The East Sussex town of Rye has much to commend it; a nice port, the remains of a castle, lots of antique shops and more tea rooms than a coachload of pensioners could get around in one day. However, on a recent visit to the town, on a dull day out of season, it wasn't any of these that were pulling the crowds. The main draw seemed to be two 'traditional' sweet shops selling sugar confectionery by the weighed bag. Both shops were tiny, a street apart, and sold almost the same stock. But both were rammed to the gills with shoppers who spilled out onto the pavement and into queues that snaked for several doors along their respective streets. Talk in the queues was of childhoods and treats as parents bought old favourites for their children and themselves. Those who finally made their way to the till were each ordering at least three bags, sometimes more. Sugar confectionery, it seemed, was sparking some kind of retro frenzy.
Hancocks' purchasing director Richard Brittle says that he's witnessed these kind of sales:
"Selling loose sweets has really gained favour in recent years as retailers look for something a little bit different to profit from." Hancocks carries 300 varieties of weighout sweets and the cash & carry has seen an an 18% growth in weighouts.
Brittle says that the main advantage of selling in this way is the margin potential - up to 70%. Customers like the eyecatching displays that jars of sweets make, and this produces incremental sales as customers spot old favourites that remind them of childhood.
"It's like reminiscing" says Brittle, "and it's one of those experiences that people are happy to pay for."
But retro cool isn't confined to weighout. According to Werther's trade marketing manager Gabrielle Bond, the brand has experienced a similar phenomenon since it shifted its positioning, removing the iconic Grandad from the advertisements. Says Bond: "It's certainly opened the brand up to new consumers. We're seeing the younger generation coming in and some don't even remember the grandad. Even Britney was caught with a Werther's Original pack. It's actually become a retro brand."
Haribo has long been aware of the appeal of the sector to adults with its 'Kids and grown ups love it so' tagline. Sales director Rory Goodwin says that retailers should be taking advantage: "Consumption of gums and jellies isn't just confined to children - but it's their association with childhood which makes them so popular. They remind adults of their younger days in a positive way." He says that around 80% of children aged five to 15 enjoy eating gums and jellies, but penetration levels among adults are only slightly lower, with seven out of 10 adults aged between 16 and 44 eating gums and jellies and six out of 10 in the 44 to 64 age group continuing to buy into the sector.
But Brittle says it's the entire sugar confectionery market that's doing well - from big brands to pick and mix and ready fill. The total confectionery market is worth £4.2bn and is growing by 6.3%, with sugar confectionery accounting for £1bn and growing at 2.4% overall. The independent confectionery market is worth £830m (AC Nielsen/Hancocks).
Cadbury Trebor Bassett trade communications manager Kate Harding says that adults are increasing their consumption of sugar confectionery: "In the last 12 months adults have consumed more than half the sweets market for the first time we have on record, and we believe that 'sweets for adults' is still a significantly underdeveloped market."
Goodwin agrees the independent sector is doing well for gums and jellies: "We're seeing growth in the independents and convenience stores which outstrips the growth in the multiples in percentage terms."
Harding says that the market has taken everyone by surprise: "A couple of years ago we were forecasting flat to 1% growth in sugar confectionery, but 2007 was very strong and we now project 4 to 5% annual growth, which is as strong as the growth in the market."
One of the biggest trends in the food sector at the moment is the health market - which, in confectionery, is called 'healthier', as no one is going to realistically make a claim for confectionery as a healthy food. One company looking to take take advantage of the trend for health at the same time as lessening its association with the medicinal market is Ricola. Traditionally the brand had been associated with chemists and health food shops, but having parted company with Cedar Health, its distributors of 15 years, the company is now targeting a wider market in partnership with Jenks, in a bid to become the UK's number one healthy, functional sugar confectionery. According to country manager for the UK and Ireland Andy Richman: "The brand has been thought of as being a medicinal sweet because it was sold in health food stores and chemists." He says that the partnership with Jenks, plus changes to packaging, involving swapping the more medicinal word 'lozenges' for 'drops' will reposition the brand away from the medicinal aisle and into pure confectionery. In January, flavours that were thought of as too medicinal, such as honey and herb, were replaced. "It's a sugar sweetie which happens to have herbs in it. It's what Americans call confunctionery," says Richman. However, Richman believes that the core values of the product, containing only natural ingredients with no E numbers, artificial colours or flavourings, plus the herbs, have been maintained.
A focus on broadening UK sales should see the products widely available by the end of the year, says Richman, after a major campaign involving sampling in major shopping centres beginning on May 21, along with sampling in high streets and offices. Leaflets, a sample pack and money off coupons will also be distributed.
Richman says that c-stores will be a key element to the success of the brand: "Everywhere that sells Mars bars - we want our sweets to be there." He recommends that c-stores stock the 45g box which has an rrp of £1.25.
