Perhaps it's not surprising that some major retailers are considering reducing the category fixture size. Taylor Nelson Sofres Superpanel puts the fall in jams, marmalades and preserves, which it values at £139m, at 5% year on year. Major producer Chivers Hartley, which includes peanut butter, honey, and chocolate spread in the category, says sweet spreads are worth £238m as a whole, but agrees that overall the sector is in decline. It's not all gloom and doom, however. There is evidence that products that target the key areas of indulgence or health and those which bring in new, especially younger consumers, are growing. "The whole sector is having to work hard, as consumers spend less time on breakfast and cooking in general. The challenge is to be the most creative and innovative," says Sainsbury's preserves buyer Suzanne Wetherall. She points to premium jams as a star performer, and says chocolate spreads and peanut butter are also doing well. Sainsbury own label strawberry jam and runny honey are success stories, together with Robertson's Golden Shred marmalade and Robertson's Lights reduced sugar jams, which are doing well in trials. Budgens, too, has seen an upward trend. "There has been a marked change of late towards premium jams and marmalades and a move away from standard jams," says buyer Gill Dixon. She points to Budgens' own label brand as the bestselling jam, with Bonne Maman and St Dalfour also doing well. Health seems to be a key factor for Safeway's customers. The store is seeing growth in reduced sugar and organic products, along with premium ones. "Customers are always looking for healthier alternatives to their favourite spreads," says a Safeway's spokeswoman. The independent sector's trends differ slightly. Landmark Cash & Carry says extra jam is growing and reduced sugar products are declining slightly, but standard jam is by far the biggest category. Landmark's Lifestyle own brand marmalade is bucking the overall decline in the marmalade sector and showing slight year on year growth. According to Lifestyle category manager Bill Stratton, to get maximum value from the independent retailer or cash and carry, manufacturers must understand their needs. "Small is beautiful here," he says. "We need smaller minimum drop quantities to be able to carry a fuller range while avoiding overstocking." Pricemarking is an important factor for many independent retailers, but a strategy that is purely price led may eventually take away volume from the premium end of the market. There are other approaches. Retailers can reduce confusion on the fixture by merchandising concisely. "Slimming down the category is a definite and essential trend in a saturated and confusing fixture," agrees Duerr's sales and marketing director Richard Duerr. Robertson's advises retailers to offer a choice of own label and branded products, reduce unnecessary duplication of flavour and size and minimise the number of slow sellers. Budgens' buyer Gill Dixon recommends manufacturers add tips and serving hints to packaging, as Sainsbury's did recently with its own honey recipe leaflet. "We recommend you focus marketing and public relations on breakfast and snacking, while being inventive in use in other meal occasions," says Sainsbury's Wetherall. In store siting offers opportunities to do this. Moving jams and spreads next to pastes paid off for Sainsbury, and many manufacturers advocate dual promotions. "Putting the preserves fixture next to bread adds excitement," says Sandra Sharratt category manager for Trustin Unimerchants, UK distributor for the Bonne Maman range. "And other instore promotions ­ with tea, for example ­ also offer opportunities." Robertson's endorses this approach. Marketing head Ian Greig says: "In the last year we have forged closer relationships with complementary projects such as bread and morning goods." Wetherall points to the importance of packaging: "Duerr's Seriously Fruity jam with its loud packaging is a good example of a product that attracts a new younger audience of consumers to jam." Taking heed of this advice could prove a good plan for jam and spread manufacturers. In the current sticky situation, they need all the help they can get. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}