Toby Hill dissects this important time of year and advises how wholesalers can make the most of it
As the winter nights become darker and longer, people tend to spend a higher proportion of their disposable income on treats and indulgences to enjoy at home instead of heading out. At the same time, as Christmas approaches, there’s a spike in the number of parties being held around the UK, as people gather with friends and family.
The net result is a wealth of sales opportunities for switched-on wholesalers, who can harness these seasonal shifts to drive sales of snacks, sweet treats, soft drinks and alcohol.
Simple savoury snacking
Whether it’s cheeseburgers that are ready to eat after a minute in the microwave, noodles that require just a splash of boiling water, or big sharing bags of crisps, savoury treats lead the way for effortless evening snacking.
“When it comes to the big night in, consumers want food that can be prepared easily and delivers on taste,” says Monisha Singh, shopper marketing manager at Kepak Consumer Foods, which manufactures the Rustlers range of microwaveable burgers.
But while a desire for straight-forward, flavour-packed snacking remains as strong as ever, fast-changing customer buying habits require continual innovation if suppliers are to keep pace with demand.
One key trend is a desire to experiment with new and exciting flavours, often drawn from world cuisine. A recent product launch that has mastered this remit is McCoy’s Muchos from KP Snacks, available in three zingy, Mexican-inspired flavours and a 180g bag – perfect for sharing during a night in.
A parallel trend is a move towards premiumisation. Customers are seeking more sophisticated flavours, says Katy Hamblin, marketing manager at Pipers Crisps, who gives the example that “Mediterranean herb flavours are an increasingly popular choice across Europe in food and drinks”.
Pipers’ distinctive Wild Thyme & Rosemary flavour is balanced to match these trends, and is also available in 150g sharing bags.
Keeping it nutritious
Perhaps the biggest trend reshaping snacking is a desire for healthier alternatives. This demand for nutrition without compromising on taste has generated a flood of innovative new products over the past few years.
Japan’s biggest snacks manufacturer, Calbee, has capitalised on this demand, seeing strong UK sales growth for its Yushoi baked pea snaps snacks, which are made from 68% green pea and available in four vegetarian flavours.
“These gluten-free snacks have all green and amber GDAs, which offers a much healthier option to traditional crisps and snacks,” explains Jon Wood, commercial director at Calbee UK.
Yorkshire-based snacks manufact-urer Symington’s has also prioritised healthier options in its NPD, such as in its recently launched Twistd brand of super grains, grains and pulses.
The brand’s range includes such innovations as East Indian Spiced Cous Cous, Bulgur Wheat & Lentils and Mediterranean Tomato & Herb Super Grains.
Similarly, healthier options are also available under Symington’s top-selling Mug Shot brand. The firm has developed a range of Protein Pots, which boast a minimum 13% protein and under 2% fat across a range of four flavour variants including Roast Chicken and Rogan Josh.
Its vegetable pots, meanwhile, contain less than 250 calories and offer a 50:50 pasta combo where half is whole wheat, and half is standard.
Finally, KP Snacks recently expanded its range of healthier options with the acquisition of Popchips, coming in at 100 calories per serving and available in four flavours.
“Sales of big bags of crisps and sweets start to increase at this time of year. We sell lots of £1 bags of wine gums, jelly babies, chocolate buttons and Maltesers. The same with £1 bags of Doritos, Monster Munch, Wotsits and Walkers Sensations. They are all flying out. People also buy Red Bull and other energy drinks for a night in.”
Kate Clark, Sean’s News, Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire
“I don’t tend to see sales of snacks or sharing items increase through autumn or winter. For us, it’s all about the alcohol, especially beer. Corona and Desperadoes are very popular currently, primarily bottles, although people have started asking for cans of Desperados, too. We’ve had two price rises on Desperados in the past six months and it’s still selling really well.”
Ferhan Ashiq, Day-Today Ashiqs, Prestonpans, East Lothian
“We see a number of changes at this time of year – we reduce of stock of salads and increase artisan soups, for example. We also see increased sales of sharing snacks such as artisan nuts; we stock Mr Filberts. Artisan crisps are selling really well, too. We stock Savoursmiths, and flavours like Parmesan and Port are very popular.”
Kate Mills, Heath Stores, Tonbridge, Kent
“As winter comes in, we start to see our sales of snacks increase, especially sharing bags of crisps. Last year, we saw grab bags of Doritos and Doritos dips selling really well, especially the salsa. We merchandise them together and people will often grab them when they’re staying in on a cold night.”
Ramsey Hasaballa, Premier Speke, Liverpool
Of course, a big night in isn’t just about healthy savoury snacking. Sweet treats also present a great sales opportunity for many convenience retailers, who will be looking to their wholesalers to provide them with both the basics and inspiration to test out new lines.
Indeed, the same trends – premiumisation and healthier snacking – are impacting the sweet side of the snacking divide. Fortunately, firms such as General Mills, manufacturer of Häagen-Dazs ice cream, are keeping on top of developments.
“Over the past year, sugar and fat content has been high on the agenda and, as a result, consumers are becoming more health conscious,” says Kat Jones, marketing manager at General Mills.
“Ice cream is expected to be deliciously decadent and created with the best ingredients, but offer permissible indulgence, too – a demand we’ve answered with our lighter Gelato Collection.”
As well as the gelato range, General Mills recently launched a Barista collection of coffee-infused ice creams. Meanwhile, its latest NPD is Häagen-Dazs Obsessions – “a fusion of highest-quality ingredients with crunchy/cakey pieces and a swirl of delicious sauce”, as Jones puts it – which targets customers seeking a premium ice cream experience.
Alongside ice cream, chocolate and sugar confectionery are also must-stocks for wholesalers seeking to take advantage of the big night in opportunity.
“The rise in popularity of the big night in has proven that sharing packs play a key role in the confectionery market as consumers are opting for larger formats to share everyday treats in company,” notes Dan Newell, portfolio director at Mars Wrigley.
He points to products such as M&M’s Crispy Large Choc Bag and Maltesers 100g box as embodying this trend, experiencing sales growth of 16% and 138%, respectively.
Soft drinks and sips
Whether for the big night in, or for parties and gatherings, tweaking your soft drinks range is essential during those darkling pre-Christmas months. Here, too, trends towards healthier living have made their mark.
“Following the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy last year, we’ve seen more people switching from sugary drinks into low- and no-added-sugar alternatives,” notes Ian Patefield, GB wholesale director at Britvic.
“As a result, Pepsi Max continues to take share in this sector, and 7up Free, R Whites and Tango have all seen growth.”
As well as building a broad range of sugar-free options, Patefield also emphasises the importance of ensuring multipacks and large-format bottles are well-stocked.
“Sharing options, such as multipacks or one- and two-litre bottles, are vital to cater for nights in with family and friends,” he says.
Finally, while trends towards healthier eating and drinking are clear, there’s no denying that alcohol remains a central component of the pre-Christmas period.
Whether it’s the office party, a student blow-out or a refined gathering with family, the vast majority of gatherings will involve some selection of booze.
Herchelle Perez Terrado, category controller of wines & spirits at Bestway Wholesale, highlights gin and sparkling wine as primed for big sales in Christ-mas 2019.
Roust commercial head Ed Titheridge emphasises the importance of authenticity in the alcohol market, highlighting the firm’s Żubrówka Bison Grass vodka, created from a 600-year-old Polish recipe and infused with a stick of bison grass in every bottle.
For those seeking a lighter, fruitier option, new TGI Fridays ready-to-drink cocktails are available in Passionfruit Martini, Pink Punk Mojito and Long Island Tea varieties – perfect for brightening up a big night in during the darker months.