Cadbury falls behind in chocolate wars," screamed a headline in the normally reserved Financial Times last week. As the crucial fourth quarter got under way, four-week figures to 14 October from ACNielsen showed Masterfoods, which owns Mars and Galaxy, had 33.7% volume share compared with Cadbury's 31.3% .
It was the first time the company had taken the top spot since Cadbury grouped its chocolate brands, such as caramel and Turkish delight, under the Dairy Milk brand three years ago.
But while these four-week figures illustrate the scale of the fallout from the Dairy Milk salmonella scare, with consumers switching allegiance to other brands, they paint an unfair view of the category, according to Todd Stitzer. He cites year-on-year figures, also from ACNielsen, that show Cadbury has a 36.1% share in the UK chocolate market compared with 26.6% for Masterfoods and 15.6% for Nestlé.
In total confectionery, Cadbury's share is 30.7%, again ahead of Masterfoods and Nestlé, which have a 19.7% and 12.9% share respectively. "We have a great deal of respect for Mars and Nestlé but if you look at the numbers there's a pretty significant gap between us," says Stitzer. "It's been a third quarter oriented by the heat and salmonella but we will be back and focused in the fourth quarter.
"We are ten percentage points ahead of Mars and 20 percentage points ahead of Nestlé. It's crucial from our perspective that people understand that."
ACNielsen also believes Masterfoods overtaking Cadbury was a blip, and says Cadbury is still streets ahead. Its figures show that out of the top 20 UK chocolate confectionery brands, both Cadbury and Masterfoods own seven lines each, but the value of the Cadbury lines is £670m compared with £560m for Masterfoods. At £380m, Dairy Milk is more than double the value of its closest rival Galaxy, which stands at £150m.
Consumer confidence in the Cadbury brand is also recovering, according to a survey conducted by YouGov. Trust in the brand plummeted directly after the salmonella scare but has steadily risen since, although it is still not up to pre-salmonella levels, it says.
So should Cadbury be worried that its crown was taken by Masterfoods for a single four-week period? Stitzer, for one, is not concerned. "We've had a significant run of pulling away from Mars and Nestlé and we fully believe we will continue that run."
Launches, such as Cadbury's Creme Egg bar, Flake Dark and Dairy Milk Melts in a category that has experienced little innovation from the other major players, have all helped the company grow its share in UK chocolate. Its proposed NPD for next year, which includes a relaunch of Bournville, is also likely to reaffirm its position at the top of the pile as it concentrates on four key areas: wellbeing, premium, gifting and affordability.
"We'll have a full complement of chocolate innovation in the fourth quarter of the year and in 2007," says Stitzer. "We want to do fewer, faster, bigger, better innovations."
Charlie Mills, analyst at Credit Suisse, also believes that Cadbury is in no immediate danger from its competitors, although he says a strong performance in the final quarter of the year is necessary to prove that the company is back on track. "Nestlé is in a pickle itself," he says. "Masterfoods is the one taking the share of the market.
"But do they [Cadbury] need to be worried? No. The issue for the company is to get its house in order rather than look at the competition."