Quality not quantity has been the mantra of the major confectionery players this year, which have been eschewing mass NPD for more focused launches. However, their approach has not yet managed to turn the tide for confectionery - at least not as far as the brands are concerned.

The market for chocolate confectionery has dropped by 1% overall, but 7% growth in own label has helped to offset declines for nine of the top 20 brands. Meanwhile, sugar confectionery fared worse, with a 3% drop and downward slides for 13 out of the top 20 brands.

There's no doubt it's a tough market for confectionery - it's in the eye of the obesity storm, chocolate sales struggled with the hot summer weather and Cadbury's salmonella scare didn't help. On top of this, recent Ofcom proposals on the restriction of advertising of foods high in sugar and fat to children mean it's been a challenging year for most involved and that looks to continue.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Among the chocolate best-sellers, Galaxy cemented its second place, with double-digit growth this year, and now stands at £153m.

Cadbury's seasonal campaigner Creme Egg made the most of an overhaul, with a recipe reformulation and a big boost in marketing budget to grow its sales by an impressive 18%, while Cadbury Twirl also had a good year, up 14%.

Cadbury Trebor Bassett as a whole, however, has been at the centre of many of the big issues, and its management is likely to be happy to see the back of this eventful year. The salmonella scare has already cost the company about £30m - even by its own estimates - and has tarnished its clean-cut trusted image.

A £7m charm offensive for Dairy Milk in the latter part of the year, including a rerun of its First Love TV campaign, managed to shore up sales, though, and while the brand hasn't made any significant advances in growth over the year, more importantly for the company it hasn't dropped either.

However, one of CTB's main concerns is likely to be the performance of some of its other brands unconnected with the salmonella scare. Flake, for example, has declined by 11% this year, wiping some £8m off its value, despite the launch this summer of a dark extension.

Roses has also dropped in value, by 4%, while, in contrast, its arch rival Quality Street is on the ascent. Cadbury Buttons, meanwhile, has dropped out of the top 20 completely.

Nestlé Rowntree's Kit Kat brand has suffered a similar fate. It has fallen 9% in value even though a dark variant was also added to its four-finger line and a peanut flavour joined its Kit Kat Chunky ranks.

Not even new foil fresh packaging for Kit Kat's four-finger countline, a £14m marketing campaign for both the standard and chunky lines or its incredibly high profile Big Brother promotion, which at its peak saw sales of the bars rise by some 2,000%, could lift the brand's fortunes.

While it would be easy to ascribe such weak performances to the growing health concerns of the UK population, much of the blame also lies with the companies' NPD strategies - or lack of them.

With the exception of Cadbury Dairy Milk Melts which, despite the familiar branding, offers a new dimension to the category, much of the NPD this year has been in the me-too arena. Most of these extensions have proven successful, such as Cadbury's Creme Egg bar, which has moved the brand from a seasonal line into something that fans can enjoy all year round, but few have managed to turn around the fortunes of the parent line.

Where true NPD has been apparent, such as the launch of Galaxy Promises last year, rewards have been reaped. However, Ofcom's proposed restrictions on advertising look likely to have a big impact on NPD in the future. It is difficult to see how manufacturers are going to be able to get new brands off the ground, so the industry is set for a lot of head scratching, and building on existing brands' positioning may be the only way forward.

In any case, manufacturers' minds have clearly been on other things this year, with much of their focus having switched to health.

NPD has been evident in the reformulation of existing lines with natural colours and flavours, as well as the introduction of products that contain fewer calories without compromising on taste.

CTB has made the most noise of the big three players in this area. It introduced 99-calorie bars last year and followed up with its first overtly diet chocolate bar, Highlights.

CTB, along with Masterfoods, also signed up to a Be Treatwise initiative designed to help consumers understand the role confectionery plays as part of a balanced diet. Packs of Dairy Milk, Twirl, Mars, and Galaxy carry a front-of-pack logo directing consumers to a panel showing the GDAs for the products' calorie, sugar, fat, saturates and salt content.

But, tellingly, not even this shift toward healthier products and more honest labelling has proven successful across the board.

Although Smarties was given a child-friendly makeover, with artificial colours removed for the first time in the brand's 69-year history, last year's sales were poor enough to result in the Nestlé Rowntree brand dropping out of the top 20.

Maltesers, another brand that has positioned itself in the past as a lighter snack, has also fared badly this year, dropping 7% in value to £118m, although it still holds on to its third position.

Where brands have had more success is in dark chocolate, and companies have been quick to emphasise the antioxidant qualities of their cocoa-rich products.

