After years of decline and a modest 2% growth in 2006, the chilled pot desserts category has returned to dizzier heights and become the fastest-growing sector within short-life dairy products, achieving growth of 8% in 2007 and the year to date, according to IRI data.

There are three varieties of pear grown in the UK – Williams, Comice and Concorde. Williams is available in September and October, while UK Concordes are harvested from November to January, and Comice from October to March.

One of the most common pear varieties is Conference, and these are available from Holland and Belgium from September to June, and from Chile from January to May. Conference are a cone-shaped pear with a yellow/green skin, which may have patches of russeting (rougher brown areas). They have a firm texture, and are sweet and juicy when ripe.

Comice are larger, rounder pears, with a creamy flesh and a thick yellow-green skin. They are also very aromatic. 

Concorde are a cross between Comice and Conference and have an elongated shape and a green skin that becomes golden with a red blush when ripe. They are very juicy and sweet. 

Williams pears are often unevenly shaped and have a golden speckled skin with russet patches. The flesh is very tender, creamy-white and very sweet and juicy. There’s also a red skinned variety.

Pears should feel firm while on display. Look at the stalk area for signs of shrivel and softening – this indicates the druit is ripening fast. 

Source: Budgens
And there’s no signs of sales abating, as sweet-toothed consumers are continuing to be lured to the chiller cabinet by new indulgent desserts, as well as everyday products such as Cadbury and Nestlé pots, and Müller rice.

One brand taking the market by storm is Gü, with sales of its indulgent chocolate puddings in convenience stores now worth £2.5m, growing by more than 150% in the past year (Nielsen). Becs Sears, marketing manager for Gü Chocolate Puds, says the company’s core must-stock range for convenience stores is Gü soufflé, Gü choc & vanilla cheesecake, Frü lemon cheesecake, Gü brownies, Gü cheeky three-packs, as well as the number-one selling Gü pud in convenience – chocolate cosy pud for two.

“Consumers are split between the health conscious (looking for functional products) or those seeking good quality, luxury indulgent treats,” says Sears. “For the kids/family eating occasion, ingredients and brand are likely to be important. Having trusted products/brands is important, but so is value for money.

“For individual treats, consumers often buy on impulse and want a ‘deserved treat’ so quality, taste and indulgence is critical. For a more special eating occasion, they will start looking at brands they like. Cost is likely to be less important because people want to impress.”

Sister brand Frü – a range of fruit-based desserts – has just extended its range with the launch of strawberry & raspberry trifles and seasonal summer puds. The trifles are made with berries, Bourbon vanilla custard, fresh whipped cream and vanilla sponge, but have been given a modern twist with fruit at the top instead of the bottom. The summer puds are a compote of six summer fruits, a light sponge and fruity syrup, with less than 100 calories in each pudding. The trifles have a rrp of £2.39 for a pack of two, while the twin-pack summer puddings retail at £2.99.

Product innovation has had a lot to do with chilled desserts’ changing fortunes, and Chris McDonough, marketing and R&D director at Müller UK, whose portfolio includes Cadbury twin-pot desserts and Müller Rice, says: “There’s no doubt that new product development and range extensions have given the sector new impetus and contributed to the significant increase in sales of our dessert pots over the past 12-18 months.”

Müller has recently expanded its dessert portfolio with the launch of Cadbury custard & sponge, two new flavours for Müller Rice – rhubarb and cherry – plus a relaunch of Cadbury Lights trifle and mousse dessert ranges under the Cadbury Highlights brand. The introduction of Cadbury Dairy Milk chunks, Cadbury Dairy Milk shortcake biscuit, and Cadbury Dairy Milk mint chips have helped Cadbury twin pots increase sales by 6.9%, while Müller Rice has grown by 17.2% (IRI).

Müller Rice and Cadbury twin pots are both supported by a £4.5m marketing spend this year, with a five-month consumer press campaign for Cadbury concluding at the end of November. Aimed at 25- to 55-year-old women, the campaign is featuring in weekend supplements and celebrity weekly magazines. 

Müller Rice’s burst of activity this summer focused on positioning the brand as a tasty, healthy snack. Chris McDonough says: “With people looking for healthier snacking options, we believe there is a tremendous opportunity to increase usage occasions for Müller Rice by developing the snacking potential of the brand. We want to encourage more consumers to think about incorporating Müller Rice in their snacking repertoire and this was at the heart of our summer campaign. The TV advertising gets across the message that Müller Rice is healthy – it contains less than 3% fat. It is made from natural rice, milk and fruit and one 200g pot contains 20% of your recommended daily allowance of calcium.”

Meet the supplier
Supplier: Greencore Group

Background: Greencore was established in 1991 through a flotation of the state-owned Irish Sugar Corporation by the Irish government. More than half of the company was privatised, and the government subsequently sold the balance of its holding. The Convenience Foods Division provides chilled, frozen and ambient foods to retail, manufacturing and foodservice customers in the UK and Ireland.

