Hot Shots and Top Snacks | NACS Online – Magazine – Past Issues – 2010 – June 2010
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Hot Shots and Top Snacks

By Fiona Briggs

An appetite for innovation permeated the halls of the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England, in late March, as 600 suppliers from around the United Kingdom gathered to showcase their wares across eight different grocery-oriented trade shows —all under one roof.

Top takeaways in core categories, such as packaged beverages and salty snacks, show that health and wellness continues to dominate new product launches. In the early stages of a post-recession recovery, there’s also a strong desire for convenience retailers to differentiate themselves from the competition. The Convenience Retailing Show (CRS) and the International Forecourt & Fuel Equipment Show (IFFE) displayed new impulse lines, more local products and personalization to help U.K. retailers set themselves apart.

Expansion of Energy
First up, and hard to miss, the energy shot market. Following the trail blazed by energy products in the United States, U.K. retailers are getting on board —fast. Top U.S. brand, 5-Hour Energy, promoted its 58-milliliter energy shot to retailers at CRS.

Rob McCormack, director of international business development, said that 5-Hour Energy is hoping to replicate the success it’s had in the U.S. market, where it has a 71 percent share of a $1 billion category, according to Nielsen data. "We’ve been doing business in the U.K. for some time but mostly through health and golf clubs. We are now more focused on the general trade, forecourts and convenience stores, and bringing the brand to the U.K.," he said.

The company is up against rival U.S. firm, Viva Beverages and its Quick branded shots, marketed in the U.K. by Enco Products. As well as the original Quick Energy product, Viva unveiled Quick Relax and Quick to Sleep, taking functional drinks to new areas, including the sleep-aid category.

Further energy shot competition came from Ireland’s Little Dragon Shots, said to be inspired by a fusion of Celtic and Asian influences, and the U.K.’s Voltz energy shot drink.

Baking Up Goodness
ChippidyDooDaa and SnackaDoodle are the creative brands for new, bagged snacks from Warburtons, the U.K.’s leading bread manufacturer and second largest grocery brand.

Considered a surprising and left of field move, the range has been well received, said Barrie Saxby, commercial manager. "The feedback has been incredibly positive," he said. "It’s something that’s different but it covers all of Warburtons’ heritage and credentials —baking is our core competence."

Nine SKUs offer impulse sizes, bigger bags for sharing and multi-packs accompanied by strong health messaging, such as "baked not fried," "whole grains," "high in fiber" and "no artificial ingredients." Warburtons also showed its unsliced Tiger white loaf, aimed at convenience stores that don’t have a baking facility.

Rival baker Kingsmill said consumers had cut back on top-up shopping due to the recession and were buying staples, like bread, on a larger, weekly shop at supermarkets. In this scenario, it’s key that convenience stores maintain availability. Half of all bread sales in convenience are made after 3 pm, said Kingsmill, so keeping in stock throughout the day is vital.

Kingsmill also advised stores to maximize impulse opportunities for bread snacks, such as crumpets and rolls, and competitive pricing with price-marked packs, for example.

Something Special
Among the specialty producers exhibiting at the Food & Drink Expo, Surf Seeds stood out. The Dublin-based company markets a range of sunflower seeds and chocolate-coated sunflower seeds in three varieties: original, a pumpkin mix and blueberry. The product’s resealable container mirrors both the shape of a surfboard and sunflower seed, or it’s packed in a shelf-ready box in the style of a Volkswagen van.

Surf Seeds’ founder Tim Rooney said he wants the brand to be the Abercrombie & Fitch of the snack food world. "There’s so many good things in seeds€¦I wanted to find a way to get people to eat them," he said.

Surf Seeds shared a booth with Stoats, an Edinburgh-based company, which started selling fresh organic porridge from vans at farmers’ markets in 2005. Since then, the company has expanded into porridge bars and is targeting the rest of the U.K. after its success in Scotland. According to the company, the bars make an ideal breakfast-on-the-go or snack, with all the health benefits of oats.

Sun Valley offered visitors health with a bit of indulgence in its revamped fruit and nut mix range —Nature with a hint of Naughty and Nature with a hint of Exotic.

Bonds Confectionery reported strong sales of its pre-packed range (chocolate-covered raisins and gummy treats, for example) especially where promoted at three bags for a low price. Sales director Chris Clunie said the range had benefited from the demise of Woolworths and its pick 'n’ mix offer, a range of small sweets, which are merchandised in tubs for shoppers to scoop up a combination of items.

Elsewhere, leading U.K. baker Pork Farms was hoping to attract younger shoppers with a dual branding initiative featuring Branston pickle (a pickled relish) and Peperami salami (a pork sausage) on its pies and rolls.

Coffee Additions
In coffee, DrinkMaster was looking to extend its customer base outside of airlines to retailers with its Cafe Joe brand of instant, sealed cup products, including cappuccino, latte and tea. "We are what we are —instant, not bean to cup," said managing director Paul Vickers, "but we can offer all those derivatives in one place with very limited [food safety concerns]."

Starbucks teamed up with diary giant Arla at the Cafe+ trade show to launch its ready-to-drink cold coffee range in the United Kingdom. Four SKUs also will go on sale in Starbucks stores.

Coffee Treats had one of the show’s niftiest products called ChokArt, a gadget that uses a series of stencils to sprinkle chocolate powder on top of drinks. Seven stencil designs are available plus the option of personalization with a company logo or initial.

Focus On Sustainability
At the Food & Drink Expo, regional food group exhibits highlighted some of the country’s best local products and opportunities for convenience retailers. John Hendy, commercial director at The Regional Food Group for Yorkshire and Humber, identified the continuing macro trend of sustainability, noting that local food focuses on the community and providing jobs.

Andrew Bradley, partner at brand and retail design consultants Bradley McGurk, agreed that smaller, family-owned businesses are making their mark. He added the company had received interest from bakers in particular, looking to smarten up their appearance and branch out into more retail locations.

Green themes also spanned the trade shows, with Magic Carbon promoting its low-emission barbecue briquettes, featuring a patented paraffin-coated bag design, and Indigo Retail and TQIPS with its turnkey forecourt solutions. Indigo also demonstrated its latest in-store media solutions, such as LCD and shelf-edge screens, which retailers can tailor to meet their own needs to promote coffee and meal deals as well as higher margin products such as the car wash.

CRS and the adjacent grocery trade shows clearly demonstrate the appeal of being an individual convenience retailer in the U.K. In an increasingly homogenous world, it’s often easier to just follow along, but the event showcased many opportunities for c-stores to break out of the status quo and differentiate their businesses from the major grocers.

It’s a worthwhile endeavor to take the time to seek out new opportunities to tailor your convenience business to meet your unique customer needs. After all, a handmade approach beats cookie cutter any day.

Fiona Briggs is a retail business journalist. She is also consulting editorial director at the U.K. PR company Cirkle. She can be reached at fionalbriggs@ gmail.com.