After looking at the grocery multiples’ ’silly prices’ on Christmas confectionery last year you might have thought it’s ’game over’ and decided to give up on the category all together.However, Nestlé UK trade communications manager, Graham Walker, wants you to think again. "Forecourts can win at Christmas because of their convenience and their role as a top-up shop. It’s mayhem Christmas week in the multiples so many people will want to avoid them. Instead they’ll pick up their last few bits and pieces from their local c-store," he says.

According to AC Nielsen data for the 17 weeks to the end of December last year, Christmas confectionery sales were up 2% - that’s the good news. However, when the figures are broken down into trade sectors - the grocery multiples were up 7% while the impulse outlets were down 10%.

"The reality of last year was that there was market growth driven by an increase in penetration," says Walker, "the trick for forecourts is to get some of that penetration.

"Forecourts have a great opportunity with seasonal impulse lines for instance. After all they are the heartland of the forecourt retailer - a no-brainer - something forecourts do really well."

Generally Walker advises forecourts to focus on a tight core range of the big brands backed by the big bucks.

Last Christmas there were 305 SKUs available to the independent trade, but just 72 of them delivered 80% of sales meaning they were the sure-fire wins for retailers. This is the evidence Walker uses to back his ’tight core range’ message.

Nestlé’s core range for forecourts includes its three Big Ones (Big Green Triangle, Big Purple One and the new Big Caramel Swirl); giant tubes (Smarties, Milkybar and Fruit Pastilles); Quality Street carton 275g and 480g plus, if you think it will sell, the 1.2kg tin; After Eight; Black Magic; and Dairy Box. And all of these lines except Dairy Box will be supported in the run-up to Christmas. If you have extra space Walker says you could put in a selection box.

For 2008, the aforementioned ’Big Ones’ are being renamed ’My Favourite’ and will comprise My Green Triangle, My Purple One and the new My Caramel Swirl. Rrp is 42p.

According to Nielsen data, seasonal lines in the impulse channel were worth £4.4m - up 163% on the previous year - so these products are definitely worth stocking. What is more, the Nestlé range will be backed by a £500,000 six-sheet poster and PR campaign. In addition, Quality Street 480g cartons will carry two free My Caramel Swirls for a limited time.

Walker says penetration of the ’extended family share’ category (big tins to you or I) was up last year. It’s no surprise really when you saw the silly prices the grocery multiples were knocking them out at. However he believes there’s still an opportunity for forecourts: "You don’t need to compete on price," he says. Rrp for the 1.2kg tin is £10.24 and Walker reckons that won’t be a barrier to sales as many people put their forecourt purchases on credit cards.

He says Quality Street is the winner in the big tin category with a 39% share of sales followed by Celebrations with 21% and Roses with 20%.

In a nod to the environment, for 2008 Nestlé has reduced the height of the tin to save on packaging. In addition the outer wrapping of the sweets (not the foil) is now compostable.

Sticking with Quality Street, Nestlé has brought Matchmakers under that brand name to encourage everyday sharing. Two variants are available: cool mint and zingy orange. There will be press advertising and a PR campaign to promote Quality Street Matchmakers as ideal as part of a ’big night in’ and in addition two million tins of Quality Street will include 50p-off Matchmakers coupons.

After Eight has a massive 45% share of the after-dinner mints market. For Christmas 2008 it is backed by a £3m spend plus the addition of the Royal Warrant on packs. Apparently the Queen has been a big fan for some time!

Further support for Nestlé brands includes women’s magazine advertising, PR and various partnerships with the likes of Wallis, Borders and Beaverbrooks for Black Magic while the Giant Tubes range will be advertised for the first time ever in consumer press.

In all, Nestlé is backing its Christmas range with an £11.5m spend.

Meanwhile Mars is pinning its hopes on Galaxy Mistletoe Kisses which trade relations manager Bep Sandhu says sold phenomenally well last year.

Because they are primarily an impulse line, she advises retailers to display them away from the main confectionery fixture and as close to the till as possible. Galaxy Mistletoe Kisses will be backed by a £1m spend in the run up to Christmas.

Another Mars line that is doing well is Maltesers, and Sandhu says forecourts should stock the 146g box as well as the 400g box (available in a limited-edition winter magic design) as this one sells well as a little Christmas gift.

Meanwhile Celebrations is coming out of a tin and going into a more environmentally-friendly tub instead. The 975g tub has a rrp of £9.99.

It was trialled last year in Sainsbury’s and did really well.

"It’s lighter to transport than the tin plus it’s recyclable and reusable," explains Sandhu. "Our research shows that consumers have really bought into this. It’s microwaveable, food-safe and dishwasher proof."

