Focus: Key Christmas season beckons for Ferrero’s UK and Ireland team

With a backdrop of economic uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic, the confectionery sector is facing challenges ahead, yet is showing strong signs of resilience. Neill Barston speaks to Levi Boorer, Ferrero’s UK customer development director, on its festive prospects

As Ferrero prepares for another key Christmas season with a £3 million investment in its confectionery, there’s a good deal of optimism within the business, despite wider conditions.

While the company acknowledges these are testing times, it has struck a course of continued development with its ranges, paying particular focus on its product series with sharing potential, which it believes will be big sellers this year in light of many wider social occasions being severely limited amid the pandemic.

According to Levi Boorer, the company’s UK customer development director, there have been some clear positives amid the gloom of market uncertainty caused by coronavirus. He reveals the past few months had posed particular issues for the business amid the pandemic, which have impacted on sales and shopper confidence, yet he is confident in its strategy for weathering the economic storm.

“This has been a challenging year, but it is fair to say that we consider ourselves fortunate that we have some very strong brands in confectionery categories that have been resilient. “We have managed to continue producing our products through the pandemic, which has been important.

“While some areas of our business have been impacted, others have improved, such as Nutella and our Thorntons and Rocher brands which have performed exceptionally well,” he notes, with Easter having been a testing time for the industry as a whole. However, he stresses that the business is not as reliant as some on that particular trading period, given the breadth of its portfolio.

He states that with the exception of one location in the UK for Thorntons, many of its core production sites Lending confectionery cheer amid challenging times for the region are in France, Germany and Belgium, which he says were all quick to implement plans to enhance health and safety measure within their respective plants to tackle pandemic production challenges.

Also under his remit is the Irish market, which he says has displayed a strong pattern of consumer buying behaviour, with Rocher, Nutella and Kinder having done well there, as well as its Tic-Tac production site based within Cork. As well as physical condition being challenging, there have also been other key matters raising their head on the horizon, including the thorny matter of Brexit, which itself is causing further concerns over logistics and labelling issues in particular. It’s something the company has given notable focus upon.

“Like all businesses, we would like there to be clarity on where we are with our future relationship with the EU, so as you might expect, we have had to make plans for situation that might include there not being a deal achieved with them. For us it would be most helpful if the government is able to provide a lead to us on this,” he notes with the countdown rapidly ticking down on the country’s completion of the transition period of Brexit ending on December 31.

Environmental issues

Despite wider market uncertainty this year, the business has stayed focused on a number of other pressing issues, including responding to environmental concerns relating to packaging.

As Confectionery Production recently covered, the business made a major pledge to improve packaging on its ranges which will become 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Significantly, the company announced the creation of new copper trays formed from recycled PET for its Thorntons boxes, with the brand using at least 50 per cent recycled content in its trays and fitments across the range.

”We will be producing clearer recycling icons across Ferrero’s wider series of products in order to encourage consumers to recycle more, with the Ferrero Collection series being trialled with 100 per cent recyclable boxes,” reveals Boorer, who adds that engaging with customers on such key issues is of paramount importance.

Having been with the business for many years, he says he’s found it greatly rewarding to see the company evolve within the region, as it continues to grow its market share. Crucially, he says that while there’s clearly great enjoyment to be had from seeing new confectionery novelties launched, maintaining a focus on its well establishing brands such as Rocher, Raffaello and Kinder, is a significant consideration.

“Our focus is on our core range of products – as important as it is to continue new product development, retailers are seeing a real success with our established brands such as Thorntons and Rocher, with 95 per cent of sales being within such ranges. “In this environment, retailers aren’t massively focused on taking risks with new products, it’s more important to them that they have a workable and efficient range,” he notes of the approach that many stores are likely to be taking this Christmas.

On a personal level, he says that he is continuing to enjoy playing his part in helping the confectionery group navigate uncertain times, with the company’s strong household recognition factor being something certainly in its favour.

“I think that the first part of what makes it a special brand is that we have unique products, which involve complex production processes, such as the lengthy time that it makes to create Tic-Tacs, and the fact that the milk used in Kinder ranges is added within 48 hours of being produced, which helps with optimising products, as well as things like our hazelnuts undergoing a unique Ferrero process that means these ranges cannot be copied.

“We’ve also made sure that we continue our levels of investment, and now have around 7 per cent of the UK confectionery market, as well as re-investing at a level of 14-20 per cent, to make sure that all that we have done goes into continually enhancing our ranges,” adds Levi, who says that the company is diligent in working closely in terms of in-store promotion of chocolate ranges. It also has online resources such as “Your Perfect Store” to further boost retailers confidence, he explains of the company’s approach to engaging with its partners.

In terms of immediate tests, he adds that creating stability and responding to shoppers’ behaviour is of critical importance, as is looking to its longer-term investment opportunities – which includes a newly-announced investment in Fox’s Biscuits in the UK.

As far as the company’s positive culture is concerned, in a world that is increasingly filled with political and social challenges, he adds that it’s quite refreshing to be a part of something that offers a little release from everyday cares. “One of the most interesting things is that confectionery is rarely on peoples’ shopping lists, so it’s quite intriguing to be able to play a part marketing items that are considered impulse buys.

“This is a category that people find interesting to browse than some other shopping items, and retailers are well aware of the opportunities that are there within the segment. “It is also a fun category to be involved with as there’s something out there for you whether you are three or 103,” adds the director on what has so far been a very memorable career in confectionery indeed.

 

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