Whether it be reducing the fat and salt content, or enriching products with some functional benefit, the yellow fats category has seen a flurry of activity in the past year. Health issues have become a key driving force and last year the butter and margarine market grew by 1.9%, according to AC Nielsen figures dated March 2006, with the total market now worth £884m.
Paul Holden, business operations manager at Unilever UK, says: "Currently consumers have a heightened awareness and are looking for products that can offer specific benefits. With health being a key issue and driver within the category, the need for clear communication centres around the issue of 'good' and 'bad' fats.
But with a growing number of range extensions coming on stream, defining the optimum c-store range is becoming increasingly difficult. Holden says: "Retailers should respond to current health trends and stock a selection of products. We have found that as stores are restricted by space, retailers often think that they shouldn't make space for a targeted healthy product, but we feel that there is a huge opportunity for growth here.
"Convenience stores should be at the forefront of emerging trends and stock brands that are advertised on TV to ensure they can keep up to speed with the local competition set," he adds. "Rather than try to stock every product out there, retailers should focus on key ranges and small cases sizes - this is a good way to maintain availability. Retailers need to ensure that they stock the leading brands, as consumers tend to be fiercely loyal to their brand - if their brand is not stocked they will take their custom elsewhere.
Holden also says that with the exception of Flora pro.activ, 500g is the most commonly bought pack size, so retailers should drive incremental sales by stocking 500g packs instead of the 250g size.
Mintel's report on the UK yellow fats market, published in September last year, says convenience has also had an impact on the sector. "The convenience of the rapidly rising spreadable sector has given the butter sector a much-needed boost," it says. In 2004 butter accounted for 43% of sales, equating to a value of £363m, and spreadable butter alone was worth £162m in 2004. Margarine and spreads lost out to butter, with value share declining from 61% in 2002, to 57% in 2004.
Convenience and health are likely to continue driving the market. "Convenience will play the most significant role in changing consumer perceptions about the accessibility of butter, consequently the spreadable butter market will make further gains," says Mintel's report. "Health will also remain a prominent feature, and as such sales will continue to benefit from the trade off that consumers make between health and indulgence."

product news

Flora has introduced 'heart health' product Flora Omega 3 Plus spread, backed by a £6m marketing investment. The new spread, which is being launched alongside two pro-biotic mini drinks, is available this month in a 500g pack with a rrp of £1.49.
Country Life is bringing a new look to its block and spreadable butters with the launch of new packaging across the range as part of Dairy Crest's £6m ongoing investment in the brand. Country Life block and spreadable butter packs will retain the brand's original gold packaging with green branding, and the unsalted butter variant will be blue to differentiate it from the silver lightly salted spreadable.
Benecol spreads will benefit from a £6m Benecol marketing drive, aimed at raising awareness of the UK's cholesterol problem. TV ads run until August this year and highlight how Benecol works to actively reduce cholesterol by helping to block its entry to the bloodstream.
St Ivel Gold is currently on TV with a £4m advertising campaign to support its new St Ivel Gold Omega 3 spread. The new spread, launched earlier this year, contains the long chain variety of the essential fatty acid Omega 3, which has long been recognised as important for heart health.
I can't believe it's not butter is this year being supported by a £7m advertising spend following the brand's relaunch in January. The TV campaign features rocker Ozzy Osbourne.Bel UK has launched its The Laughing Cow cheese spread in a new squeezable bottle.
The launch is being backed by a £3m marketing spend including a TV advertising campaign due to break this summer.
The Laughing Cow Squeeze comes in 175g squeezable bottles and can be sold in shelf-ready packaging containing 12 bottles. A Light recipe with only 7% fat is also available.Cravendale is to extend its ready-to-drink 284ml bottles into a four-bottle multipack format.
The semi-skimmed multipack will have a rrp of £1.35 and the Hint Of... Wild Strawberry multipack will retail at £1.78, offering the consumer a price saving compared with buying four individual bottles.
Cravendale multipacks are available from this month, capitalising on the brand's TV support running in May. The multipacks are expected to encourage volume sales by offering better value for increased weight of purchase.
The multipacks target parents who are seeking a convenient, cost effective and healthy alternative for children's lunchboxes, as well as on-the-go adults who are looking for a nutritious snack, or an isotonic boost following a workout.Mattessons is relaunching its entire range of sliced cooked meats following a complete overhaul and redesign of the range. The products have been reformulated and two umbrella ranges have been introduced - the Parchment and Premium range. All products contain no added water, artificial colours or flavourings.
The Parchment range includes honey roast ham, prime roast beef and roast chicken - available in 125g packs of five slices with rrps starting from £1.78. The Premium range includes superior carved ham, carved chicken breast and carved turkey breast with rrps from £2.49.
The brand is being supported by a £7m marketing spend, including the first TV ads for 20 years.