Just how badly the Cadbury salmonella scare has affected the chocolate market is hard to say but that, on top of record summer temperatures and consumer concerns over health and obesity, have all been bad news. However as we head towards the autumn - and more importantly - towards Christmas, there are glad tidings ahead as the manufacturers wheel out their festive ranges.

But first a quick pat on the back for the impulse trade channel which, of course, includes forecourts. And that’s because, according to AC Nielsen data (16 weeks ending December 25, 2005), impulse had a great Christmas, with sales up 6% year on year, to £70.7m.

According to Andrea Taylor, trade relations manager at Masterfoods, some of the growth was down to the fact that the Christmas timings were good with Christmas Day falling on a Sunday and effectively extending trading. "However, this means 2006 brings an even stronger opportunity with a full weekend trading available for retailers," she says.

But as well as that pat on the back, there’s also a slap on the wrist for some retailers as Masterfoods estimates that the trade lost out on £5.2m in sales of Celebrations in the final four weeks of the Christmas season because of out-of-stocks. "By choosing the right range and stocking it from September onwards and focusing availability in the final weeks of the year, retailers can really capitalise on Christmas," says Taylor.

Both Celebrations and Maltesers are big Christmas sellers - indeed 60% of Celebrations’ sales come at Christmas and 44% of Maltesers’.

However, the big new line from Masterfoods for this Christmas is the gift cube, which is aimed at a slightly older market than selection boxes. There are three cubes containing Mars, Mars Delight and Galaxy Ripple (rrp £2.49). "We’re confident that cubes will do for bars what tubes did for Masterfoods’ bitesize chocolates in terms of driving the category," says Taylor. For retailers, the cubes have been designed to optimise space and can be merchandised sideways on shelf, if space is tight.

As well as being good for impulse outlets, last Christmas was a good one for the independent sector, which grew ahead of the total market (up 3% versus 1%), according to Nestlé Rowntree. However, with more than 200 Christmas lines on sale in the independent sector last year, some retailers might want advice on what to select for their stores. To this end, Nestlé Rowntree has identified the ’core’ products within its 2006 range. It reckons that these should make up 90% of a forecourt’s range, as they are the best-selling and most profitable packs. Retailers are then advised to select additional products from Nestlé Rowntree’s ’extended’ range, based on the individual opportunities for their own stores.

Quality Street is a ’must stock’ for any forecourt and the core lines for independent retailers are apparently the 1.3kg tin (£9.99), the 480g carton (£4.19) and the 275g carton (£2.59).

This year Quality Street celebrates its 70th birthday, so the Christmas tin will feature a celebratory anniversary design. Also new for 2006 is improved packaging for the cartons, with all packs having a window on the front so consumers can see the sweets inside.

In the extended range there is the new Quality Street Toffees, Caramels and Fudges 800g tin (£6.99). The tin includes a mix of old favourites like the toffee penny and toffee finger, plus new sweets including banoffee, treacle toffee and crème caramel flavours.

When it comes to After Eight, the 300g pack (£2.79) and the Straws (£1.99) are the must-stock core lines for independents. Extensions to the After Eight range this Christmas are a 300g milk chocolate pack (£2.79); Straws Grand Marnier flavour (£1.99) and After Eight Premium Bags (£1.99). The latter contains individually-wrapped dark and milk chocolate mints.

Nestlé Rowntree reckons giant tubes are a big opportunity for independent retailers to grow their Christmas sales. The company says the category grew 21% in independents last year. The number one selling giant tube is Smarties, and this forms part of the company’s core range along with Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles, Rowntrees Jelly Tots and Milkybar Buttons. However there are two new tube lines: Pink Smarties giant tube for girls and Aero Bubbles.

Meanwhile, Cadbury Trebor Bassett (CTB) says that extensive consumer and customer research has highlighted demand for Christmas selection boxes to look more ’Christmassy’. So its selection packs and tubes have been redesigned with seasonal imagery. And to help consumers differentiate between pack sizes and price, the contents are shown more clearly and the boxes are colour-coded.

In gifting and sharing, Cadbury Roses Premium Truffle Selection is a new indulgent treat. The 200g boxes contain 16 truffles; rrp is £3.49.

In novelties, CTB is launching the Cadbury Santa’s Workshop. This 215g novelty pack is filled with moulded Christmas shapes including a milk chocolate Christmas tree with white chocolate baubles, a bulging chocolate Santa’s sack, a mountain of presents and a white chocolate bearded Santa. Rrp is £3.49. There is also the Cadbury Dairy Milk Snowman Surprise. This 220g novelty hollow snowman contains a chocolate surprise inside - an assortment of solid milk and white Cadbury chocolate snowballs. Rrp is £4.99.

Mike Tipping, Cadbury Trebor Bassett’s head of customer relations, says research indicates that consumers are demanding even more from retailers. "They really want the store to reflect the magic of Christmas with exciting and extensive displays which are highly themed, easy to shop and will make them feel as though retailers are entering into the spirit of Christmas. Retailers who made the effort in 2005 recorded up to a 40% increase in sales."

Kraft’s big news for Christmas is the launch of its Cote d’Or brand into the premium gifting sector.

