Shoppers gave canned goods the cold shoulder in 2014. Value and volumes are down across the category, which has lost almost £90m. Lingering distrust following the horsemeat scandal, mild weather and improving consumer confidence are all factors.

But there are some bright spots. As the wider category has gone through the wringer, some brands have managed to avoid being dragged down with it. Category giant Heinz has stabilised, turning in value growth of 0.6% in its canned beans portfolio over the past year, while John West Tuna has turned in value growth of 7.8% on volumes up 13% and Princes Canned Fruit is up 22.3% in value and 16.1% in volumes. How have they succeeded when so many others have failed?

John West’s growth is particularly impressive considering the overall performance of canned fish. Innovative NPD and new formats have been key to the success. Following the 2013 launch of Infusions - tuna in olive oil with herbs and spices - in January the brand unveiled Steam Pots, a ‘just add boiling water’ pairing of tuna and flavoured couscous aimed at the desk-top lunch market.

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“The Steam Pots range is bringing new, more affluent consumers to the category,” says marketing director John Walsh. The launch was supported with a £1.75m TV campaign, plus digital and in-store promotions. April 2014 also saw the launch of three more Infusions flavours, which now have distribution in the big four plus Waitrose. These launches have seen John West’s share of the added-value fish category rise from 77% to 83% in the year to September 2014, according to Walsh, who adds growth has also be driven by John West’s No-Drain range, which he says shoppers are happy to pay a premium for.

Meanwhile, Princes is attempting to stem its declining canned fish sales with NPD. In canned fish, its value is falling at almost twice the rate of volumes, proving lowering prices in no way guarantees growth. The brand is taking note: in July it launched a Thai chilli tuna salad and limited-edition mackerel flavours - Moroccan, Mexican and Indian - earlier in the year with the aim of hooking younger, more affluent consumers.

Targeting younger shoppers with global food flavours is a popular tactic. Heinz launched Beanz & Pulses in July 2014 in three flavours aimed at 25 to 44-year-olds - Fajita, Tuscan and Veg Chilli. The range is breathing much-needed life into the struggling beans category: “The only beans sector in growth is Flavoured Beans due to the new Heinz products and an increase in promotions,” says Nielsen analyst Tom d’Angelo. According to Nielsen, the range has racked up almost £5m so far and has put Heinz in value growth of 0.6%, on volumes up 6.1%.

Baxters is hoping its new Meal Pots will also attract new consumers. The range includes four modish flavours - such as Malaysian-inspired chicken Laksa - with “health credentials clearly communicated on pack,” says Jaspal Chada, Baxters’ group brands marketing director.

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Meanwhile, its new Fray Hunger Busters are bringing a flash of innovation to the canned meat sector. The microwavable pots feature meat and either pasta or rice. Baxters is supporting them with a radio campaign aimed at 35+ males. Bentos could certainly do with a boost: value sales are down 16.7%; volumes have lost a whopping 26.7%.

Tapping the baking trend

Over in canned fruit, Princes is tapping a different trend: home baking. Targeted marketing, promotions and NPD have helped it achieve value growth of 22.3%, in a category down 6.7%. In August, it ran on-pack promotions across a million cans of Fruit Fillings to tie in with The Great British Bake Off series five.

The initiative was intended to “increase awareness among younger shoppers,” says Neil Brownbill, marketing director at Princes. Also helping lure this new demographic are its YouTube recipe videos, supported with targeted advertising and featuring forthcoming NPD. “Shoppers tend to look for easy dessert options that can still be made from scratch,” adds Brownbill.

Efforts to bring canned food into the 21st century with NPD for busy, health-conscious or foodie consumers (for further examples, see how Heinz Black Label soups are performing over on p170) will remain the focus over the coming year, say the category’s movers and shakers. Though it will be easier for some more than others. The marketing teams of some of the more traditional canned meat brands, for example, might have a challenge appealing to the MasterChef generation.

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Top launch: Infusions by John West

John West is jazzing up tinned tuna with its Infusions range.

The brand launched two flavours: Basil & Chilli, and Garlic, in late 2013. In April 2014, it added three more lines: Asian-inspired Soy & Ginger; Coriander & Cumin for fans of Middle Eastern flavours; and Lemon & Thyme.

Big distribution wins mean the range is stocked in more than 85% of the multiples, helping it win a 12% share of added-value fish since launch, according to John West.