Independents are taking the biscuit

Phil Nicolle talks to Better Wholesaling about the UK’s growing biscuits and snacks sector.

BW: How is the UK biscuit and snack sector performing?
phil nicolle
Phil Nicolle – Impulse director, United Biscuits

PN: We’re having a really strong year. Our top selling product, McVitie’s Digestives, is seeing 11% growth and, with a value of £92m, is our number one SKU. We’re also seeing strong growth in our other brands, Jacob’s and Go Ahead. We’ve invested in marketing campaigns for all three of these brands and we are really seeing growth in response.

How much of United Biscuit’s business comes through the wholesale sector?

It’s a very important channel for us. I look after all impulse, and this includes foodservice, cash & carry, and Palmer and Harvey. Wholesalers are vital for us, as some £100m worth of business comes from independent stores and symbols. We’re very focused on investing in the channel as we believe there is massive room for growth. Our Snack Happy campaign is currently touring 22 depots across the UK, offering retailers discounts and highlighting our Jacob’s range with displays that they can take back to their stores on the same day.

Are retailers getting the -category right?

At the moment, just 50% of independent c-stores stock McVitie’s Digestives – we think this alone is a £18m missed opportunity. But independent stores are also critically important to local communities. We think it is really important to offer consumers that choice.

What are the key challenges facing wholesalers at the moment?

Discount stores are putting pressure on the grocery market. Stores operating at the top end of the market, such as Waitrose, are also doing well. It’s the retailers in the middle that are really struggling.

There is still considerable pressure on households to reduce their expenditure, but despite this, we think there is still opportunity for growth. For a mature category, the current 2% rate of growth is a strong performance. There is a massive opportunity for wholesalers but it is a competitive area.

What do you enjoy most about working in wholesale?

I’ve been at United Biscuits for 13 years and have spent around half that time working in impulse. I love wholesale. I get to work with people who own businesses that are a real part of a community. There’s a real emphasis on ­personal ­relationships and the sector is unique in its level of diversity. I meet people from all kinds of backgrounds and that brings fresh opportunities. It’s a massive market, but it’s also a tough market. Every case counts. In order for businesses to thrive, we will need to have a shared goal with independents.

Do you see any trends emerging in the sector?

I think value is still a key area for growth. But I think healthy eating is also a huge trend. People are more focused on what they eat than ever before.

On-the-go snacking is another area I think will see growth. As meal times evolve, there is a greater need for small, transportable packs – particularly at breakfast time. I think the Go Ahead brand is well placed to take advantage of that.

Lastly, I see huge potential in savoury biscuits. Just 18% of biscuits eaten in the UK are savoury, well below levels seen in Australia and the USA. As people look to cut down on the amount of bread they eat, savoury biscuits could offer an alternative.


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