Sugar with no sugar
Like many companies, Ricola has entered the sugar-free market and Richman says that he thinks big things are on the horizon with this particular sector: "It's on the cusp of taking off, but we're behind the European market. One of the things that's been holding it back is taste, but now that's changing." In sugar-free, Ricola is teaming up with the Toothfriendly campaign in dentists from May 18 until June 17 as well as taking part in BBC local radio programmes on natural lifestyles, which will include podcasts and competitions from May 21. A microsite will go live at the same time.
Haribo launched its Lite brand last year. It has 30% fewer calories, 40% less sugar and 0.1% of fat per 100g. Sales director Rory Goodwin says that the sector is small at the moment and that it's difficult to predict how much it will grow, but it appeals to the diet-conscious consumer. "The confectionery category is impulse-driven and the majority of people buy confectionery as a treat and indulgence. It's this indulgence aspect which makes it questionable how much impact 'healthier' sweets will have." However, he says that Haribo research into buyers of the Lite brand has shown that consumers who bought it weren't necessarily going in with the intention to buy a confectionery product at all.
Bendick's introduced its sugar-free variant in January this year and Werther's Original Sugar Free is currently the official partner of Diabetes UK, sponsoring the sugar and sweeteners part of the charity's website. The company is currently engaging in PR activity with Slimming World and WeightWatchers for the sugar-free variant, with further coverage of the Werther's Original Sugar Free Support Awards planned throughout the year. Bond says that retailers should be displaying the product next to their magazine fixture via a clip-on display unit: "How many people go in for a Slimming World and avoid the sugar confectionery fixture? They don't realise that Sugar Free Werther's Originals exist, and retailers are missing out on that opportunity."
Bond says that there will be major news from the Werther's brand next year with what she describes as 'product extensions', but in the meantime it will be focusing on independent retail with a number of initiatives. "The grocers get quite a lot of support, but we don't want to leave out independents and c-stores, there'll be much more focus." She says that there will be 'lots of noise' around the brand to make sure it's in the front of people's minds in time for launches next year.
The main mistake that retailers make, according to Bond, is that they often miss a trick by opting for cheaper brands at the expense of the best sellers: "You need to look at the top 10 - they're the best sellers for a reason. It's really surprising how many retailers just don't have the top sellers in stock."
Unwilling to go down the sugar-free path, Leaf has launched the reduced sugar Chewits Truly brand. Although mainly to be found in supermarkets at present, Leaf senior brand manager Carys Delve says that the brand will feed through to the independent trade towards the end of the year. The company chose to go down the reduced sugar route because of taste issues and the reported laxative effect which can sometimes occur with sugar-free: "I think this is why sugar-free hasn't done quite as well as expected," says Delve.
The launch replaces the company's reduced sugar Red Band brand which continues to be, according to Delve 'massive in Europe' but was not well known enough in the UK, despite good distribution. Certain elements from Red Band continue in the new Truly range, including the butterfly motif. Launched in April, the range is designed to take the Chewits brand into the family arena, appealing to adults as well as children. Three products have been launched, including Crazy Animals, which add the 'play factor' with the sweets forming top and bottom halves of animals which consumers can mix and match. All the sweets in the range are bagged and have 30% less sugar than traditional Chewits.
Other changes include the announcement that Leaf has decided to transfer sales, marketing and distribution of their Chewits, Chewits Truly and licensed brand portfolio to Bendicks (Mayfair) Ltd for the UK market, while retaining ownership of the brands. The agreement comes into force on June 2 of this year, from which time all orders and enquiries for products need to be directed to Bendicks. The decision to make this transfer was made because it is believed that the larger company will be better able to develop brand sales.
Leaf has commited £1m to marketing and PR this year, including an on-pack promotion of a 2 for 1 deal, running in July and offering days out, and various trade promotions. In August The Sun newspaper will be running a 50p off coupon on selected products in the Chewits range.
Topps International sales and marketing director Martin Tilney says that the £100m sugar novelty confectionery sector in which the company operates is less affected by health issues as the products are seen for their treat value. However, this came as a surprise to him when he joined the company, having previously worked in the snacking sector: "When I came to Topps the first thing I thought was that we must get 'healthier', but the more I talked to retailers and parents the more I realised that parents don't want sugar-free products." Instead, he thinks that the confectionery market should be clear and honest about what the products are, and clean up products as much as possible.
Brittle says that this 'cleaning up' of products - the so called NAFNAC (no artificial flavours, no artificial colours) trend - is one showing fast growth: "With the market demanding the removal of as many E numbers and artifical ingredients as possible from all manner of foods, this trend is gathering pace and spreading across confectionery. We've already seen many of the main brands produce NAFNAC versions of existing products and supermarkets are working hard on their own ranges." Brittle believes that the trend is particularly important for retailers relying on school trade, and Hancocks has recently relaunched its Remember When? range of bagged sweets with a NAFNAC label.
All the major companies have announced 'cleaner' ranges. Nestlé Rowntree scrapped artificial colourings and flavours several years ago and this year will be supporting the brand with a £4.5m media spend, including TV and cinema advertising for Fruit Pastilles and TV ads for Juicy Jellies.
