United Biscuits is changing the shape of Hula Hoops for the first time in its 34-year history, with a star-shaped crisp for Christmas.

It is also bringing out a festive sausage and bacon 'pigs in blankets' variant to the range, in a move to cash in on the average shopper's spend on core Christmas snacks of nearly £100 [TNS 16 w/e 31 December, 2006].

The range was unveiled this week as United Biscuits set out its Christmas plans for its portfolio of brands across snacks, crackers, biscuits and nuts.

"We find that consumers like to try new, novelty products around the Christmas period," said UBUK communications manager Jessica Wylie. "The star-shaped Hula Hoops have been created to increase interest in the snacks aisle over Christmas and therefore drive incremental sales."

Brands with newly launched lines, new formats and packaging overhauls, including tins and boxes of its premium Temptations biscuit brand, Classic Collection biscuit tins and cranberry flavour Jaffa Cakes, would also be pushed for Christmas, supported by a cross-brand multi-million-pounds marketing spend.

Other new lines include Santa's Big Nuts drums, as well as Christmas-themed Mini Cheddars and Twiglets.

Wylie said that while everyday lines such as its Family Circle biscuit brand remained important over Christmas, it was essential for UBUK to meet demand for family snacking and speciality feative products. It also identified premium, tradition, big brands and gifting as its key drivers in the run up to December.

The company claimed that last Christmas sales of its sweet seasonal biscuits were up 25% and sales of its savoury biscuits up 16%.

Wylie added that 97% of households bought seasonal biscuits last year, a figure driven partly by premium gifting in the category. "The average household spends £660 on gifting, which means it's a massive opportunity for us," he said.