Pladis annual biscuit review sees 2020 sales rise despite pandemic

The 2020 annual UK biscuit market review from pladis has revealed further overall market growth of 7.2% for the category, to £2.96 billion, despite pandemic conditions, reports Neill Barston.

As the study noted, while on-the-go products such as breakfast bars sales were negatively impacted due to lockdown conditions for much of the past 12 months, chocolate sales were up 11.7% and bagged snacks fared even better, up 12% year-on-year.

Biscuit sales were also buoyant, increasing 7.4% for 2020, which mirrored a broader global trend for increased snacking amid the covid crisis, in which consumers favoured familiar comfort food and treats amid challenging times.

While figures comparing brand performance were unavailable at the time of going to press for this year’s results, pladis, which is behind brands including McVitie’s, Flipz and go ahead! held a key market share in 2020’s results.

Leading the pack in the top 10 biscuits was McVitie’s Chocolat Digestives, followed by KitKat, McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes, McVitie’s Digestives, Oreo Cookies, McVitie’s Rich Tea, and Belvita Soft Bakes.

For its 2019 review, pladis had urged retailers to focus upon a ‘back to basics’ approach in focusing on core ranges – which is the company adopted itself, as well as working on an enhanced range of flavours of established product ranges including a new variety of McVitie’s Jaffa cakes – creating a pineapple series.

There were notable new product development releases during the year across the segment that included Malteser biscuits, Cadbury Bournville Fingers, McVitie’s Best of British, Kellogg’s Rice Krispie Squares chocolate orange flavour, Fox’s Viennese selection and KitKat Honeycomb that placed a new twist on classic lines.

Leading a presentation on the annual review, Scott Snell, pladis’s Vice President of Customer, welcomed the company’s performance, and wider growth within the biscuit segment for the UK in spite of challenging conditions.

He acknowledged there were some sector tests in terms of reduced sales amid the healthier biscuit ranges (with breakfast bars in particular down 20%), he believed there were genuine reasons for optimism.

As he explained, this was particularly evidenced by a major growth in online sales, with ecommerce growing by a total of 15% in 2020 amid the pandemic, with the trend for high street sales expected to continue further into this year, having a strong web presence for brands was considered particularly significant.

With the ongoing pandemic having affected key confectionery and snacks seasonal occasions including Christmas 2020, as well as Easter last year, the senior executive believed there were prime opportunities for the remainder of this year.

“We’re expecting our best ever Christmas for 2021,” enthused Snell, who said there was effectively a large volume of pent up demand from families for social occasions, with the festive season for this year set to prove critical in maintaining momentum for the wider food and drink sector.

Snell said: “While some sub-categories lost out – the eating occasions for some on-the-go healthier biscuits, like breakfast biscuits, practically disappeared overnight when the first national lockdown was announced – overall, biscuits began to play an increasingly important role in our lives.

“This delivered the strongest Biscuits category growth for more than five years, as the category boomed in terms of both value and volume sales, hitting £2.96bn (+7.2%). The performance of Biscuits last year also reaffirmed the importance of the core to this vast category.

More time at  home prompted extra hot drink moments, and consumers chose biscuit barrel favourites from sub-categories like Everyday Biscuits (+15.1%), Everyday Treats (+11.9%) and Chocolate Biscuit Bars (+11.5%) to pair with their cuppa. In fact, the Top 10 biscuit SKUs became so important to consumers last year that they represented £1 of every £5 spent in the category.”


Significantly, as Snell noted, biscuits are set to be one of the 16 categories affected by the government’s intention to further regulate products deemed to be high in fat, sugar or salt content.

Consequently, he added that navigating such tests would require ‘a renewed focus on collaboration between manufacturers and retailers,’ though noted it was a long-term process of refining its ranges.

In his presentation, he stated that reformulation had been a significant area of focus for the business over the past decade. This has involved removing 785 tonnes of sugar from Brits’ diets every year, revising a number of its ranges.

“The process takes time and investment to make sure we do not compromise on taste, but we are committed to improving the nutritional profile of our products,” he noted of its ongoing work across its portfolio.

In terms of expanding its product range, the company faces a notable challenge in extending its established series to ensure a sense of permissible indulgence, while balancing the need to acknowledge broader trends of healthier eating.

While pladis has been among those businesses that in fact responded positively to Public Health England’s drive to reduced sugar within the sweets goods category over the past four years, it was in fact in a minority within the industry, with biscuits managing in total a 1.6% sugar cut as a category, with confectionery as a whole, with chocolate managing cuts of just 0.4% between 2015-2019 in the UK.

The company added: “Demand for in-home indulgence is the result of various impacts on shoppers’ finances. Middle classes who have been saving money during lockdown will trade up and treat themselves and their family, particularly at social events. Those less financially secure will replace more expensive out-of-home occasions with smaller in-home treats and nights in. However, as lockdown eases we expect to see a delayed January Health Kick. Furthermore, obesity and weight management is likely to remain on top of mind for many consumers due to sustained media attention.

“While we cannot speak for the rest of the sector, at pladis UK&I, we take issues related to public health seriously and we recognise the role we must play in supporting efforts to tackle obesity. This is why we’ve spent over 10 years reformulating our products across salt, sugar and saturated fat and we have already reduced sugar in nine of the nation’s favourite biscuits, removing 785 tonnes of sugar from Brits’ diets every year. The process takes time and investment to make sure we do not compromise on taste, but we are committed to improving the nutritional profile of our products and will continue working towards meeting reduction targets.


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