It’s proved to be a thin line between success and failure for products tipped as the rising stars of grocery. Stefan Chomka reports

When it comes to reviewing the progress of the star products we named in our last Top Products Survey (December 11, 2004) there is always the hope that at the time of publication we can sit back and smugly declare “I told you so”; that we can boast we correctly predicted the star products of the future; and that all 17 products put on a pedestal by us across categories from to alcohol to household cleaners are now beacons of success.
But even The Grocer’s crystal ball can get a little misty, and while some of the products we highlighted have indeed gone on to be runaway successes, others have fared less well. One in particular, Danone Shape Pleasures, has even fallen off the radar completely, withdrawn in April after a massive overhaul of the entire Shape brand.
Go Lower ice cream was also tipped to be a star by the team, and while 2006 could well be the brand’s year as it looks to finally get listings in the multiples, a quiet performance since launch - which has seen most of its activity concentrated overseas - means that it is still very much in the ‘wait and see’ category.
While this shows we may not be as good as we would like to be at predicting product successes, it also highlights that the line between success and failure in the food industry is tantalisingly thin, and that even when products do tick all the right boxes for innovation, quality, packaging and promotion, they are still not guaranteed a long-term future in the UK grocery aisles.
Take, for example, Nimble Carbs So Low bread, which was launched when the low-carb diet was still very much on the consumer agenda. According to ACNielsen, while the brand showed early promise, with sales rising dramatically in the first 10 weeks after launch, it then ran out of steam, resulting in a loss of distribution in the multiples.
Kellogg’s Special K Lite Bites suffered a similar fate, according to ACNielsen figures. While it too performed strongly at the start, rate of sale declined steadily, also leading to some sales channels drying up.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some of the products tipped as stars have proved to be just that. The huge success of Cadbury Snaps, which was named Best New Product Development in The Grocer Gold Awards, speaks for itself, and it is not alone.
AquaDrops from Masterfoods has enjoyed storming success in the non-medicated sugar confectionery category, despite Masterfoods receiving a rap on the knuckles from the Advertising Standards Authority for wrongly claiming the sweets provided hydration. In Aquadrops, Masterfoods has successfully created a new segment within sugar confectionery and the brand is certainly one to watch in future.
Unilever’s Flora Pro-activ single shot cholesterol-lowering drink has also performed exceptionally well and has grown to become a £7m brand in less than a year after launch. The drink has a unique positioning as Unilever decided to pitch it against all the established rivals in the category, including Actimel, Yakult and Benecol, by making it both cholesterol-lowering and probiotic - a stance that has proved to work well.
And while Kellogg may not have had the success it sought with its Lite Bites, it has had more joy in the cereal category where, despite being market leader, it is still keen to innovate.
Back in 2004 we named Rice Krispies Muddles, a probiotic cereal aimed at children, as our star product in the cereal category, and while the brand itself has had to change its name to better communicate what it’s about, sales have been strong.
Now called Rice Krispies Multigrain, the product has clocked up an impressive 61% distribution across all channels and is now a £5m brand. It has also been well received by the retailers. Shaun Quinton, trading manager at Musgrave Budgens-Londis recently commented to The Grocer that the product worked well because of its brand tie-in with Rice Krispies.
And it is not only in food where successful NPD is being seen.
SC Johnson’s Toilet Duck Fresh Brush, which we flagged up as a refreshing introduction to the household category, has also been met with consumer praise.
The brush, which has detachable biodegradable cleaning pads, has brought in new consumers and encouraged people to trade up in the category, resulting in sales of more than £4m since launch.
While not all the named products have performed as well as might have been expected, many have proved to have true star quality, with some turning out to be real winners. Let’s just hope Britain performs as well at tennis this year as its companies have with new product development.

Centre Court Aces
>> The grand slam stars that continue to impress
cadbury Snaps
Launched: September 2004
Sales: £17.1m
company figures
It’s been a good year for Cadbury Snaps. The winner in The Grocer Gold Awards for Best New Product Development, Snaps is a truly innovative addition to the category and has quickly proved itself a big hitter, joining the top 10 brands in the Cadbury portfolio. The range expanded in April with a new mint variant.

Dairy Drinks
Flora Pro-activ single shot drinks
Launched: August 2004
Sales: £7.4m
MAT w/e 15/05/05
Unilever took a bold move when it entered the single shot drink market by taking on ace players Actimel and Benecol. But Flora Proc-activ was a champ in the making, promising both probiotic and cholesterol-lowering properties. The brand continues to see sales growth with strawberry four-pack the top-seller.

Launched: March 2004
Sales: £6.86m
MAT w/e 15/05/05
With its unique positioning and packaging AquaDrops is a real crowd pleaser and one of the frontrunners in the non-medicated sugar breath category. Boosted by a £4.3m advertising spend, it shows consistently good rankings within the leading sugar confectionery brands and sales this year have shown great form.

Frozen Foods
Birds Eye SteamFresh Fish ready meals
Launched: August 2004
Sales: £5.75m
MAT w/e 15/05/05
Unilever delivered an ace in August with its SteamFresh Fish ready meals, which gained 70% distribution in Asda, Iceland, Safeway and Somerfield by October. Performance has been very good and sales have grown steadily since launch as consumers become more savvy about using their microwaves to steam foods.

