The big three chocolate manufacturers - Cadbury Trebor Bassett (CTB), Mars and Nestlé Rowntree - all have the same message for forecourt retailers in the run up to Easter 2008. Stock up on filled and mini eggs, they say, and cash in on the impulse sales they bring.

Indeed the importance of filled and mini eggs is illustrated by their share of sales. According to IRI figures, they account for 56% of traditional Easter egg sales. And Graham Walker, Nestlé UK’s trade communications manager, says these eggs account for 21% of all chocolate sales in impulse outlets (including forecourts) in the run up to Easter.

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that the ’run up to Easter’ is considerably shorter than recent years. In fact it is the shortest period since 1913, with Easter Sunday falling on March 23, 2008. Manufacturers always encourage retailers to get their eggs out early - straight after Christmas if at all possible - and with such a short season, it would seem the early bird might catch the impulse egg sales.

Back to those filled and mini eggs, and it will come as no surprise that there are new products for 2008 and relaunches of existing lines.

In 2007, IRI figures revealed that Mars became the number two manufacturer in filled eggs, with an impressive 13% growth across its range. The Galaxy chocolate caramel filled egg enjoyed 34% growth and was the third best-selling single filled egg. For 2008 it will benefit from a new smoother centre. And in mini eggs, Mars is launching the Mars & Friends gift pack. The 180g bag, with a rrp of £1.99, contains a mix of Mars, Maltesers, Milky Way and Galaxy mini eggs.

But Nestlé is fighting back. It has two new premium filled eggs, aimed at women looking for an indulgent treat. These are the Heaven Swiss milk chocolate filled egg with a creamy truffle centre and the Black Magic filled egg with a dark chocolate truffle centre. Both eggs come in outers of 36 and have a recommended retail price of 55p.

In addition, both Black Magic and Heaven are available in a mini eggs format.

For younger consumers there are two new Smarties and Milkybar offerings, which have been developed to please mums looking for permissible special treats for their children, as Smarties has been free from artificial colours since 2006, and Milkybar is now made from all natural ingredients.

The Smarties Shakers filled egg is a milk chocolate egg filled with mini Smarties, while the Milkybar Shakers filled egg is a white chocolate egg filled with white chocolate-covered rice balls. Both have a recommended retail price of 39p and come in 48-count outers. Retailers who have been around a few years might remember that the Smarties Shakers egg has been available before, but not for some time, which explains the ’new’ tag!

But the biggest filled egg of them all is, of course, the iconic Cadbury Creme Egg which remains the best-selling filled egg and was worth £34.5m in 2007, according to AC Nielsen figures. The brand will be supported by a £4.5m campaign in 2008 with a new series of TV ads being screened from January 1 onwards, with the tagline: ’Here Today, Goo Tomorrow’.

CTB’s acting head of customer relations, Kate Harding, says: "Key shopping missions within forecourts are for newspapers and magazines, soft drinks and food to go. As a largely impulse purchase, it is important to site Cadbury Creme Egg near these and at the till point so consumers have ample opportunity to purchase. In addition, forecourt entrances are often visually ’noisy’ so it is important that your seasonal point of sale draws attention to the occasion."

Onto shell eggs, and some forecourt retailers may think they are not worth stocking at all because the grocery multiples continue to use them as footfall drivers. Pricing has been ridiculously low and no forecourt could possibly compete with some of the deals of the past however the manufacturers urge forecourts to stick with it.

Says Graham Walker: "The supermarkets’ activity means it’s more important than ever for forecourts to focus on what they do. They need to stick to a very tight range that’s relevant to their consumer base and make sure that range is full of big brands backed by advertising support."

At this point it’s worth mentioning that Nestlé is spending £8m on its spring campaign.

Walker adds that forecourts should concentrate on added value and premium eggs because they are not so price sensitive. He means people are so impressed by the ’extras’ or indeed the indulgence that they don’t mind paying a bit more.

And for 2008, Nestlé’s added value is really quite astonishing. It has two new Experience eggs. The Aero Milk Bubbles gift experience egg (rrp £4.99) contains a gift certificate that can be exchanged for things like facials, manicures or massages while the KitKat gift experience egg (also rrp £4.99) offers experiences including golf and canoeing lessons. When you consider that a facial can cost upwards of £30 as can a golf lesson, it really is quite an incredible deal. Walker says, not surprisingly, that the trade has been very excited about this launch.

