Popular premium lines are proving profitable for speciality manufacturers. Many are busy creating something special for Christmas, Easter - and any other gift time, says Rod Addy

Many speciality confectionery manufacturers are piggy-backing on the popularity of premium and gifting lines for 2006 and targeting continued growth in boxed and seasonal ranges.
Chris Tarling, general manager at Boaters, the new retail format launched by Julian Graves, says the preference for premium lay behind the introduction of its Simply Exquisite range last month. “Our products are that little bit special and we give the consumer the chance to spoil themselves.”
An appetite for premium chocolate is leading Lindt to invest more in new product development and marketing for its Lindt’s Excellence and Petits Desserts brands next year. And building on the same trend, Swiss Delice has launched a Passion Pécan and Caramel chocolate tablet in time for Christmas.
In fact, TNS Fused Panel says a taste for premium indulgence drove sales growth of 11.7% in seasonal novelties in the year to June 19.
Lindt cites the success of limited edition, indulgent Christmas products, including its Gold Reindeer, as one example of how premium is driving sales. Sales of the product reached £850,000 in the 12 weeks to December 31, 2004 [IRI], despite limited availability in the major supermarkets.
The company has also launched Lindor Tree and Star Novelties and Lindor Orange Cornet to build on the growth this Christmas. And it is expanding its range of
premium Easter eggs while entering the countline section for the first time in the New Year with its 28g Lindor Filled Egg. Other Easter offerings include Kinnerton’s Bang on The Door Handbag Photo Frame and Egg and Toffee & Shortcake Truffle Egg.
Italo Suisse, which owns the iSiS brand of chocolate bars, has launched four new varieties in time for Christmas, after gaining a foothold in the market with its original four bars, says UK director John Brewster. Extra dark chocolate with 85% cocoa, dark chocolate with candied orange peel and a Pralinoir bar join the range, as well as a milk chocolate bar with 30% reduced sugar.
Christmas and Easter provide key opportunities for sales of boxed chocolates and assortments - another major growth area, according to TNS Fused Panel. And speciality manufacturers are recognising these opportunities. Swiss
Delice has created a Christmas box of Mountain Pralines and Green & Black’s is pushing two new gift chocolate boxes to the Christmas trade. Even niche firm The Booja-Booja Company, whose bestsellers this year have included boxes of Hazelnut Crunch Truffles and Champagne Truffles, is revamping luxury gift boxes for Christmas.
Speciality manufacturers have clearly been busy, but David Matthews, MD at A Taste of Switzerland, which owns the Swiss Delice brand, says they must fight to make their efforts count in the bigger supermarkets. “Smaller manufacturers will continue to struggle to get into the market and gain shelf space and need to invest heavily to achieve consumer awareness.”
Because of their comparatively smaller size, speciality companies can respond more swiftly than larger retailers to consumer demand, says Andrew Matlow, associate communications director at Swizzels Matlow. “None of our employees is more than a phone call away from the MD. It usually takes us just four to six months to take a product from concept to launch.”
Last month, Swizzels Matlow launched its sugar-free range in response to health concerns - a Cyber Stick chewy lollipop, a Cyber Chew bar and an 80g Lolly Mix bag.
Niche players can also compete with bigger firms if they ride the main trends, says Lucy Clark, NPD manager at Kinnerton. “Easter has become a promotion-driven activity in which smaller companies find it difficult to compete. These promotions limit choice and the growth in the branded gift sector, as well as the increased offering and purchase of premium eggs, implies consumers are moving away from these promotions and becoming more discerning.”
Others say smaller manufacturers have greater freedom to experiment. “Major players invest heavily in equipment, premises and advertising so they need a high volume product,” says Boaters’ Tarling. “We don’t have these constraints.”