Multiples complain that launches tend to be the same stuff in fresh boxes. When will there be more genuine NPD? Rod Addy reports
Despite the continuing huge size of the confectionery market and manufacturers' boasts, retailers have often complained about the lack of innovation in the market.
Their most common gripe is that recent launches have tended to be familiar products in new packaging rather than real NPD.
Take the Harry Potter products and Lord of The Rings ranges. While retailers acknowledge such ranges can be popular, they question whether they represent true innovation. And as for the latest developments in the chocolate box category in the run up to Christmas, one buyer was scathing: "Again, they are just nice boxes of chocolates."
However, the tide does appear to be turning with some brave new launches.
Cadbury is taking a new direction with its launch of Boost Glucose and Boost Guarana bars, which follows the launch of Dream white chocolate bars at the back end of last year.
But the item creating the biggest stir right now is Nestl駳 Double Cream bar, launched at the end of July in impulse and block format.
Whereas most other milk chocolate sold in this country is made with milk, Nestl駳 baby is made from double cream and cocoa beans. The company is hailing it as the bridge between luxury chocolate and traditional, mainstream brands.
Arthur Day, head of Nestlé ’owntree's marketing innovations group, says: "Nestlé „ouble Cream is our first totally new chocolate bar launch for five years."
Day agrees with retailers: "The pure chocolate market is desperately in need of some genuine innovation to upgrade its quality, rather than just price-marked packs."
Lorraine Wheaton, Asda's seasonal confectionery buyer, singles out Double Cream as the only genuinely innovative npd for a long time.
"It's the most recent step change in quality within the market and it's got off to quite a good start."
Cadbury is also gunning for the luxury and indulgence market, targeting women this Christmas with Mye ­ cones of whipped cream mousse and roasted cocoa truffle in packs of three and 12. The product has just hit the multiples.
At the same time, Cadbury has released its Dream Snow Bites ­ white chocolate with truffles and crunchy bits in two pieces aimed at the self-eat' category.
Wheaton believes these developments reflect customer demand: "All suppliers are working on indulgence products. And we are finding a trend towards everyday indulgence. Consumers are not reserving such products for special events but are eating them when watching a video in the evening, for example."
But she sees an equal demand at the top end of the luxury market and the same lack of NPD. "We're not seeing a response to this trend, so we're having to plug the gap with Asda's own brand."
Wheaton says the multiple is having to turn to small regional producers to make up for the dearth of new ideas in the category ­ such as creamy fudge from Cornwall. But the lack of fresh thinking is evident across the board, she insists. "There's been nothing big or new in the sector for some time."
Such gripes are not unique to the big supermarkets. Retailers operating in the impulse area are also concerned about the lack of new product ideas, which they say is partly responsible for the decline of sales in their sector.
Mike Igoe, brand development manager at convenience store chain Jacksons, says innovation is vital for impulse confectionery. "Impulse embraces all sorts of categories. For example Mr Kipling has a range of snack cakes ­ and most people in our business have a snacks to go' section at the front of their stores. So impulse confectionery is under fire from different areas."
Jacksons is trying to raise the profile of confectionery ­ and sales, of course ­ through a chocs n sweets' stand at the front of stores which feature new, promotional and limited edition impulse confectionery.
Other independent chains agree, with Lorraine Laidler, trading director of Mills, saying the lack of innovation creates a dearth of excitement in a sector dominated by plethora of well established brands.
At Booths, the northern supermarket chain, confectionery buyer David Smith is also concerned by the "sad lack" of new ideas, and also by the way suppliers support products after launch. "Suppliers tend to take their eyes off the ball after a major launch," he says.
However manufacturers now have a chance to silence their critics, because for the the first time in years, there are signs they really do have something new to offer.