Although chocolate is undoubtedly a key area for the convenience retailer, the market is a mature one, there isn't a huge rush of npd to drive new consumers to the category, and the core brands have dominated the market for years.
So do retailers need to anything more than make sure the top 10 (which are, according to Cadbury, Twirl, Mars, Kit-Kat, Snickers, Twix, Maltesers, Crunchie, Double Decker, Dairy Milk and Kinder Surprise) are well stocked and in the right place?
Spar trading controller for chocolate Tina Hird says: "We aren't seeing a lot of true npd these days. There seems to be a lot of above-the-line spend in reinforcing the major brands, rather than injecting huge amounts into launching something new."
But chocolate is still a heavy-hitting category. According to Information Resources, confectionery sales in 2008 are predicted to be £4.5bn, accounting for 70% of the total value for the £6.4bn sweet snacks market. Chocolate maintained its position as the country's favourite confectionery, with ACNielsen putting value growth at 6% over the past year.
Hird says the best-sellers are the same year in and year out, so retailers are going to capture a lot of the demand if they stock the favourites. "The chocolate companies would have it completely differently, saying it's all very complicated and an exact science, but they still admit that it's more important to have the products on shelf and available than the actual positioning," she says.
Mars trade relations manager Bep Sandhu's advice is "keep it simple". Its research has shown that the average retailer has a staggering 270 lines on display, when the top 50 confectionery products account for more than half of the total sales and the top 10 account for 25%.
Sandhu says that within the confectionery category chocolate bars account for 45% of total sales; bite-size 21%; and blocks 20%. Mars research has found that there are about five chocolate products in consumers' set that they would buy when they go into a store. "That's why we do a lot of support for the brands to ensure that the right products are visible," Sandhu says.
The marketing spend is backed up by Mars' 'feet on the street' campaign, where representatives visit retailers to give them information on new launches or upcoming TV advertising.
Mintel says that Mars' strategy of launching fewer new products, with greater impact and closer matching to consumer needs, is in line with industry trends.
Manufacturers also look to build on the popularity of a major brand by introducing new formats. For instance, the introduction of bite-sized Mars Planets drove a whopping £17m of sales last year.
A similar strategy from Nestlé Rowntree also helped grow its sales last year by 6% - the most significant growth for seven years.
In March it launched Kit-Kat Senses with a £9m media campaign, including TV advertising this month. Nestlé Rowntree UK trade communications manager Graham Walker says Senses hopes to bring more females aged 20+ to the Kit-Kat brand and covers two of the key trends - indulgence and permissibility (it contains 165 calories per bar).
The women's market was also a focus for Nestlé last year when it launched Aero bubbles milk, aimed at giving women "an everyday indulgent treat".
Walker says: "Nestlé has a straightforward strategy of adding value through three things: quality product and packaging; activity in line with consumer trends; and consistent consumer communication."
The results are paying off, with flagship brand Kit Kat seeing 10% growth last year (four-fingers up 27%; Chunky up 5%; and two- finger up 6%).
At Cadbury Trebor Bassett, the marketing spend over the past year has again targeted firm favourites. Throughout February it re-introduced the 'Thank Crunchie it's Friday' ads, resulting in a sales uplift in double figures for the first few weeks. "It reminds people of how much they love the brand and it's important to engage with them and remind them that it is there," says Kate Harding, head of customer relations at Cadbury Trebor Bassett.
The new Cadbury Dairy Milk ad, following on from the popular drumming Gorilla, began on March 29. It features airport trucks "having the time of their lives".
Harding says that ads which capture consumer attention can result in a huge uplift in sales. The Gorilla TV campaign saw Dairy Milk sales rise 9%. But she warns that retailers' displays have to be ready to back-up the TV marketing.
Cadbury's major launch this year is Crème Egg Twisted, which hit the shelves this month and aims to extend the demand for Crème eggs beyond Easter.
While retailers have little control over the big brands' launches or ad campaigns, they can make sure their displays are right.
Homescan figures show that 70% of chocolate is bought on impulse, so making sure chocolate is available and displayed well can have a massive impact on
As Sandhu from Mars says: "People generally spend three or four seconds in front of the display so they need to make their mind up fairly quickly, and if they don't find what they are looking for then they sometimes won't buy."
Nestlé's Walker agrees: "One of the challenges is converting a potential shopper into a buyer, because we know there are a lot of people who go past the fixture, but there are a large number who won't buy anything because they can't find what they are looking for. There are a mass of products and they can't see the wood for the trees."
clear and concise
Walker advises retailers to merchandise by the need states and use beacon brands as signposting to really maximise sales, then provide the right proportion of space for each of the categories. He says: "For instance, if a store is next to a factory, you would probably want to stock a lot of hunger products; if it is next to a school you would want to have a lot of kids' products - so proportion of space will be dependent on where you are."
Harding from Cadbury Trebor Bassett backs this up: "The main confectionery aisle doesn't change on a year-to-year basis, but I would strongly recommend retailers taking advantage of manufacturers' pos when the seasons come in because this can really bring an occasion to life. Although 70% of shoppers don't even see the fixture, one in four who do go on to buy from it, so you have a huge opportunity to engage with your customers."