Nestlé Rowntree's Kit Kat Dark was first out of the traps, closely followed by Cadbury's Flake Dark and Bendicks with its dark chocolate bars. Lindt, meanwhile, added a dark chocolate variant to its Lindor truffles. And CTB-owned Green & Black's continues to perform well, although sales are still below the top 20.

While many of these dark chocolate lines will remain niche in a sector that is dominated by milk, the early signs from the manufacturers are that sales have been strong.

CTB intends to retain the momentum for dark chocolate next year with a high-profile relaunch of its Bournville brand. The company plans to take advantage of what it says is the much-publicised wellbeing element of dark chocolate, although exact plans for the relaunch are yet to be disclosed.

The company also plans to bring out a Double Chocolate variant of Dairy Milk that will have a higher cocoa content than the standard bars and that will also tap into the trend for more premium chocolate.

Despite the growing importance of health, indulgence also continues to be a key driver for confectionery. Even an everyday product, such as Aero, has benefited from its move to a more indulgent positioning, with line extensions to its block chocolate, such as Sticky Toffee and Irish Cream. At the beginning of the year a Chocolate Truffle variant of Aero was launched in a bid to steal market share from Galaxy and emphasise its indulgence positioning.

Another growth area is sharing. Eager to tap into this trend, CTB this year scrapped its 200g Dairy Milk block chocolate format, replacing it with a 250g version. The changes followed research showing consumers were buying large blocks of Dairy Milk for sharing.

It also revamped Snaps at the end of the year with new packaging and flavours and has positioned Dairy Milk Melts as a product that is suitable for sharing as well as single consumption.

Finally, in the key Christmas-oriented sharing brands, Quality Street has now overtaken Roses as the largest sharing chocolate brand, with Roses and Celebrations losing sales and Cadbury Heroes and Quality Street rising in value.

In sugar confectionery, brands are, if anything, having an even tougher time than their chocolate brethren, with overall sales dropping 3% to £1.16bn. The names are the same in the top 20 as last year, with some slight shuffling of places. However, seven brands showed double-digit declines in sales, while a further six had a single-digit fall. Maynards, Tic Tac and Bassett's Babies were the only brands to post positive double-digit performances.

As in chocolate, the poor figures can be attributed to consumers' growing focus on health. But they are also down to a lack of innovation.

Companies have spent the year looking at ways to re-engage consumers by removing the guilt factor and focusing on some of the positives, with labels such as 'sugar-free', 'reduced sugar' and 'added calcium' featuring on many products.

Sugar brands that have made a switch to all natural colours and flavours have fared better than their chocolate counterparts, and much of the innovation over the past 12 months has been in this area.

Leaf UK's Red Band is the most notable development. The seven-strong range of reduced sugar and sugar-free products targets adults as well as children, while Haribo gums, Chewits, Rowntree Fruit Pastilles and Fruit Gums are now all free from artificial colours and flavours, although the brands have had varying degrees of success this year.

Haribo's fortunes have been positive. The brand of chewy sweets rose 6% to £72m, helped by its switch to natural colours and flavourings. Despite being a children's brand, the company recently announced that it would no longer advertise to kids and the effects could be interesting.

Chewits, another brand that has pledged to cease advertising to children, dropped 14% in value, however. But further down the table, Bassett's Babies climbed three places to hold the 13th spot with sales up 22.3% to £20.9m. This rise can be attributed to strong NPD in the form of Milky and Party Babies, as much as the removal of artificial colours and flavours.

And what of Wrigley? Once again it is by far the bestselling brand, with combined sales of its Extra, Airwaves and Orbit lines totalling more than £222m. However, the gum giant is far from sitting pretty in the UK, and combined sales of its three most popular lines have fallen 4.5% on the previous year.

The company's Orbit brand has been the worst hit this year, dropping 24% in value. In response, the company has already launched Orbit Complete, a gum containing tooth-kind ingredient xylitol. To bolster its Extra brand, which failed to grow this year, it has also launched Liquid Burst, a gum with a liquid centre.

The company is set to face a new challenge in 2007 in the form of CTB's Trident - the number two global chewing gum brand. Trident, which launches at the end of January to great fanfare, is being backed by a £10m campaign, as well as sampling to 10 million consumers in the first year, and is predicted to add £100m in sales to chewing gum as a whole. Retailers are already predicting that Trident will have a positive impact on the category, which has fallen in value over consecutive years.

The figures show worrying times ahead for some of the more established brands, though. Werther's Original fell 10% even though the brand has tried to create a more modern image by pensioning off its grandad advertising ambassador.

Bassett's declined 22% while CTB's other long-time brand Barratt dropped 10%. Starburst fell 20% and Polo dropped 10% even though an accreditation from the British Dental Association went on packs for its sugar-free line earlier this year.n