Finally back to that all-important timing. The fact that Easter Sunday falls on March 23 means there are less than 12 weeks between the start of the New Year and Easter so retailers really do need to be planning ahead.

CTB’s Kate Harding recommends that retailers use Cadbury Creme Eggs and Mini Eggs to signpost Easter both on the fixture and at the till points, using impactful point of sale material.

"Once the retailer has built a great display on shelf, creative flair can be added to bring the occasion to life," she says. "If space is available then cards and soft toys can be merchandised adjacent to the fixture, this increases the chance of cross-category purchases and gives the feeling of a complete Easter offering that suits all shoppers’ needs."

She adds that forecourt retailers can drive sales and make their store an easier and more enjoyable place to shop by following these merchandising principles:

l shopper flow - ensure that the main confectionery fixture is located in a high-traffic area and create highly visible fixtures;

l give more facings to the top sellers and place them on gondola ends with point of sale material where possible. This increases visibility and impulse purchases, while at the same time helps to ensure retailers don’t go out of stock;

l block by brand as shoppers will look for signpost brands as guidance;

l block by sub-category, putting similar products together - for example, shell eggs together.

Finally, Harding says: "Empty shelves cost sales - shoppers looking for last-minute gifts will want to see a good selection to choose from. If the forecourt does not stock the brand that they are hoping for, customers are likely to go elsewhere."


=== Best of the rest ===

? For 2008, Terry’s Chocolate Orange Segsations egg has been replaced by a new Terry’s Chocolate Orange bar egg, which includes two 40g Chocolate Orange bars. There is also a new Toblerone egg which comes with two 35g bars.

? Guylian’s three core products for Valentine’s Day are its 250g praline Seashells with removable sleeve and the I Love You range of praline-filled milk chocolate hearts, available in 200g and 50g packs.

? For the first time, Mars is including tubes in its Easter range: Mars Planets, Maltesers and Minstrels.

? Mars has a new range of shell eggs aimed at 16-24-year-olds. It comprises Mars Planets, Galaxy Ripple and Celebrations. Rrp is £3.99.

? Building on the huge surge in popularity of dark chocolate, Mars is adding a Galaxy Dark egg to its range. Rrp is £4.99.


=== All loved up at spring time ===

The early part of the year also includes two other big opportunities for chocolate sales: St Valentine’s Day on February 14 and Mother’s Day on March 2.

"Confectionery is still a traditional and romantic gift for Valentine’s Day, accounting for 15% of all Valentine’s Day gifts and worth more than £37.5m," says Dave McNulty, convenience sales customer director at Kraft Foods.

"Many consumers give chocolate as a top-up present alongside gifts such as flowers and jewellery for women, or CDs and clothes for men."

With that in mind, he says retailers should offer a balanced range of confectionery gifts that appeal to both men and women.

"Any Valentine’s confectionery products should be displayed clearly and attractively in category areas using display outers where appropriate, to help maximise sales opportunities," says McNulty.

From Kraft, the big block success is Toblerone which has recently been joined by a fruit & nut variant. For Valentine’s Day the 400g bar of fruit & nut features a new sleeve design including the slogan ’Fruit and Naughty’. But original Toblerone has not been forgotten and will have a range of removable sleeves including: ’To my love’, ’I love you’ and ’Lover boy’. These 400g bars come in mixed cases of 10 units, allowing retailers to offer more choice with less initial outlay.

Onto Mother’s Day, and McNulty says: "Mother’s Day confectionery gifts are mainly bought by men at the last minute, so retailers should build big, bold displays. But they should also bear in mind that the majority of mums receiving confectionery as a gift are aged 55-plus, so they need to stock a range of brands to match consumer age profiles."

Two brands that should not be forgotten for Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day are Cadbury Milk Tray and Cadbury Roses. That’s because, according to AC Nielsen figures, the two brands contribute more than £2m to Valentine’s Day sales plus Roses and Milk Tray are the number one and number two best-selling brands for Mother’s Day.