Harding says that in some cases, she has seen retailers' total sales increase 10% when they get the confectionery display right.
Malcolm Crump from Spar Compton, Wolverhampton, says: "Chocolate sales are very important to the convenience retailer as I would say it's the number one impulse buy. We stock it on a gondola, but also use a lot of dump bins and have a rack between the checkout which is a good impulse area. We also use displays from manufacturers."
Malcolm says the reps from chocolate manufacturers are very proactive about supporting retailers and helping them to make the most from the category. He says: "Manufacturers are very good at providing ways to make the most of chocolate sales. Our customers are still buying the market favourites, but if there is anything new from a big manufacturer, such as Kit-Kat Senses, it flies out of the store."
Teresa Rigby from Tates Spar in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, agrees: "Chocolate is our strongest area and I would say it makes up more than 50% of our confectionery sales. Adverts for chocolate bars also have a major impact on sales, and when the big bars are on offer they do really well. When Wispa came back sales went berserk."
Teresa says that at the till point she focuses on the best sellers, especially when on offer, so customers will be reminded at the point of sale. "And we have an aisle which stocks the same products, plus promotional aisles and dump bins," she adds.
Out of the ordinary
Although Hancocks purchasing director Richard Brittle agrees that retailers should take advantage of the increased footfall a top brand backed with marketing can attract, he says retailer shouldn't dismiss niche products.
"Key brands lack margin and a point of difference," he says. "Own label allows retailers to offer great value to their customers while boosting their profitability at the same time and avoiding a head-on price war with the supermarkets. Private label is working for the giants, so let's make sure that the independent market benefits on this one as well."
As such, Hancocks is launching a range of nine chocolate bar products exclusive to the cash and carry and especially for the independent market.
Retailers can also offer a point of difference with the expanding range of premium and speciality chocolate brands now on the market.
AC Nielsen figures for the end of last year found that the premium chocolate bar sector is worth £62m and is experiencing strong growth of +15% per year.
Mintel's latest research backs this up, finding that "consumers are readily trading up into premium-priced products" and that "the shift towards premium products creates an opportunity for niche manufacturers".
Bendicks launched a number of new products last year, including 125g bars in dark chocolate and milk chocolate and an Intense English Dark Mint variety to its Mint Collection.
Green & Black's senior brand manager Natalie Brown says: "There is certainly an opportunity for a stronger response within convenience to get consumers to trade up more. Consumers are more willing to experiment with new foods and flavours - brands that are organic and Fairtrade are becoming more everyday."
Although Green & Black's has recently launched a new milk chocolate with apricots bar, its best-sellers within convenience are butterscotch in 35g and Green & Black's range of milk, white, dark and Maya Gold.
But it is having to battle for space with the chocolate giants. Mars ventured into the £67m dark chocolate market with Dark Galaxy last year and Kit-Kat dark was given a £2m campaign to back its launch.
Harding says that Cadbury's old favourite Bourneville saw growth of 21%, even though the only change was in its packaging.
Gifting lines such as Just Brazils have followed this trend and although Fox's says that the milk chocolate variety is still the most popular sku, it is starting to see a trend towards darker chocolate and consumers looking for something different. Marketing manager Tracey Mattock says: "People are paying more interest in origin and where chocolate comes from. At the moment we are 4.9% up and are starting to see some new listings coming through for occasions such as Father's Day."
She adds: "Cravings for a more intense confectionery experience, plus the associated health benefits of a darker chocolate, have seen the trend towards dark chocolate continue - with premium brands supplying this demand particularly well."
However, Hird from Spar warns retailers to take talk of premium trends with a pinch of salt. She says: "There are figures that show increased consumer demand for premium products - high cocoa content and dark chocolate. However, you have to take a pragmatic view of that given it is still the standard blocks that sell the most of the volume. So while the premium products are taking off, and we are seeing massive hikes in terms of performances, it is from a very low base."
One trend that might have been predicted so far seems to have passed by most of the chocolate sector - that of healthy eating.
The trend that's sweeping other categories seems to be limited to children's brands only. From last year Nestlé made Milky Bar with all-natural ingredients. This message will be backed up by a £3.2m media support campaign.
Smarties also contains no artificial colours or flavours. And this year Nestlé will be highlighting the return of blue Smarties. "We've managed to find natural ingredients to re-create the blue and the campaign will receive £1.5m media, including TV," says Walker.
But although healthier eating has impacted other food categories, chocolate for adults appears to have ducked under the consumer radar so far.
Harding says that Cadbury's approach is simply to "give consumers guideline daily amounts and point out how our products fit into that. For us it's about providing consumers with the information they need to make the choice themselves".
Hancocks' Brittle says: "Similar to other emotional food indulgences, consumers would rather compromise in other areas so that they can 'allow' themselves to have their chocolate treat. They might buy a bit less of it, something a little bit better and perhaps a bit lighter, but they will buy it nonetheless."
Whether consumers opt for the top 10 brands or drift towards more premium products, the category is strong and looks to get stronger. As Brittle continues: "Chocolate is one food that consumers quite simply will not give up under any circumstances."