SC Johnson Toilet Duck Fresh Brush
Launched: July 2004
Sales: £4.1m
MAT w/e 15/05/05
In a category driven by new product development, SC Johnson raised the game even further with its Fresh Brush, which has a detachable biodegradable cleaning pads impregnated with cleaner. ACNielsen says the premium product has brought new consumers into the category and increased consumer spend.

Top-Seeded Players
>> the Potential big hitters with all to play for
Lever Fabergé Comfort Pearls
Launched: September 2004
Sales: £2.7m
MAT w/e 15/05/05
In The Grocer’s Top Products Survey back in December we asked whether consumers would take to throwing Comfort Pearls conditioning capsules into their washing machines. With sales nearing the £3m mark, the answer appears to be yes. ACNielsen says response has been good with a high volume sold on deal.

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Multigrain
Launched: February 2004
Sales: £5m
MAT w/e 15/05/05
Kellogg changed the name of the breakfast cereal formerly known as Muddles because it failed to communicate the healthy image this probiotic, multigrain deserves. Sales recently passed the £5m mark, having rallied from a Christmas dip. It made a strong return in February, following a big advertising push.

Alcoholic Drinks
Bag-in-box Organic Draught Vintage Cider
Launched: August 2004
Sales: £264,000
company figures to 15/06/2005
Definitely a seeded player in the alcoholic drinks category, Westons’ organic cider in a box has had an excellent year. Tapping into growing demand for premium cider and greater convenience, the product has performed well in retail channels, where it sells for more than £10. The format keeps the cider fresh until the last drop is poured.

Bagged Snacks
Kellogg’s Special K Lite Bites
Launched: April 2004
Sales: £4.77m
MAT w/e 15/05/05
Kellogg’s Lite Bites played straight into Quaker and Walkers’ court, but the product has experienced mixed success since launch. Tapping into the healthy eating market by being baked not fried, it has achieved impressive sales figures, but dropped its game latterly, leading to only 31% distribution across all channels.

Hot Beverages
Tetley tinned teas
Launched: April 2004
Sales: £1.36m
MAT w/e 15/05/05
Conversely, Tetley upped its game in the tea category last year with the launch of a 12-strong range of tea, including green tea, fruit and speciality offerings in tins. The brand has performed well, with sales easily topping £1m. The brand is playing well to shoppers in Tesco, although it has suffered some de-listings elsewhere.

Marmite biscuits
Launched: September 2004
Sales: £283,300
company figures
Fudges Bakery biscuits and Unilever UK’s ubiquitous Marmite brand have proved powerful doubles partners. The bakery saw the sales potential following Marmite crisps and Marmite ciabatta bites. Sales across Waitrose, Morrisons and independents have averaged 14,990 packets a month with more listings in multiples from July.

Wunderkind Wannabes
>> talented newcomers and one-hit wonders
Nimble Carbs So Low bread
Launched: February 2004
Sales: £612,000
MAT w/e 15/05/05
Nimble Carbs So Low bread looked to be on course for straight-sets success, but the evanescent nature of the low-carb craze took its toll. Sales and distribution rose rapidly for 10 weeks after launch, but it failed to sustain early promise. Multiples had called no ball by the end of March.

Canned Goods
Heinz Reduced Sugar & Salt Baked Beanz
Launched: May 2004
Sales: n/a
Heinz’s reduced sugar and salt beans are yet to appear in the rankings, as there is no independent sales data available. But according to Heinz, in the past year volume and value share grew steadily, with a 7.2% growth in value and a 4.7% growth in volume for four weeks to May 14.

Dairy Cheese
Président Brie Slices
Launched: August 2004
Sales: £150,000
52 w/e 19/03/05
Lactalis UK was probably hoping for a bigger slice of the action when it brought convenience to lovers of French cheese back in August with its Président Brie slices. Lack of distribution - only 9% across all channels - means it probably hasn’t achieved the company’s hoped-for sales.

Feldy Top Life Formula
Launched: July 2004
MAT w/e 15/05/05
An international player, this canine-friendly goats’ milk is already delivering sales in Singapore, but has yet to achieve a major presence in the grocery market here. The company says it secured listings with Asda in January and this month entered 125 Tesco stores across the UK.

Wipe-outs and Non-starters
>> the products that failed to deliver a single serve
Dairy (Yoghurts and Desserts)
Shape Pleasures
Launched: October 2004
withdrawn: April 2005
Pleasures, the dessert-inspired yoghurts from Danone with flavours such as Apple Pie, Strawberry Cheesecake, Vanilla & Choc Chip, made an early exit from the game when Danone revamped its Shape range, cutting calories and launching a low-cal single pot brand called Solo.

Ice Cream
Go Lower ice cream
Launched: October 2004
Sales: n/a
Go Lower was set to take the ice cream market by storm with its low-carb premium product, but has so far failed to materialise in the UK. The product has been well received in Sweden and Denmark and may appear here in time for next year’s championship court clash.