The boundary between meals and snacks is blurring. So says Colette Noé, senior director for consumer and market insights at Pladis. "Most people understand a meal to be influenced by cultural traditions around timing, setting and specific food groups. Snacks, on the other hand, are highly personalised and variable mini meals." And as with most things, it’s millennials who have a lot of influence over the UK snacking industry. Noé calls them the ’taste makers’, saying they make much quicker purchases and buy fewer groceries online than you might think.

"We know that millennials are a more visual generation than their parents were; they need to be tempted by a particular type of packaging or instantly register how a product fits into their busy lifestyle," she explains.

And while millennials’ incomes may have decreased compared to previous generations, they often choose an indulgent treat or wholesome snack as a quick pick-me-up instead of a full meal. "According to a report by Mintel, young consumers are more likely than any other generation to snack, and one in four are now ’Super Snackers’, who snack four or more times in a single day," says Noé.

"At the other end of the spectrum, data from Euromonitor International shows that the fastest-growing consumer segment is the over-50s, which has grown by a third in the past three years. While it’s no surprise that millennials are generally more experimental in their snacking habits and more open to trying new fillings or textures in a biscuit, Pladis never under-estimates the purchasing power of their parents."

The biscuit giant looked at ways to tap into the snacking opportunity with its biggest-ever research study covering 14,000 people across the UK to investigate the role that snacking plays in their everyday lives. This gave it an in-depth understanding of the need states and also the context in which a snack is consumed which it calls ’consumption moments’.

Hena Chandarana, trade communications controller at Pladis, says two pieces of insight stand out: "First, one-third of these consumption moments are based around sharing and indulgence. Work with our insight partners shows that this will continue to grow.

"Second, our research shows that often we snack to meet an emotional need rather than a physical one. Around a quarter of the time (24%) snacking is about sharing a connection with others. We also snack to reward ourselves, perhaps after a hard day (23%). Our product range will be incomplete and we will miss an opportunity if we do not acknowledge that people snack for emotional sustenance as well as for purely physical nourishment."

Pladis’ research into snacking also found:

increasing demand for products that are easy to buy, store, transport and that can be consumed on the go or which are easily sharable;

consumers are becoming more ’mindful’ about what they eat. They often want portion control but they won’t compromise on things like taste, quality or familiarity;

in some cases, consumers are looking for a more ’sensory’ experience as seen by the explosion in salted caramel flavoured snacks in 2017 or products with added protein;

often consumers choose a well-known brand, but a new format, ie a variation of an old-favourite.

The launch of products such as McVitie’s Digestives Thins and Nibbles have tapped into the trends for taste, portion control, shareability and new formats.

Chandarana says McVitie’s Thins were launched to attract a younger consumer and tap into the need for little, yet indulgent, rewards. The launch has been a success with the product already worth £15m (Nielsen data). Not surprisingly it was named the number one product launch of 2017 by Nielsen.

Meanwhile, McVitie’s Nibbles was another big success, adding £17m to the category in its first year of launch (Nielsen).

Of course, Pladis is not the only company to offer a Thins product, both Burton’s and Mondelez have them too.

Burton’s is targeting younger shoppers, aged 25-45 years old, who are looking for lighter snacking options, with Maryland Thins in Milk & Dark Choc Chip and Salted Caramel flavours. And Mondelez’s Thins offering comes via Oreo Thins.

Mintel research found that Thins with their crisper, lighter texture appeal to 31% of consumers. "These new products are clearly looking to tap into concerns about sugar and ;calories by offering a thinner format that does not sacrifice taste and appeals to those looking for moderation," says Mintel.

Another product that offers a treat in moderation is Ferrero’s B-ready biscuit, which features a crunchy wafer shell, filled with Nutella and puffed wheat crispies, yet contains fewer than 120 calories. "One of Ferrero’s core nutritional beliefs is that balanced diets and active lifestyles are the best way to tackle obesity," says Levi Boorer, customer development director at Ferrero. "That’s why we encourage people to consume our products in small quantities and 95% of our products are less than 150 kcal per serving. This is matched by the demand from consumers for products that support them with portion control, helping them to pace themselves when snacking. Such products are likely to appeal to the 54% of snackers who agree that ’smaller snacks help to satisfy cravings without ruining appetite’, and the 48% who would be interested in more ’mini’ packs of snacking."

Boorer says that in the initial UK trial, Nutella B-ready was displayed at the till in a selection of convenience stores, where it ranked as the fourth best- performing sweet snacking line during that period.

"Free-standing display units placed near a till point can help to encourage impulse purchases. We understand that different sized stores need different in-store solutions, which is why we’ve created a smaller, more practical free-standing display unit for stores with limited floor space.

"We also found that merchandising the single-serve product separately to the multipack drove incremental sales. We’d therefore recommend that the multipack format is stocked within the biscuits aisle."

Cookie quest

Overall, Oreo is currently valued at £50m in the UK, growing at 14% (Nielsen). As such it is one of the biggest contributors to growth for the sweet biscuits category in the UK, contributing an impressive £11.2m to the category in 2016 alone.

The brand’s latest on-pack promotion is called The Great Oreo Cookie Quest and runs through to May 31.

