Biscuits cookies

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The nation’s desire for convenient snacks appears to be returning

There’s no denying that the biscuit category faced a huge challenge in 2021.” So says Scott Snell, customer VP at Pladis, maker of the largest sweet biscuit brand McVitie’s.

“The reality is that 2020 was an exceptional year and a bumper year for biscuits, so it was always going to be difficult to maintain this level of growth,” he adds.

Indeed, the sweet biscuit sector has shed almost all the £48.6m gain reported in last year’s Top Products. Its value has plunged by £48.4m this year, with 71.1 million fewer packs sold.

Market leader McVitie’s has suffered the most, losing £29.3m on the back of a 9.5% decline in units. But Snell is pragmatic. Now lockdowns and stockpiling have ended, sales have returned to “the levels we’d typically expect” he says.

McVitie’s isn’t alone in its losses this year. It’s just one of the five sweet biscuit brands in the top 10, including Kit Kat and Oreo, to have suffered a slump in value – collectively shedding a total of £39.9m.

Higher average prices helped number nine brand Bahlsen Biscuits grow its value by 0.8% and number 10 brand Go Ahead grow 3.6%.

Of the top 10 brands, only Tunnock’s achieved significant value and volume growth – though its extra £7.4m was partly down to its recovery from a six-week factory closure at the start of the first lockdown.


Cereal bars


With Covid restrictions over, the nation’s desire for comforting snacks has waned, explains NielsenIQ senior analytics executive Nicholas Corlett.

Their appetite for convenient snacks, however, appears to be returning. Cereal bars are down just 0.6% in volume – a significant improvement on last year’s 5.4% slump. The sector is also £2.8m in the black, which marks a stark difference from the £36.1m decline seen in Top Products 2019, before Covid.

Big names such as Cadbury (up 14.5%) and Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (4.9%) have tracked solid growth.

Belvita is one of the only big names to suffer a significant decline, with its cereal bar sales down by 7.3%. However, its outlook “is strong as occasions and buying habits return to pre-pandemic trends” insists Susan Nash, trade communications manager at owner Mondelez, noting an increased demand for on-the-go breakfast formats in recent weeks.

Still, it will have to work hard to beat Nature Valley, which has usurped Belvita as the nation’s number one cereal bar, growing value by 10% (see table, p80).

Bronte Product Group

August heralded a makeover for Burton’s Biscuits’ Brontë brand, which the supplier inherited as part of its 2019 acquisition of Paterson Arran. The repositioning saw the introduction of  “indulgent flavours” such as Cappuccino Shortbread. These would help “build on the success of the long-established brand, strengthening its presence in the competitive biscuit market” said Burton’s, which in June became part of Ferrero in a deal worth around £300m.

The change comes after Nature Valley’s December 2020 launch of a soft bake protein bar in Oats & Honey and Blueberry & Almond variants, followed in July by the UK debut of the “indulgent yet wholesome” fruit and nut Full Mix bar in Peanut Butter & Blueberry and Peanut Butter & Cranberry.

Marketing also played a part in the success of the General Mills brand. It spent £2m this summer on reviving its ‘Get Out More’ campaign, including a TV ad and an on-pack promotion encouraging families to enjoy the great outdoors more post-lockdowns.

Meanwhile, Nature Valley’s reduced-calorie sister brand Fibre One enjoyed a 12.1% boost in value as Brits sought out healthier snacks. “While consumers are looking for healthier options, they’re not willing to compromise on taste,” says General Mills marketing manager Roisin Witort. Hence Fibre One’s appeal to health-conscious shoppers seeking “permissible indulgence”.

Savoury preferences

Brits’ preference for healthier options also proved evident in savoury biscuits, where the Snack a Jacks and Kallo rice cake brands experienced respective value growth of 3.9% and 15.5%.

Posh crackers with added seeds and seasonings also performed well “as consumers experimented with bread substitutes and alternative working-from-home lunch options” says Snell at Pladis.

Crucially, Pladis moved its crispbread, flatbread and ciabatta options from Jacob’s to its Carr’s portfolio in July. That is reflected in the performance of the two brands.

While Jacob’s is down £10.9m, Carr’s is up £2.2m after receiving a makeover for the first time in 10 years, at a cost of £1m. Pladis enlisted chef Tom Kerridge to create recipes with its products, to “help shoppers discover exciting new flavour experiences”.



The demand for Carr’s new crispbread options is mirrored by gains for Ryvita Thins (up 2.1%), Ryvita Crackerbread (up 1.7%) and Crosta & Mollica, which entered the top 10 with a 26.4% surge in value.

Meanwhile, Mondelez’s Ritz had another buoyant year, adding £1.7m. This was down in part to consumers looking for “an alternative to crisps” Nash says. Plus, the brand tried to lure younger consumers with a TikTok video that showed how the crackers’ serrated edge could be used to slice cheese.

Similarly imaginative thinking will be necessary for biscuits’ growth in the year ahead, she suggests, with brands that simultaneously tap at-home and on-the-go occasions reaping most rewards.

Biscuits that manage to satisfy both needs may just be in for a treat.

Top Launch 2021

Kit Kat V | Nestlé

kitkat vegan

The UK’s second-biggest biccie brand this year joined what is surely the nation’s biggest food and drink trend. The plant-based Kit Kat V – unveiled in February and rolled out in June – features cocoa blended with rice syrup to emulate the texture and taste of milk chocolate. There’s “a quiet food revolution underway” said Nestlé confectionery marketing director Alex Gonnella at time of launch. “We want to be at the forefront of that, championing the discovery of plant-based food and beverages.”

The Grocer’s Top Products Survey 2021: who’s up, who’s down – and our overview of the key trends