New Cote d’Or Oraia comprises individually-wrapped portions of milk chocolate praline, coated in crunchy hazelnut. Rrp is £3.49.

But as well as stocking the new line, forecourts shouldn’t neglect two Kraft staples: Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Toblerone.

Sales of Terry’s Chocolate Orange ball were up 14% last Christmas, with an extra 350,000 households buying the brand. This year it will be supported by a £2m media campaign, including the latest TV ad featuring Dawn French together with people from around the world trying to crack open their Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

The 400g Toblerone bar aims to drive festive sales through the use of seasonal sleeves - with a Christmas stocking to replace the ’L’ in Toblerone, slippers replacing the ’B’ and a tie replacing the ’T’.

Posh choccie company Bendicks enjoyed spectacular sales results last Christmas. George McLearie, trade marketing manager, Bendicks, explains: "This growth has been brought about by more consumers buying premium chocolates for gifting as well as for a personal treat."

New from Bendicks for Christmas 2006 is the Mingles 200g cracker pack, rrp £3.49. It comes in display trays of six. Mingles is also available in an all-year-round 330g box (£3.99) and a stocking filler/gift 150g box (£1.99). Bendicks reports that sales of the 150g pack grew by more than £400,000 last Christmas.

McLearie adds that Bendicks Gorgeous has performed extremely well at full price in a highly competitive sector - generating sales in excess of £1.3m. For this Christmas, the 200g pack (£3.49) has an improved design and an enhanced finish to increase its consumer appeal. Plus there is the launch of a new 400g hexagonal pack (£6.99) which is being marketed as a special gift.

Guylian is another upmarket brand that reported a strong seasonal performance in 2005. Following its successful launch into the premium twist assortment category last Christmas, Guylian is offering consumers more choice with the introduction of 200g and 500g twist-shaped boxes (£2.99 and £6.79 respectively).

There is also the new Guylian Twists Christmas Bell (£3.99). And the Seashells collection is being expanded with the launch of Chocolate Truffle Seashells in two sizes, 190g and 95g (£3.99 and £1.99 respectively).

However, retailers shouldn’t forget Guylian’s core seasonal range led by chocolate Seashells in 250g and 500g pack sizes (£3.99 and £7.49 respectively), with the latter packed in a Christmas sleeve.

There are also a number of luxury Christmas gift packs including the Belgian Classics (570g) assortment, which contains seashells, Trufflina and Opus, and is priced at £9.99.

Duc d’O Belgian truffles and pralines are around as usual for Christmas. The best-selling 250g ballotins are available in a choice of three autumnal wraps.

Staying with posh chocs, Lindt’s hollow milk chocolate Gold Reindeer (100g, £2.29) was the best selling branded novelty last Christmas so no forecourt should be without it. This year the 100g Reindeer is joined by a new 40g miniature size (99p). There is also a matching miniature 40g Santa (99p) to go with the 125g Santa (£2.29), the 200g Santa (£3.49) and the super indulgent 1000g Giant Santa (£29.99).

In addition there’s a new Reindeer Snowstorm featuring the Reindeer in miniature format in a transparent plastic globe (£2.99).

A Winter Dream Snowman has also been added to the range especially for children.

Finally, with dark chocolate steadily growing in popularity, Lindt is expanding its Lindor range to include a 60% Dark version.

Latest research from Lindt shows that 60% Dark is the second most popular flavour after milk and 75% of consumers believe that the brand’s high quality chocolate and premium packaging make it a product worth paying more for.

The new range will comprise two Lindor 60% Dark cornets - 50g, which retails at 99p; and 200g, at £3.49.


=== Getting it right ===

? Start thinking about your Christmas display from early October, bearing in mind your particular customers’ needs

? Make sure advent calendars are on display early

? Low-priced impulse products can be good volume sellers - retailers can really profit from stocking a good range of unusual token gift or treat items for friends and family.

? If you are going to stock selection boxes, choose those that could be split down and sold individually if they are left over after Christmas.

? A carefully chosen range of boxed chocolates can produce strong profits throughout the Christmas season and into the spring season, if any are left over.

? Retailers should be prepared for a two week lift in pick and mix sales just before Christmas as customers stock up with their favourites in time for the festivities.

Source: Hancocks - the cash and carry chain will be holding a two-day special Christmas event in its depots on November 5 and 6.


=== Choccy update ===

? New Cadbury Dairy Milk (CDM) Special Variety share box (£2.49) joins the existing CDM Variety and CDM Chunks. The first two lines were launched this time last year and are currently worth £9.4m. The new pack contains CDM plus CDM praline, truffle and butterscotch.

? Bendicks is entering the premium chocolate bar sector with two new lines. The Bendicks milk and dark 125g bars retail at £1.49.

? Guylian has added a Truffle variant to its Seashell bar range. Rrp is 42p.

? Cadbury is building on the success of its Highlights low-calorie hot chocolate range with the launch of a low-calorie chocolate bar. The Cadbury Highlights 35g bar contains just 160 calories. Aimed primarily at women, it retails at 49p.

? Lindt has launched a range of chocolate bars where the cocoa beans are sourced from specific countries around the world. Called Excellence Origins, the bars feature the distinctive cocoa flavours of Cuba, Madagascar and Ecuador. Rrp is £1.39.