Tesco is driving its venture brand into new areas but it will face a tougher fight in the confectionery market than ice cream

There’s a new Easter egg range at Tesco - and the fact it is selling at full price isn’t the only thing that sets it apart from its neighbours.

The retailer has expanded ice cream brand Chokablok into the Easter market with four chocolate eggs that - if you’ll pardon the pun - look cracking. Decked out in garish branding and boasting names such as Billionaire’s Dynamite and The Rocky Road of Love, their £5 tag sets them outside the battleground where an expected nine out of 10 Easter confectionery products will be sold on deal this year.

The strategic aim of venture brands, according to Kantar director Ed Garner, is to differentiate Tesco’s offer and add value to the market. “It is not easy for Tesco to get more shoppers through its doors, so venture brands are an attempt to build money back into the basket.”

As a result, Chokablok has been positioned at the higher end of the ice cream market. It sells at £3.99 for 500ml - although much has been sold on deal - setting it just below the likes of Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s. The original line-up sold out for a time in some areas last summer and has been expanded with new flavours and Magnum-style choc ices on sticks. Kantar Worldpanel data shows it now has a 5.3% share of total ice cream sales in Tesco - just ahead of Häagen-Dazs but below Ben & Jerry’s - while SymphonyIRI values total brand sales since launch at £3.1m.

It’s not a bad performance, but pales in comparison with a similar move by Sainsbury’s in 1994, when it launched its Classic Cola against Coca-Cola and Pepsi - and swiftly secured a 70% share of the retailer’s cola sales. “Sainsbury’s didn’t support it long-term and its sales have drifted down over the years to the standard level for own label,” says Garner. “It will be essential for Tesco to maintain support for Chokablok.”

Support is unlikely to stretch to extensive advertising, say industry observers. “Word of mouth and in-store presence will be used to help build the brand - early adopters can be important brand ambassadors,” says Kwamina Korsah, marketing analyst at branding agency The Value Engineers.

He believes social media will be key, but the brand has so far been absent from the traditional channels - the website has no direct social media links and the brand’s most prominent presence on Facebook is a fan page boasting 180 members.

The expansion continues next month with Chokablok chocolate bars, showing Tesco has confidence in a brand launched last spring as part of its venture brand initiative. Unlike the ice cream and Easter eggs, the bars may be a mainstream rather than premium product. “The super-premium market, with players such as Lindt, may be a bit small for them to play for,” says Garner, adding that the dominance of brands in confectionery makes it an area retailers are keen to get a bigger slice of. “Markets that tend to be low in own label and high in brands particularly annoy retailers as they see a lot of money being made and want a larger piece of it,” he adds.

But the loyalty consumers feel towards confectionery brands means Tesco may face a harder fight than it has in the freezers. “It is launching into a highly emotive category and Chokablok will have to differentiate on format and packaging,” says Korsah.

Tesco is going to have to work hard to gain traction in a category already chock-a-block with much-loved product.