It’s hard to remember a time when you walked into a forecourt shop and there wasn’t a long line of confectionery stretching along one wall, from the entrance to the point of sale.

In fact it’s such a familiar sight that you barely give it a second glance. And neither do your customers. This isn’t just some casual observation by me – although I’m always very interested in the chocolate section – but the result of extensive research by market leader Cadbury Trebor Bassett, which shares the concern of all the major confectionery manufacturers about the stalling of growth in confectionery sales in recent years. Last year the total market grew by a mere 2.4 per cent, while CTB, which has embarked on a determined programme to drive growth, grew its sales by four per cent, helped by the success of its relaunched CDM brand last year – sales of which have increased by 23 per cent.

Happily the company has recently been focusing its attention on confectionery apathy in service stations. Under the instigation of Mike Tipping, head of forecourt and motorway services, the company has made a big investment in researching the forecourt sector, which currently has a 9.1 per cent share of the total market. CTB has set itself the ‘Category Challenge’ of changing its offer in forecourts from a manufacturer to a shopper-led strategy; engaging more shoppers; and growing the confectionery category. Its mission has been first to understand the shopper, and then to deliver solutions that best match and aid shoppers’ selection process. In order to do this it has enlisted the help of major oil companies and shopper insight and data collection specialists, and has spoken to more than 3,000 consumers and shoppers about the snacks they eat and buy. The results have revealed a host of interesting facts and figures.

Did you know, for example, that of the 16 million people each week who visit forecourts, only 22 per cent interact with the confectionery display and only 16 per cent actually make a purchase. Eight out of 10 shoppers do not look at confectionery, but of those that do, 72 per cent actually buy. Impulsiveness plays a key role as one in two confectionery buyers decide to buy once they are in the store – but it was not the purpose of their trip.

Males are no longer the key focus on forecourts as four out of 10 forecourt shoppers are female; and frighteningly 18 per cent of people don’t even think forecourts sell confectionery.

Understanding the whys and wherefores of these results was the job of Fiona Hale, CTB’s Shopper Insights manager. She says there are seven key steps in understanding the shopper, which begin with the obvious one, who is the shopper? “Gender is important,” she says, “as women are more likely to be buying for others, men just for themselves.” Other aspects to be considered are a customer’s relationship with the store – are they regulars?; as is the nature of the shopping trip – is it the weekend or are they en route to work? Apparently one in two people who pick up lunch will eat it in the car. Other considerations are – ‘Shopper mission’ – is it top-up purchase, habit, distress? ‘Shopper behaviour’ – is it a planned purchase, impulse or just browsing? ‘Fixture reason’ – did they see the display, fancied some confectionery when they came in, or was it habit? And finally, ‘Purchase decision’ – who are they buying for, what is the occasion?

By understanding these and numerous other aspects of shopper behaviour CTB is now in the process of developing strategies to boost confectionery sales in forecourts and has already trialled some ideas on a number of test sites. Solutions have included making the fixture easier to shop with a more focused range, under the maxim that less is more. The company has also tried dividing up the fixture with striking signage to give customers a better chance of locating what they want. Hanging bags have also been given special treatment.

Other ideas have centred around what customers are looking at while filling up with fuel, and the option of colour-coded symbols on the shop front to inform them of what’s on offer.

“The results on the test sites have been impressive,” says Tipping. “Sales of all the key confectionery companies’ products grew – CTB by 20.3 per cent. Sales of chocolate countlines grew 13.7 per cent, hanging bags 13.9 per cent, and kids sweets 17.8 per cent.”

Tipping says CTB is committed to developing forecourt confectionery sales in the future. “The market was going backwards,” says Tipping. “We haven’t got all the answers yet – we’re on a journey of discovery.”