To join the Quest and have a chance to win, consumers need to buy a promotional pack of Oreo cookies then scan the logo or Oreo cookie and enter their pack code online. Prizes include a once-in-a-lifetime trip to California with a visit to the Googleplex as well as thousands of daily prizes of Oreo merchandise. The Great Oreo Quest will be supported by TV, PR, digital and in-store activity.

Meanwhile, with Mondelez now responsible for Cadbury biscuits (having bought the licence back off Burton’s Biscuits), it unveiled its first Cadbury biscuit launch last year the Cadbury Roundie. This blends layers of crispy wafer with thick chocolate cream, coated in chocolate.

More recently, the company unveiled its second Cadbury biscuit launch Crunchy. These feature crunchy chocolate chip cookies with a soft melting centre described as the "ideal rewarding treat or sign off to a meal". For consumers seeking a little more indulgence, the cookies can be heated in the microwave by following the instructions on pack. The new cookies come in three variants Chocolate Centre, Double Indulgence and Soft Cookie.

But Burton’s Biscuit Company still does indulgence as it’s just launched Maryland Big & Chunky in two variants Milk & Dark and White Choc & Caramel.

"Maryland is the number one branded cookie in the UK, growing at 9.5% year-on-year (Nielsen), making it a must-stock brand for the convenience channel," says Mandy Bobrowski, UK & Ireland marketing director at Burton’s Biscuit Company.

"With our new Big & Chunky lines, we’re bringing our best-loved cookie recipes into a bigger and chunkier format that’s perfect for a slightly more indulgent treat. We’re also tapping into the impulsive nature of biscuit shoppers, with a PMP format that will enable retailers to drive sales from impulse purchases."

The launch of the new Big & Chunky range follows a successful year for Maryland, which saw sales driven by the core range growing at 6.2% and now valued at £27.5m and Minis, which saw 12.2% growth (Nielsen).

Bobrowski’s advice to forecourt retailers includes making sure ’must-stock’ lines are always available; re-stocking shelves regularly to avoid missing sales opportunities; placing free-standing display units at high footfall locations and also using them to interrupt shoppers by placing seasonal SKUs on them in secondary locations.

Communicating value to your shoppers

Shopper behaviour has changed from regular weekly shops for the whole family to being almost solely driven by occasions. "Now 52.6% of spend within the convenience channel is for replenishment missions," explains Matt Collins, sales director for convenience, wholesale, discounters and foodservice at KP Snacks. "Replenishment is the biggest mission and capitalising on this with off-shelf features will help maximise the opportunity to grow sales. Top-up shopping missions are up 34% (Him data), and with consumers visiting stores more than ever before, we have the opportunity to increase sales by ensuring we offer retailers the right product range in the right case formats, boosted with the right promotions and in-store merchandising. Retailers can help encourage cross-category purchases by grouping products such as snacks, bottles of wine and beer, as well as sharing bags of crisps and nuts.
"Placing crisps and snacks on promotion has become a great driver of incremental spend, with 31% of shoppers purchasing items on a deal as opposed to just 18% when they’re not on offer. Price-marked packs (PMPs) are also a great way to help communicate value to shoppers and have been proven to be a successful tool in driving impulse sales. Forty three per cent of consumers believe that PMPs signify a promotional price, making them more likely to purchase a product, and retailers agree, with 83% saying that they sell faster than plain packs. Our £1 PMP range is out-performing the category (+25%) and this success can be attributed to the strength of our brands as well as the right format (Nielsen)."

Retailer view

"Biscuits are a big seller for us. We’re opposite an army camp and people there live off tea and biscuits. Digestives, Ginger Nuts, Cookies, Hob Nobs they all sell well and customers seem to make their choice depending on how they feel. For us the biggest sellers are McVitie’s and own brand, which is Happy Shopper.
"We do stock a few snack packs but most of our customers want a big pack to share round at work. They’d buy the boxes if they could, but we only get those in at Christmas."

Healthier alternatives

Not all consumers are looking for sweet, sugary snacks. Some are interested in healthier and ’free from’ snacking which, according to Debbie King, director of commercial sales and marketing at Eat Real, opens up some great opportunities for forecourt stores.
"Healthier snacking is undoubtedly one of the strongest trends in the snacks arena and we firmly believe that the preference for ’good for you’ products is here to stay; and that can only mean some great opportunities out there for forecourt stores to tap into," she says.
"Stocking a comprehensive range of ’good for you’ products enables retailers to maximise snack sales to high frequency, spontaneous or last- minute, top-up shoppers, while premiumising the offering will also drive sales and help stores stand out from the competition."
To capitalise on the growing trend for healthier snacking, King advises retailers to display sharing bags close to the till as high visibility maximises impulse purchasing, and cross-merchandise by displaying them near the soft drinks fixture.
She recommends forecourts stock: Hummus Chips, Lentil Chips and Quinoa Chips available in a range of on-trend and classic flavours. All are gluten-free, lactose-free and suitable for vegans. They come in 80g-113g sharing packs. Also Quinoa Puffs in White Cheddar and Jalapeno & White Cheddar (113g sharing packs); and Veggie Straws in Kale, Tomato & Spinach flavour (113g sharing pack). King adds that Eat Real has "significant NPD plans for 2018" which will be good news for forecourts.