Biscuits are a great category. For example, biscuits have the highest household penetration in the world next to cooking oil, says Jeff van der Eems.

This is because biscuits are a great way to store energy. And people like to eat ours, van der Eems, chief executive of United Biscuits adds.

jeff van der eems
Jeff van der Eems, United Biscuits chief executive

Van der Eems is proud of how UB does business. And its business is baking. Digestive biscuits look very simple to make but they are very difficult to copy. Being good at baking gives UB an edge.

The company is a collection of famous family brands, like 200-year-old Carrs, where the family invested in good conditions for its workers and were shrewd marketers. Today under the ownership of the Turkish Ulker family, who started out as biscuit makers in the 1940s, van der Eems has several reasons why retailers should pay attention.

First is the McVities brand. Biscuits provide consumers with enjoyment. And they are affordable.

Second is the savoury opportunity. Baked snacks are relatively healthy, and UB believe the UK consumer is willing to buy more of these.

Third is that UB wants to be a great supplier. It is transforming the way it goes to market. It is investing more in its sales team. It is investing in category advice to help retailers sell more. It is investing in the supply chain and in getting its case sizes right.

Fourth is it is managing its cost base but also investing. A new flow wrap for its biscuits makes a big difference in how its factories work.

Finally van der Eems talks about the business culture. UB is ambitious to grow.

Seamlessly he passes the baton to Ted Linehan, director of savoury brands, who is overseeing the launch of Cracker Crisps. Linehan is confident that this brand will be a hit with consumers.

Baked is a category with tailwinds, he says. By which he means that baked products are seen as healthier than fried products. Jacobs has been growing fast for six years and is on its way to being a £200m-a-year brand.

The baked savoury snacking market is a “sleeping giant”, says Linehan. One reason for this is that the products were not that good in the past. Another is the taste proposition of Cracker Crisps.

Linehan held senior marketing roles with Kellogg’s and Walkers owner PepsiCo before taking on his current job. Van der Eems was chief financial officer for PepsiCo in the UK and Ireland prior to joining UB 11 years ago. Both are convinced UB has a brilliant chance with its new savoury product.

Linehan tells a story from the product development stage, telling of a consumer that told researchers: “I would be so sad if this product doesn’t make it to market.”

“This is the first genuine alternative to crisps,” says Linehan. It is baked versus fried and UB think they will win.

Ultimately, thousands of independent retailers and a handful of wholesaler buyers will make the calls that determine if this becomes a breakthrough product or not. I tasted them and they taste great. I even liked the TV advertisement. But when I am in store, how much time do I really spend thinking about what to buy. If I stop in front of the crisps, will I see baked products? You decide.