Bet you thought it was the cute pets that did it for sales of McVitie’s Digestives? Well, we’re not saying using cuddly creatures for McVitie’s Sweeet campaign wasn’t an inspired piece of shopper insight, but to understand how United Biscuits grew sales of the Digestives by a whopping £18m - in a biscuit market that was down £57m - we need to go back a bit.

Our story begins on Christmas Eve last year. Quietly, UB announces that McVitie’s is reverting to an earlier recipe for Digestives. The previous management had invested £10m in a health-driven reformulation of the nation’s favourite biscuit but not only was it a nightmare to manufacture, consumers didn’t like the taste.

At the same time UB was making Digestives for Aldi - using the old recipe - and Aldi was selling them for less than half the price. New CEO Martin Glenn knew what he had to do: “We spent six months letting them down gently. It was not the kind of business I wanted. The logic was ‘the discounters are growing, so let’s supply the fastest-growing one with own label’. But it’s flawed thinking. It’s a fool’s errand to supply a product that is effectively cannibalising sales from the brand.”

If it seemed counterintuitive abandoning a supply deal with a fast-growth discounter just as other manufacturers were trying to get into bed with them, Glenn’s decision to invest in a 60-strong direct sales force for the convenience market was equally unfashionable. But he realised there was an untapped opportunity. “Over 50% of outlets do not stock Digestives, so by providing retailers with more support we will help them drive sales. As my former sales director at Walkers, Tom Kuzio, always said: “You’ve got to be seen to be sold.”

The Sweeet ad campaign, then, was the final piece in a bold repositioning of the UB portfolio, which lifted not only sales of McVitie’s Digestives but several of its other brands too (see p81). Glenn also reorganised the savoury side, using Jacob’s as the master brand, backed by its first advertising campaign in years. Sales grew there too.

So there it is: how to grow your business by outmanoeuvring the discounters (and pleasing supermarkets and convenience store owners) in four easy steps. But our story doesn’t end there. Because this transformation has enabled private equity backers Blackstone and PAI Partners to cash in for a figure thought to be in the region of £2bn. At one point it looked as though UB would float on the Stock Exchange but, in the event, a trade buyer, Turkish biscuit manufacturer Yildiz, offered a better rate of return. And if it’s sad that the public can’t share in UB’s success, the good news is, while new sister operation Ülker Biskuvi shares the same initials, parent Yildiz is backing the team’s three-year plan.