Dairy Milk still undisputed chocolate king

They call it the lipstick effect. The ­trading down from expensive luxuries to little comforts during tough times. Chocolate is said to be one of the main ­beneficiaries of this phenomenon, and may still prove to be.

However, overall sales were up by just 2.2% in value in 2008, well behind the current rate of inflation and dipping significantly below the 5.2% achieved in 2007.

All this despite the rising cost of cocoa and liquid milk which, in theory, should have pushed prices higher.

Not this year, however. Led by the leading brand, Cadbury Dairy Milk, a number of countlines were reduced in size in order to keep costs down.

Cadbury also declined the heavy ­promotions of its rivals - notably over the Easter period - which led to static year-on-year sales for the second consecutive year.

Galaxy couldn't match last year's 16.4% growth but added almost £10m in sales on the back of promotion and a successful link-up with the Sex and The City film and DVD release.

The high-visibility pink foil and on-pack promotion appealed to Galaxy's core female consumer, according to Mars' trade relations manager Bep Sandhu.

"The Galaxy brand has been doing particularly well," Sandhu says. "It understands the ritualistic nature of chocolate."

Mars bar sales were flat for the second year running, however, while Maltesers was unable to repeat its 8.8% growth of 2007.

And it's arguably Nestlé that's had the best year. KitKat was definitely the category's stand-out performer for 2008. The launch of the female-oriented KitKat Senses helped drive a 30.2% increase in sales across the brand.

Kitkat Senses
Nestlé gave KitKat Senses the red carpet treatment with a £9m launch - its biggest confectionery investment to date - fronted by the Girls Aloud babes. And the big spending certainly seems to have given the product that Something Kinda Ooooh, racking up £12m in sales since March without damaging the core brand. At just 165 calories, the bar is positioned as an indulgent but permissible treat for over-20s women.
"Most importantly, KitKat Senses' success has not cannibalised that of other KitKat products and sales have been incremental to the overall brand and the category," says Nestlé UK trade communications manager Graham Walker.

"Nestlé has got its house in order with KitKat," says Jonathan Summerley, senior buyer at confectionery wholesaler Hancocks. "Gone are the days when there were more varieties of KitKat than you could shake a stick at. They're much more focused now."

"Senses had a big impact," says one supermarket buyer. "But we have done some heavy promotions on KitKat this year. Whether they can repeat the figures next year remains to be seen."

In the battle of the assortments, Quality Street also leapfrogged ­Cadbury Roses - whose sales fell 10% - reflecting Nestlé's heavy focus on promotional ­activity.

As Summerley points out: "There are some bloody aggressive tactics around ­seasonal. In some cases tins are cheaper than standard 400g boxes."

Sales of Celebrations also fell, down 8.6% to £59.7m. In a year characterised by brand extensions rather than major new launches, Cadbury Creme Egg Twisted was the other stand-out newcomer.

Already worth £12.2m since its May launch, Twisted helped deliver a 16.3% increase in sales of the Creme Egg brand, reversing a 4% fall in 2007. "Creme Egg Twisted meets the desire for Creme Egg 'goo' all year round," says ­Cadbury trade communications manager Kate Harding.

The Top 20's biggest mover is Thorntons, which leaps 11 places to 13 after delivering sales growth of 33.4%.

And while Ferrero Rocher headed in the opposite direction, another return to form resulted in Kraft's Terry's Chocolate Orange re-entering the top 20 in 18th place on sales up 12.4% to £42.5m.

One name that is conspicuous by its absence from this year's list but likely to feature prominently next year is the Wispa chocolate bar.

Cadbury reintroduced Wispa as a permanent countline this summer after five years in the wilderness.

"Wispa has been fantastic," says Summerley. "I was slightly nervous when they said it was coming back permanently - people can have too much of a good thing - but sales have been holding up really well."

What does concern Summerley is the lack of genuine innovation in the category. "There's less and less proper new product development taking place. I put that down to there being less money for investment. We do need innovation in confectionery because consumer tastes are always changing."

Summerley also has fears for the premium category as we enter recession.

"Premium is tough. Consumers are going to become more concerned with value. We're not going to be taking in many premium products next year.

"My concern for some of the higher-quality Fairtrade and organic products is that they appear to be less relevant to consumers than before," agrees the supermarket ­buyer.

He echoes Summerley's concerns about a lack of new product development in the sector. "I'm questioning whether we'll see any big innovations next year. It's going to have to be right on the mark as consumers think more carefully about where they spend their money."

So what hopes for 2009? "What I want to see from the major players is more price marking," says Summerley.

"We have to give the independent retailers something to work with if they are going to be able to compete against the supermarkets."

View The Grocer's definitive Top Products 2008 survey