When it comes to selection boxes, Sandhu advises forcourts to take Mars’ Mr T one as it will appeal to blokes.

Her tip for Christmas success is to make sure your customers are aware they can buy Christmas lines from you. "Have a dedicated display from October onwards and make sure you are stocked up so customers can rely on you for their last-minute purchases," she says.

== Best of the rest ==

Magical Elves proved to be a great success for Cadbury last Christmas so it’s no surprise to see they’re back. There are eight milk chocolate and popping candy characters. Rrp is 20p. Also making a return is the individually-wrapped Snowman character.

Cadbury’s heartland remains the selection box. AC Nielsen figures reveal that the company is the UK’s leading selection box manufacturer, with a 66.8% share of the market. Its medium selection box alone accounts for 36% of the market. For 2008, the boxes will include trays made from recyclable materials. And to make it easier for shoppers to differentiate between pack sizes and prices, the contents are displayed clearly on the boxes, and the shelf ready packaging is colour coded to reflect the different sizes.

AC Nielsen figures also show that 3.3 million households bought Terry’s Chocolate Orange last Christmas, with sales up 12.5% on 2006 and more than 10 million balls sold.

Dave McNulty, convenience sales director at Kraft Foods, puts much of the brand’s success down to the launch of two limited editions: dazzling dark mint and cosmic toffee crunch.

The mint ball is back for this Christmas and is joined by a new cracking hazelnut variety. These will be supported by a £2.5m media spend which will run from next month.

Meanwhile Toblerone will be supported by a £4.1m campaign and limited-edition festive sleeves featuring a snowman and a winter scene. In addition, the Toblerone One By One selection of miniature milk, dark & white bars is being relaunched as Toblerone Tiny.

New from Guylian is Extra Dark Sea Shells created with 74% cocoa. The sea shells’ praline filling is wrapped in a fine dark Belgian chocolate shell, which the company says retains a naturally high percentage of antioxidants thanks to the use of Acticoa cocoa. This preserves the antioxidants that naturally occur in the cocoa bean but are normally lost through chocolate production. As a result, just two of the Guylian Extra Dark Sea Shells contain 60% of our daily requirement of antioxidants.

Finally, Gabrielle Bond, trade marketing manager at Bendicks, says retailers should not forget the importance of after dinner mints at Christmas time. "There are 13 million ABC1 households in the UK with special dinner occasions on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and over the New Year - that’s potentially 39 million opportunities for after dinner mints. As consumers trade up to premium brands, especially during this time of year, retailers should increase visibility of these products, particularly the best-selling lines to maximise on sales." She says the must-stock products from Bendicks are Bendicks Mint Collection in 225g and 400g boxes; and Bittermints, which come in 200g and 400g boxes.


=== The Specialist ===

Specialist confectionery cash and carry Hancocks will be running a Christmas event with lots of great deals in branches on November 9-10.

Purchasing director Richard Brittle says that while many items will be the focus of price wars in the supermarkets, there are plenty more that "fly under the radar" and can provide good opportunities.

He recommends:

* Walnut Whip six-pack - Brittle says this is never targeted by the multiples and Hancocks has a great deal on it.

* Rondoir is a new line from Ferrero - he advises that the price of new products is usually left alone so it will be a level playing field for all retailers.

* Lindt Santa and Gold Reindeer - Brittle says the deal available at Hancocks means they can be sold competitively at £1.99.

* Werther’s Original Bauble Tin - he says it’s new this year and it won’t fall in with the other tin deals as it is a different price point (rrp £3.49).


=== Case study: Spar, Battlefield, Shrewsbury ===

Spar Battlefield manager, Dave Hammond, says getting Christmas confectionery right takes a lot of hard work but it is worth the effort.

"Last year was our first proper Christmas in this site so we went for it in a big way. We’re a full-size c-store so we had the room to display a big range and we sold everything we put out.

"We had hods around the store with selection boxes and tins on them. We did really well with the impulse lines like the Quality Street Big Green Triangles - we did those at ’three for £1’ and they went very well. I know the superstores did loads of offers and we can obviously never compete with them so we concentrated on giving our customers a good value offer. A lot of them didn’t want to get held up in queues in the superstores so they came to us instead. I reckon that if you plan for Christmas you can make it work. It is hard work though. We start in mid October but by December we can sit back and watch the sales roll in.

"Last year premium lines went well; people were prepared to pay more for things like Thorntons or Green & Blacks. They also like local lines - things that are a bit different. Whether the credit crunch will hit us I don’t know but all I can say is we have ordered even more for this year."