Recent launches: Kiveton’s Kitchen is the latest addition to Greencore. Developed for the convenience sector, the range comprises 28 ready meals from around the world.

Distribution: Kiveton’s Kitchen is available nationwide through Palmer & Harvey or Londis, and also through Greencore’s Food-To-Go sandwich delivery service.
Meanwhile, traditional puddings supplier Farmhouse Fare is broadening its appeal beyond family desserts with the launch of its first-ever range of twin packs. The new range of individual portion puddings includes 120g luxury sticky toffee pudding and sticky chocolate pudding, both of which are also available as organic variants. Also included in the range are luxury sticky chocolate & orange pudding, sticky carrot cake pudding and luxury sticky banoffee toffee pudding.

Farmhouse Fare founder Helen Colley says: “The new range will strengthen our reputation as the producer of the finest handmade puddings in the UK and will introduce our puddings to a completely new market. Families have been enjoying our puddings for many years. Now couples and single people can enjoy puddings made in the traditional farmhouse way, inspired by family recipes that can be traced back to my great grandmother.” 

The twin packs will be launched to meet the surge in demand for puddings in the winter months.

Last winter Farmhouse Fare grew at twice the rate of the chilled desserts market, with sales increases of 19% compared to total market growth of 7% (source: TNS December 30 2007). 

In addition to its twin-pack range, Farmhouse Fare will be launching several new family-sized puddings including bread & butter, cherry & chocolate crumble, triple chocolate truffle bread & butter and hot jaffa cake.

Not all sub sectors of the chilled desserts category have fared well.

Sales of fruit mousse and fools, for example, are declining by 7%, but Dr Oetker Onken mousses have bucked the trend thanks to some strong promotions. 

And the range was relaunched last month with new 115g snack-size pots and new packaging. 

Dr Oetker’s new kids' brand Paula, which was launched in March this year, has shown a strong start with sales through convenience reaching £161,000 in value – two-thirds of which was achieved in the four weeks ending July 12. 

Top5 Desserts brands
1. Dr Oetker Onken strawberry mousse
2. Müller Rice strawberry
3. Nestlé Rolo dessert 2pk
4. Cadbury’s Flake dessert single
5. Dr Oetker Onken choc & hazelnut mousse 115g

Source: IRI Convenience Value Sales data Ranking Unit Rate of Sale 12wk w/e July 12, 2008
Paula has benefited from a £2.5m multi-media marketing campaign, which included TV, press to mums and kids, as well as a sampling roadshow, PR and outdoor events for families and kids.

Also targeting kids, Yeo Valley Organic introduced what it said was the first children’s organic milk chocolate mousse at the start of the year. It has followed that up with the addition of a strawberry variety. Yeo Valley marketing director Ben Cull says: “Organic products have had a major impact on the yogurt market and in just a few years organic milk has become a £165m-a-year business. We think desserts is the next sector that will benefit from organic entries.

“Even in the current financial climate – where consumers are trying to make their money go further – many are keen to consume more natural foods and are still prepared to pay a premium for them. There is no substitute for quality though and when consumers see the word 'organic' on a label they expect to taste the difference, which is one of the reasons why our range is doing so well.”
New products
Dairy Crest has launched a lighter version of Clover to cash in on current health trends.

Clover Lighter has 30% less fat than the standard product and comes in 500g packs with a rrp of £1.69.

The new product will be supported by a £2m TV and radio advertising campaign, part of a £6m investment in the Clover brand overall. The Lighter activity will start in January – a key time of year for healthier products.

Dairy Crest marketing director Paul Fraser says: “Clover Lighter has been developed to have the fantastic Clover taste but 30% less fat. It is set to build loyalty among our existing shoppers and attract new ones."

Dairy Crest has also rebranded its snack-sized Cathedral City mature Cheddar cheese portions under the name Cathedral City Minis, and plans to extend the Minis range to include a mild variant. The mild and mature Minis products come in a net bag of six 20g portions. 

Start-up company Shotz Health has launched a nutrient-fortified fruit juice shot into the chilled impulse sector.

With levels of vitamins and minerals that are said to “genuinely rival multivitamin supplements”, BIG Shotz contains 17 vitamins and minerals, omega 3, prebiotic fibre and ginseng in each 120ml bottle.

The mango & passionfruit juice shot is the brainchild of nutrition enthusiast Deborah Maxwell who says she spotted a gap in the market for "an authentic multivitamin juice shot that brings sufficient levels of essential daily nutrients and other beneficial ingredients within easy reach of busy consumers". 

Big Shotz is a liquid food form, which means the micronutrients it contains are meant to be absorbed more quickly and efficiently than when dried or powdered in a capsule or tablet. 

Big Shotz contains many vitamins and minerals at 100% of the RDA. It is free from preservatives, gluten, lactose and caffeine, and is low in fat with no artificial colours, flavours or sweeteners. Each shot contains 68 calories.

Rrp is £1.99.