Retailers who treat the ambient desserts category as a poor relation of chilled are doing themselves and their customers a great disservice. The category is worth £372m, with the single serve sector alone worth £38m and growing at 18% per year, according to Bestfoods UK, producer of leading ambient dessert brand Ambrosia. Yet so many fixtures are perceived as being dull, cluttered and uninteresting by consumers and are offputting, says Bestfoods. It has been running a category management programme with two leading multiples over the past three years to try to change the sector's image. Ambrosia senior brand manager Sandrine Pirovano says the problem lies with retailers and consumers viewing the category in different ways. "Retailers see it in a fairly restricted way. They think in terms of items such as custard, milk puddings, jellies and sponge puddings. Whereas consumers are thinking more about usage occasions when they approach the fixture. This may include traditional ambient lines, but also covers cakes, canned fruit, yogurt and even ice cream," says Pirovano. "Our research shows that consumers are seeking inspiration when looking for dessert ideas. But too many fixtures are not providing this because they are too cluttered and confusing. "As a result, consumers shop the fixture on a needs must' basis to replenish stock cupboards, instead of for finding ideas." Bestfoods has developed a new merchandising approach which it is encouraging the multiples and larger retailers to adopt to revitalise the category. It recommends introducing a more creative and alluring mix of ambient single serve lines, including: lin-store theatre to entice consumers to the fixture; la logical and better environment with vertical blocking and a central focus on the latest promotions and product innovations; lsegment signposting to add clarity and vibrancy to the fixture. To implement this approach, it has created a retailing planogram, as Pirovano explains: "As single serve desserts are viewed by consumers as a distinct segment within the category, they should be merchandised as such. These should be positioned at the gondola end, grouped into healthy snacks and low fat rice single serve pots; children's snacks; family snacks and rice pots; and adult snacks. "This layout will entice consumers further down the aisle." To overcome consumers' difficulty in locating new products and those on promotion, Bestfoods recommends siting these in a dedicated central, vertical column. "If they have a fixed position, consumers will always be able to find them," adds Pirovano. To drive sales in the burgeoning snacking market, it recommends cross-promoting ambient desserts alongside fresh fruit, cakes and biscuits, and putting them in the snacks chiller at the front of store to capitalise on lunchtime trade. An exception to these guidelines is the convenience sector where, as space is often limited, Bestfoods recommends siting ambient desserts in the chiller cabinet to encourage trial. "In c-stores, consumers use the chiller extensively, making it a trial mechanic, so it makes sense to site snack products in the chiller to capture impulse sales. "Snack desserts are bought for immediate consumption and often taste better chilled," says Pirovano. For outlets with limited space, Bestfoods has produced a merchandising stand for Creamy Crunch to help create a sense of theatre in stores. So how effective is this approach? Pirovano says sales in Sainsbury and Tesco's ambient desserts fixtures have improved considerably since implementing the strategy. "In one store, we saw sales move by 11%. And Tesco has the highest share of trade in ambient single serve desserts following our exercise." Two new Creamy Crunch variants are due out this month along with a SM:TV Live! branded six pot variety pack of Splat!. Bestfoods will be backing the Ambrosia brand to the tune of £12m this year. The campaign includes TV and press advertising, plus in store support and sampling. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}