbly milk chocolate. Nestlé will be supporting the Aero brand as a whole throughout 2011 with significant media spend.

Also new is the range of Smarties Spring Friends, a hollow milk chocolate chick, bunny and bee character filled with mini Smarties.

Walker says that when it comes to ranging, the company breaks the season into early, mid and late. "With the early season we mean the first six weeks when the mission is about impulse items such as filled eggs and mini eggs which include the bunnies and the lamb."

Top tips: Get spring loaded 
- Self-eats and filled eggs should be out from January 

- Manufacturers will be spending big bucks on major campaigns to remind customers not only about their products, but about the Easter season as a whole 

- Don't ignore dual-siting, especially for year-round products such as Kinder. Easter self-eat products are diet breakers so the more sites you have, the more willpower it will take to resist them 

- As well as the regulars, make sure products new to this year are clearly visible, preferably at till point. Customers love to try new chocolate treats 

- As well as the singles, don't ignore multipacks at this time of year customers will often buy them to share with friends over a cup of tea.
However, he says that hollow figures can also be put out at the beginning of the season sales of the Nestlé Bluebell Milky Bar cow were up 89% in its second year in 2010 and can prove an important pull as they are providing good growth. This year Bluebell has been joined by the Smarties Chicken and Egg, a chocolate moulded chicken with chocolate egg inside, which has mini Smarties inside that.

"Products such as Milky Bar cow Bluebell and the Chicken and Egg are good simply for the novelty aspect they're not overtly Easter and you'll eat it and buy another one," says Walker. "For the convenience retailer it's got to be good news as it's a higher pricepoint, which is money in the till. It works in the same way as Christmas with our Giant Tubes which we put out in September because people buy them and eat them and buy them again."

To help visibility in cash and carries Nestlé has changed the outers for the hollow figures.

For a company such as Kinder which sells eggs all year round you'd think it wouldn't necessarily see a big uplift at this time of year. However, Olley says that consumers seem to have a sudden change of mindset following the new year, tuning into the relevance of all things egg-shaped. "Because the Kinder egg is an icon, the brand attracts people who see its relevance for 'me and my child'. We do see an uplift around this period."

She says that dual-siting for a year-round product such as Kinder Surprise can really lift sales. "Don't just put it on the kids fixture we've seen a 20% uplift where dual-siting has been done."

Kinder's theme for 2011 is Spring Showers, which will see a change in the toys inside the eggs to pocket-size water-squirting figures Teeny Tortoise, Sloe Snail and Fresa Frog. The eggs have an rrp of 67p and £1.85 for a multipack of three. A smaller 36 Kinder Surprise unit is also available for the spring season.

Back for 2011 is Kinder Mini Eggs, which launched in 2009. They have an rrp of £1.19.

As for the end of the season, Nestlé's Walker says that self-eats have an added advantage: "You haven't got to clear them straight after Easter, because they are not overtly Easter. We are selling them as a spring product, and from a retailer's point of view you can buy in confidence knowing that right up to Easter Day you can keep good stocks because they will still sell for weeks and months afterwards."

Ones to watch... 

It's a surprise! 
Kinder is hoping that its new Kinder Surprise Bunny will put a spring in the company's step. The bunny-shaped hollow chocolate figure has a surprise toy inside. rrp: £2.69 tel: 01923 690300 

Out of this world 
Mars says that the Galaxy Filled Egg grew by 10% in the past year and is hoping for another great year in 2011. The eggs are available as singles at 41p and in a three-pack for £1.17. tel: 01844 262517

Back for good 
Joining Nestlé's seasonal impulse range this year are Mini Eggs in two of the manufacturer's most popular confectionery brands, Milky Bar and Smarties. rrp: 97p tel: 01904 604 604 

Mini fun 
Cadbury Mini Eggs will be available on bar-coded clip strips this year and will benefit from the co-branded Mini Egg and Crème Eggs bins. Rrp: £1.09 tel: 08702 400 861