It wouldn’t be Christmas without our favourite chocolate and sweets brands, but this market hasn’t been without its challenges. Priyanka Jethwa and Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski find out how the industry is helping you profit 

Confectionery at Christmas is so full of dilemmas – should you fill your store with season-specific stock? Will healthy eating demands affect this traditionally indulgent time of year? It is easy to forget it offers a £750m opportunity to retailers. 

“Shoppers are getting more excited about Christmas every year, with Christmas retail sales topping £44bn in 2017,” says Charlotte Parkes, Mondelez International’s junior brand manager for Cadbury Christmas and Halloween.  

So, the big question is: how can retailers reflect the changes in the market while also benefitting from this opportunity? Luckily, suppliers are working hard to make their products more relevant, while top store owners are adapting their sales strategies. 

Take the choice to invest in Christmas-themed confectionery: Steve Haines of The Broads, Coltishall in Norwich – like many store owners – is concerned about being stuck with useless festive stock in January. 

“When it comes to impulse confectionery, the key is not to over-buy because you might end up with a bunch of stock that won’t sell after Christmas,” he says. 

This concern is certainly reflected in many of the products big suppliers are focusing on. 

Thorntons Pearls, for example, arrived on shelves earlier this month. Available in Nutty Crunch and Salted Caramel flavours, the products are aimed at younger shoppers and the numerous sharing occasions that lead up to Christmas. 

One of Ferrero’s biggest Christmas success stories of 2017 was its Continental range, a year-round seller which saw 12% growth in British supermarkets. Neither brand is explicitly festive-themed.

Elsewhere, many tubs, cartons and boxed chocolates from Mondelez, Nestlé and Mars will also be appropriate for opportunities such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day in 2018.  

That’s not to say there aren’t many Christmas-themed products from the big suppliers available this year. 

The key is not to over-buy because you might end up with a bunch of stock that won’t sell after Christmas

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In Thorntons’ novelty line-up, a Cheeky Elf joins its Jolly Reindeer and Snowman products, while festive tubes of Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles and Smarties and Maynards Bassetts Frosted Jar are among a slew of Christmas-themed products. 

And there are now festive impulse products from many big brands. Mars is investing in its Maltesers Reindeer by launching a novelty gift that contains two standard and two mini reindeer. 

Meanwhile, Cadbury Dairy Milk Mousse Snowman and Snow Bites offer a product under RRP £1 to tempt shoppers and will compete with Nestlé’s Milkybar Polar Bear and three other ‘Winter Friends’ alongside a range of Smarties items. 

How can store owners stock this range of festive products while not losing out after Christmas by being stuck with leftover stock? 

“Get stock as early as possible because people do like to start shopping for Christmas confectionery around October,” says Naresh Gajri, of Cranhill Convenience Store, Glasgow. 

“Booker normally brings out their promotions at the beginning of October, so I’m just waiting for them to start selling it now. I normally go for Quality Street jars and sharing chocolate tubs.” 

With October just days away, this means thinking about building displays and merchandising seasonal ranges now. 

It’s a time scale that suppliers also agree with. Mondelez’ Parkes has a guide for retailers’ Christmas-themed stock through the season.

“Be prepared early, starting the countdown in October with self-treats such as the Cadbury Dairy Milk Snowman. Then, continue the countdown into November with advent calendars and novelty sharing lines. In December, make it clear that the magic of Christmas has arrived in your store by stocking selection boxes, sharing lines and top-up gifts.” 

Whether to fully embrace Christmas or not is hardly the only dilemma, however. Consumers are continuing to look to save money, yet Christmas is a time of indulgence – should stores build a premium range or one for price-conscious customers? 

One retailer who thinks premium confectionery is the way to go is Paul Gardener, of Budgens of Islington in North London. 

“It’s important to invest in premium seasonal confectionery, and every year, I find myself ordering more premium advent calendars,” he says. “Lindt calendars can cost up to £15, but everyone deserves a treat at Christmas. Chocolate Alchemist, by House of Sarunds, is also another brand that sells really well.” 

Other retailers operating in less affluent areas are planning to focus on competing on price.

“We always try to compete with the multiples on price, especially when it comes to confectionery,” says Narmeen Sarwar, of One Stop Stoneyburn, near Glasgow. “We always stick to One Stop’s promotions. 

“They tend to have deals on tubs, such as two for £8 or £9, which sell really well.” 

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Symbol groups will focus hard on getting the right deals in place, but suppliers are also building ranges at the right price. Nestlé’s Smarties, Milkybar and Rowntree’s Fruit Pastille tubes – with a new Smarties Orange tube – all return with an RRP of £1.38. 

Mondelez’ Cadbury Fudge, Freddo and Buttons brands meanwhile have tubes available with an RRP of £1.42. 

Mars Wrigley Confectionery is among the companies to have affordable advent calendars available – there’s a Maltesers Reindeer Calendar with an RRP of £2.79.  

And while shoppers will be looking for a bargain where they can, suppliers also expect Christmas 2018 to be, like every other year, one where we all treat ourselves a bit more.

“During the Christmas period consumers are more likely to treat themselves, their friends and their family,” says Lauren George, trade and brand manager at Mars Wrigley Confectionery.  

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This logic goes for our waistlines, too. So, while Perfetti Van Melle (to take one example) is investing in reduced-sugar products across the board, it is also centring its Christmas gift proposition around two novelty gifts which place “fun and theatre” ahead of more year-round concerns. Its Chupa Chups Candy Pizza saw sales grow by 28% last Christmas and will be joined in 2018 by Chupa Chups Candy Sushi product. 

Perhaps this is the message for Christmas 2018: Yes, there are many concerns out there, for margin-squeezed, legislation-threatened confectionery specifically, and the market more widely, but Christmas is coming and shoppers, as always, are simply going to want stores to help them have a good time. 

10 Christmas confectionery products 

A present forever; Kinder Fluffy Toy Unicorn
Too cute to eat; Smarties Christmas Birdie
Something Grandad will like; Swizzles’ Sweet Shop Favourites tin
For a party; Bebeto Party Mix
It wouldn’t be Christmas without: After Eight Thins
A traditional favourite: Fry’s Collection Selection Box
A cheeky little chap; Thorntons Cheeky Elf
When you really know your chocolate; Green & Black’s Advent Calendar
One for teachers: Cadbury Dairy Milk Carton
Survive Christmas shopping; Cadbury Snow Bites