Confectionery hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when 'that' salmonella story, about the contamination of a certain purple-coloured brand, broke in July. Headlines screamed of meltdown at the company with some newspapers relating the episode to other PR disasters such as the Dasani and Perrier recalls and the Sudan 1 scare.
But time moves quickly in a market such as confectionery and, just two months down the line, the saga is all but forgotten by most consumers. Even retailers and rival companies have been in a conciliatory mood since the scare, reporting that overall sales have been unaffected and that Cadbury Trebor Bassett (CTB), on the whole, responded well to the incident - if a little belatedly.
The reason for consumers' seemingly short-term memory for the CTB incident demonstrates the resilient nature of confectionery and the much-loved companies operating within it.
Chocolate is entrenched in the national psyche - for many it transcends being a mere treat, and the manufacturers are some of the best-known in the country. Cadbury's Dairy Milk brand celebrated its 100th birthday last year and, looking at its status even after the recent problems, there is no reason to suggest that it won't live to see 100 more.
The love consumers have for confectionery provides a clear advantage for both retailers and manufacturers but it also brings its problems. The pressure on companies to innovate and come up with new flavours, formats and variations has, in the past, forced them to try to stretch brands to keep consumers interested.
The most high-profile example of this in recent years has been Kit Kat's extensions, which have included Lemon Yoghurt, Luscious Lime, Blood Orange, White and Caramac. However, this activity is a thing of past, says Graham Walker, sales communications manager at Nestlé Rowntree, and the company is taking a more conservative approach as it fears the NPD has had a diluting effect on the core product.
"Our strategy over the past few years has been about identifying ways of stretching the brand but we now want to focus on the heritage," says Walker. "We have new senior management and the new strategy has been to establish quality as the heart of the business. We have invested £14m in advertising for Kit Kat this year but we have not thrown a stack of NPD and limited editions at it. Don't expect a raft of new flavours."
Revamps to Kit Kat Chunky, including the addition of a peanut variant, and four-finger Kit Kat Dark are the company's biggest developments this year. It has also launched foil fresh wrappers.
Adds Walker: "Retailers can't do a raft of different events every month of every year. It's about doing less NPD but bigger. You've still got to innovate but it doesn't have to be products, it can be packaging."
Masterfoods is taking a similar approach. Trade relations manager Andrea Taylor also quotes quality over quantity as the company's main focus for the year, along with improved packaging. "Our philosophy for this year is fewer, bigger, better," she says. "We want to make big innovations that really shape the category, add value and change how the consumer shops."
Masterfoods' biggest packaging change came in January with Duo versions replacing king-size Mars and Snickers. The bars come in snap-pack wrappers giving consumers who can't manage a whole bar in one the choice to save some for later.
Cadbury led the innovation charge in the latter part of the year with the launch of Flake Dark, Dairy Milk Melts and a low-calorie Highlights bar, tapping into the growing popularity of dark chocolate while acknowledging the increasing role obesity plays in the category.
But this hasn't been easy, says Mike Tipping, head of customer relations at CTB. "People are trying to demonise a product that has been around for 150 years. The trend is for health but we must identify how far to take that trend and not compromise products. People don't want an adulterated taste. If it tastes inferior it dies - that's what happened to a lot of sugar-free products."
Tipping defends companies' reluctance to make major innovations in the category this past year. "The issues around confectionery are the same as in the previous year.
"It is a highly competitive market and we try to determine what are the fads and what are the trends."
And Richard Brittle, purchasing director at confectionery wholesaler Hancocks, predicts bigger change next year.
"Generally, NPD has been more safe this year and people have struggled a bit, but there will be a lot more NPD next year. Confectionery is a big enough market for people to move it on. You're never going to get a top ten line coming in every year, but you will get one once every ten years."
Brittle suggests that multicoloured chocolate lollies, the type of which he says are making a big impact in the far east, could be the next big thing. "The lollies are made from coloured chocolate rather than a silver wrapper so the marketing is done by the chocolate and not the packaging."n