Instant hot snack meals aren't the sexiest products on shelf but a growing demand on people's time has resulted in a steady growth for these quick and easy hunger breakers. With no culinary skills required, they have become a boon for young, time poor consumers. Worth £111.61m, the instant hot snacks category has grown just 0.6% year on year [Information Resources], but suppliers and retailers are keen to create more growth in this use-it-and-bin-it area. Pot Noodle broke the mould of how we eat when it was introduced into the UK 21 years ago and it is still going strong. Manufacturer Bestfoods claims 30% of people in the UK are "short- of-timers". This figure is set to increase by 10% over the next five years. But for the category to grow, more fixture space is needed, says Bestfoods channel development manager Gareth Toms. "There's more pressure on space which retailers have been a bit slow in increasing. The fixture stays unchanged while more products are shoehorned into the same space." The company has been working on category management initiatives with Asda, Tesco and Alldays. With 50% of Pot Noodle bought on impulse, the aim is to drive this trend. Alldays has been working with Bestfoods on a fixture dedicated to pot snacks including Pot Noodle, Knorr Tastebreaks and Ambrosia desserts. The fixture was introduced into more than 800 Alldays at the beginning of this year. In the first six months sales of Pot Noodle increased by 28% and Ambrosia desserts by a staggering 123%. Alldays trading controller Vince Coleman says: "We worked closely with Bestfoods to develop a snacking fixture that would generate impulse sales. The sales increase demonstrates the effectiveness of this approach." The arrival of new entrants such as Tastebreaks, Snack Stop and other own label pot snacks has further fuelled the need for bigger fixtures. Bestfoods has a 21 strong Pot' line which stretches across the spectrum of noodles, rice, potato and pasta. Its latest product is the 400g size King Pot Noodle, developed in response to research showing 27% of over 16s didn't feel the original 300g filled them up. Rsp is 99p. Bestfoods' £11m Knorr Tastebreaks brand is aimed at an older audience. The three year old pot snack includes soup, pasta and potato variants. Whereas Pot Noodle has a more male bias, Crosse & Blackwell's Snack Stop hopes to pull in the girls. The two year old brand has just had its first makeover to give its new eight strong range a more grown up, foodie appeal. With less fat, fewer than 300 calories and six vegetarian lines, they are designed to woo 18 to 22 year olds. Nestlé culinary channel development manager Vanessa Brown says: "Nestlé created a £15m brand with Snack Stop and, with Tastebreaks, opened up the fixture to a wider audience. Household penetration has risen from 34% in 1998 to 40% in 1999 [ACNielsen] ­ an extra 1.6 million buying a hot instant snack in one year." Nestlé says 30% of sales go through independents and are bought by the end user. The key reason for dropping out of the category is 18 to 22 year olds who have left home and are no longer catered for by their families. Likewise, Bestfoods says the focus on Pot Noodle in independents is because most of the purchasers are the actual consumers, while in multiples it tends to be bought by people who are not going to eat it ­ such as mum! By 2002 Nestlé believes instant hot snacks will be worth £250m. Family business Kohlico Trading's Noodle Cup range is distributed under the Ko-Lee brand through multiples and independents. Newcomers include G Costa and Patak's. G Costa has tapped into the sector with Nong Shim's Korean pot noodle snack, part of a range of noodles and snacks worth more than $1bn in the US. Research showing young people snack up to five times a day spurred Patak's entrée into the category with Patak's Curry Breaks. This coincided with the recent launch of its frozen snack pots in pot noodle style packs. Nestlé is spending £2m on its Snack. Stop. Go.' campaign to attract working girls. Bestfoods has a massive £12.6m media spend for Pot Noodle and £2.4m for Tastebreaks. The wacky, irreverent ads have given Pot Noodle a cool image which appeals to teenagers. This approach has also been taken by Van den Bergh Foods for its Batchelor SuperNoodles range. The £8.2m campaign includes an ad which features cavorting cross-dressers. Batchelors SuperNoodles has a 66.7% share of the £35.4m savoury noodles market [ACNielsen MAT March 2000]. VdB positions Batchelors SuperNoodles as a substantial snack for young adults and says the ads have done much to improve people's perception of the product. "It's not a particularly sexy category but we have done a lot to change that," says hot snack meals category manager Alex Saint. "Noodles are a key area, and more innovation is in the pipeline." VdB's Batchelor Cup a Soup dominates the instant soup sector. Growth is driven by Cup a Soup Extra, its pasta or noodle filled soup, where penetration is around 13% of all UK households and growing in the region of 25% year on year. It holds a 7.2% share of the £75.5m instant soup market. A £6.5m promotional push kicks off in October which will also act as a platform for its new lines ­ a sub range of potato soup called Cup a Soup Creamy Potato made from real potato. Available from September at the same rsp (39p) and in a single serve sachet like SuperNoodles, Saint says the product fulfils all the needs of an instant snack meal ­ "easy to pick up and shove in the bag on the way to work" ­ and will be incremental to its range. As for the challenge from Tastebreaks, Saint admits: "It is an area which others have identified as a gap in the market. But we think there is nothing else like it on the market which has that authentic taste." Seven lines are being dropped across the range to accommodate the new varieties. "We've looked at rationalisation over the last couple of years because of the increased demand for the limited shelf space available." VdB's research has shown shoppers find the fixture confusing. The company is trying to make it more user friendly by testing a number of fixtures. Saint says: "We're currently trialling a hot snack meals fixture with multiples. "But while we will drive hard for the multiples, we need to make sure we are focused on the independent as well." Last year VdB launched Batchelors branded Hot Stuff stands for independents, although these were not intended for one specific brand. Saint says: "You can't ignore the Pot Noodle in this category. The scheme is ongoing." Another stand specifically for Cup a Soup Extra is also being tested in a bid to link it with sandwiches to drive incremental usage. n {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}