Price hikes and cereal bars take their toll

Fox's hired a gangster panda to help and McVitie's spent two years revamping its digestives range, but traditional biscuits are in danger of being dunked out of the market by the rapid rise of cereal bars.

McVitie's Digestives cut a lonely figure at the top of the table. You have to look down past 10 ranks of cereal bars, crackers and chocolate-based alternatives before hitting the next traditional baked biscuit, Hob Nobs. And though the overall biscuit category leapt 7.2% to exceed the £2bn mark, volumes - even including bars - actually fell as price hikes caused by rising costs took their toll.

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Posh old Bahlsen had no choice but to shift its Teutonic gaze to the children's market. 
The 120-year-old company had been devoted to making premium adult biscuits. 

But the category is shrinking and, in January, it extended its Choco Leibniz range to include bite-size Peanut Delight. 

The sunny packaging and American-style recipe smacked of a brand that has woken up to 21st-century needs and made a biscuit that's a bit of fun.
As the UK's biggest player in the market, United Biscuits responded with some timely innovation. First, its McVitie's Digestives range was relaunched in February with pack redesigns and a £4m TV campaign that centered on the wholemeal and wheat content in the biscuits. In October it went further still, halving the amount of saturated fat in both Digestives and Hob Nobs.

Ewan Wenters, food and restaurants director at Selfridges, believes this was a timely response to consumer demand for healthier biscuits, but says that manufacturers should focus on provenance.

"I can see biscuits imitating the direction the crisp industry has taken over the past few years, with manufacturers increasingly talking about where their ingredients are from and what makes their biscuit special." He also predicted that, as consumers feel the credit crunch, more people will start to bake their own biscuits.

But UBUK's main high flier was its health-oriented Go Ahead! brand, which climbed two ranks and 20% to £52.6m and third place. A £1.2m TV campaign aired in June, and billed the new Go Ahead! Yoghurt Breaks range as a hunger-stopping snack rather than just a treat.

The other noticeable rise came from Kelloggs' Special K bars, up 32.4% to £36.4m. It spent £6.6m on a summer ad push and added Special K Bliss Mint Chocolate to its portfolio in July.

Although Burton's iconic Jammie Dodgers dropped from the list for the first time, there was no sympathy from Wenters.

"The Jammie Dodger is dull," he says. "There is a trend towards nostalgic foods, but consumers are looking for a more exciting experience. The trends in biscuits are more towards home-made or home-style biscuits using better ingredients."

Click here for The Grocer's definitive Top Products 2008 survey