Cadbury Trebor Bassett has announced that it will have removed all artificial colours from its product range by early 2009. The company also trialled The Natural Confectionery Co. products, containing no artificial colours or flavours, in independents last year and will be rolling the brand out to the whole market from June. The range includes Party Jellies, Jelly Dinosaurs, Jelly Snakes, Forbidden Fruits, Jelly Squirms and Jelly Unbearables, all available in 180g bags with a rrp of £1.34. The launch is backed by a £4.9m investment including a TV ad campaign screening from June for two months.
Fox's says that cleaner recipe changes have seen sales rise. Since 2002 the company has used no artificial colours or preservatives, and real fruit juices are now used in Glacier Fruits and Garden Fruits, both fortified with Vitamin C, while Glacier Mints contain real mint oil. Sales of Glacier Fruits and Mints have both seen an uplift of 14.8% and 9.4% (IRI w/e 26.1.08.).
Mars has recently announced that it will be highlighting vitamin C content in its products, as well as the 'no artificial colours or flavours' statement. Mars trade relations manager Bep Sadhu says: "We understand the importance of good nutrition for a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Our priority is to help consumers make informed decisions in their dietary choices." New in the Starburst range is Starburst Twisted, launching this month. The chew combines two flavours and comes in three varieties: Strawberry & Lime, Cherry & Lemon and Blueberry & Banana, available in a 180g (rrp £1.25) and 45g stick (rrp 36p). Mars will be spending over £2m on marketing, including TV throughout the summer plus in-store displays. The company is also introducing a new pack design for its Skittles brand with an opportunity to design your own Skittles pack.
By January this year all Haribo bags of gums and jellies had switched to non artificial colours. Goodwin says it took nearly a year to get the colours right as it was important to the brand to maintain its brightness.
Goodwin believes that retailers are missing out on the opportunity afforded them by some of the Haribo brands, namely Starmix, Tangfastics and Kiddie's SuperMix: "Sales of these three lines have grown by 21%, 26% and 19% respectively - in each case four times greater than the growth of the gums & jellies sector as a whole."
Like Gabrielle Bond, he says that retailers sometimes make the mistake of buying cheaper products which they subsequently get stuck with: "Retailers will give these products more and more space because they panic and want to be rid of them. The result is that they end up depriving potentially faster selling products of space." Another mistake retailers sometimes make, according to Goodwin, is putting best sellers out of the way because they think consumers will seek them out regardless.
"It doesn't necessarily happen - impulse sales are about what smacks consumers between the eyes."
In the main Chewits brand, Leaf has, according to Delve, done much work to clean up the recipe by removing hydrogenated fats and artificial colours as well as adding fruit juice, all of which has had the effect of reducing calories.
Delve says that there will be more news from the Chewits range later this year - one rumoured bit of news will be the reintroduction of ice cream flavour Chewits. The brand is also ditching what must be one of the market's favourite icons: Chewie the Chewits monster. Delve says that Chewie will still be on the sweetshop range but will be phased out to conform with proposed legislation restricting advertising to children. In place of Chewie will be flashes emphasising the brand's healthier credentials. "There's a new pack design" says Delve, "We're putting the fruit back on there."
As well as health and all things retro, Brittle says retailers need to be aware of new products: "That's what drives the sugar market, there's less brand ownership than the chocolate market. Retailers should be flexible, changing 20% of their stock regularly, to keep up interest."
Sugar confectionery tips
l Understand the needs of your customer - talk to them about what they'd like you to stock.
l If you have a school nearby, maximise your sales with a good range of children's sweets at all price points and change them often.
l Consider weighouts - particularly if your competitors aren't doing it. The margins are good and you can adapt to the size of your shop.
l Try new lines - if they are branded they will probably be supported by good marketing spend to encourage trial. Own label can offer good margins.
l Make the display interesting, varied and fun. Offer something for everyone.
Tempting new lines
Topps has a new launch with Push Pop Sliderz, available this month (rrp 69p). The new confectionery will be available in three flavours and comes in a plastic cover from which children slide the candy and in which it can then be stored. The launch will be supported by a nationwide TV campaign at the end of June and online advertising. POS is available.
Hancocks is running a two-day Extra Discounts promotion between August 31 and September 1. To encourage the independent market the cash & carry has recently launched its Secrets Out! campaign, offering a free booklet with retailers' comments and advice on issues such as competing with nearby supermarkets. The booklet will be available from May 23.
Walkers Nonsuch is currently promoting its Traditional Sweet Shop Jar range. The range is available in eight varieties and has no artificial colours, preservatives or hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Right Angle marketing has brought out a Happy Go Lucky Bag. Each bag has an rrp of 99p and contains candy, sweets, a drink and a toy.
Bon Bon Buddies has launched a range of licensed products to support Disney-Pixar's new Wall.E film. The range consists of candy dispensers with jelly beans and Fun Buddy Surprise Bags, which will be out in June, all containing natural flavours and colours. A Wall.E dispenser will also be launched to coincide with the music release.
Mr Lucky Bags has created a bag to coincide with the launch of the Marvel Studios' Iron Man film. The bag is out this month and includes an activity movie poster plus confectionery and novelties.