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    To dunk or not to dunk – that is the question

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    May 29 is National Biscuit day, which perhaps more than any other occasion typifies the British spirit and character

    Biscuits are of vital importance to this nation, in a way that its history is important: part of a multi-stranded, shared identity. Some say modern biscuits began at sea, as unperishable rations on board vessels of the sail-age Royal Navy, although it is clear that biscuits and cookies existed far earlier and in most cultures. Almost everywhere there was a biscuit, or sweet biscuit-like comestible midway between dry crackers or bread and celebratory cakes.

    To dunk or not to dunk - that is the question

    Queen Victoria would have a nice plate of biscuits with her afternoon tea, and so would the navvies digging the canals. Biscuits remain the great social solvent, with policemen dunking and duchesses nibbling. It is not so surprising that when President Trump visited the UK and went to Buckingham Palace, a demonstrator outside the gates held up a placard with a message imploring the Queen not to give him the best biscuits.

    May 29 is National Biscuit Day – national being the equally important term, because the whole country will celebrate – some silently, perhaps even secretly, in the comfort of their own armchair, behind the net curtains, with a Nice or a Rich Tea, a Garibaldi or a digestive, a Bourbon or a malted milk, a ginger nut, Jammy Dodger or a custard cream. The Biscuit universe, just like the other one, is constantly expanding.

    What is a biscuit?

    Those (few) listed above are, without much controversy, biscuits. The definition, however, has stretched and widened in recent years, enlarging the category as tastes change and develop. What is a Wagon Wheel, a Maryland, a fig Newton (Egyptian in origin), macaroon or Jaffa Cake – with the word cake in its very name, even though it is consumed just like a biscuit? In truth, as court proceedings recently demonstrated, only the Inland Revenue knows for sure.

    And what about Coyotas (Mexico), Dalgonas (Korea – as featured in Squid Game), or Italian Cantuccini and Canestrelli? Rarity on these shores is no disqualification. Now, even cereal bars are attempting to muscle their way into the category. What should be the definition – can you dunk it or would it disintegrate (although digestives can go that route if your attention is distracted…)? Could you possibly eat three – although that might mean even Weetabix could be included?

    To dunk or not to dunk - that is the question
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    Perhaps the only place to hold the line is at out-and-out cake – pure sponge that would never survive immersion in a hot cup of Yorkshire’s best.

    The good and expert folk at biscuitpeople.com define a biscuit as “small, flat, thin pieces of pastry that are baked to a low moisture content. The difference between the terms cookie and biscuit is that a cookie is a sweet, small, chunky biscuit type, baked to a low moisture content and with a long shelf life.”

    Cookies, they say, most commonly baked until crisp or just long enough that they remain soft, but some types of biscuit are not baked at all.

    To dunk or not to dunk - that is the question

    It is very confusing, in a tasty, endlessly testable sort of way; and as retailers, this academic interest must surely come second to stacking and selling – so what should c-store owners stock and how should they merchandise them – and publicise their attractions, as National Biscuit Day approaches?

    Asian Trader talked to Colin Taylor, who is Trade Marketing Director at Fox’s Burton’s Companies, one of the UKs very largest biscuits producers, and home of such brands as Maryland, Jammie Dodgers and Rocky. See the box-outs for his top tips to take the cookie crown in your store.

    To dunk or not to dunk - that is the question

    He explained that in 2023, 98.2 per cent of UK households purchased Sweet Biscuits (the key industry term), equating to £2.9 billion pounds’ worth of retail sales. “This presents retailers with a big opportunity, especially around calendar moments like National Biscuit Day, to capitalise on the category’s success with FBC UK – the second-biggest branded biscuit baker in Britain with a range that shoppers already know and love,” says Taylor.

    “Biscuits remain one of the few categories where shoppers are willing to spend money on treats, especially during tougher economic times. Shoppers often turn to the brands they know and love, especially when money is tighter. Brands such as Fox’s, Maryland and Jammie Dodgers are therefore at the forefront of consumers’ minds as trusted, well-known brands that deliver on taste and quality.

    To dunk or not to dunk - that is the question

    “In the last year, we have launched a variety of new products that aim to address a wide variety of shopper needs and also illustrate the strength and breadth of our brands”

    FBC’s greatest hits include Maryland, Jammie Dodgers , Fox’s cookies Rocky and Crunch Creams.

    “We debuted a brand-new look Maryland, to help retailers unlock and grow their Sweet Biscuit sales,” says Taylor. “The re-stage has since resulted in an increase in both value and volume sales, with value sales +19 per cent and volume sales +10 per cent. The most recent flavour launch, Choc & Caramel, has driven an additional two per cent of sales into the brand,” and the Minis have been a particular success (£9.1m in sales, up 12 per cent).

    To dunk or not to dunk - that is the question

    Meanwhile, Jammie Dodgers remains the largest sub-brand within the Kids sub-segment, worth over £30m, and a new 140g Apple and Blackcurrant variant that launched in May 2023 is already worth £588k in sales with an additional 277,000 incremental shoppers now purchasing the brand.

    At the premium end, Taylor notes, “we noticed more shoppers buying into Sweet Biscuits and as a result, this segment continues to grow. In fact, within Premium Treats, “Big Cookies” are up 23 per cent to £74m, driven by Fox’s Cookies which are up 67 per cent to £31m.

    It is certainly interesting that as the cost-of-living crisis has endured, many private label or “generic” biscuits have increased sales at the expense of certain well-known brands, while at the same time, shopper budgets have split the other way as well, sending spending into the premium range for those brands that really innovate and offer something extra. Demand for premium is there if it is done right – packaged and then merchandised.

    To dunk or not to dunk - that is the question

    “Special Treats” are the other key sector in Premium Treats worth £186m and up 20 per cent year on year, driven by indulgent offerings like Fox’s Chocolatey which have increased by 27 per cent, Taylor explains:

    “The ‘Special Treats’ segment includes fully coated chocolate biscuits like Fox’s Fabulous Chocolatey Rounds and indulgent recipes like our chocolate-dipped Fox’s Fabulous Viennese Finger. Our ‘Big Cookies’ segments also includes Fox’s Fabulous Cookies, Maryland Big & Chunky and Galaxy Cookies.

    Elsewhere it is obvious that innovation is driving sales, as consumers want demand their taste-buds are indulged by this ever-evolving (as well as resolutely traditional) category.

    For example, next month pladis is building on the long-established success of its McVitie’s Penguin brand as it launches a new range of portion-controlled biscuit snack packs: Penguin & Friends.

    To dunk or not to dunk - that is the question

    A selection of mini, crunchy Antarctic-themed biscuits including penguin, igloo and fish shapes will be launching in two Cocoa and Cocoa & Orange flavours (orange being still mega-popular), and coming in at just 90 kcals per individual pack, to inject further growth into the popular Family Treats segment, now worth £547M (+19 per cent). Incidentally, Special Treats is growing by 16 per cent YOY.

    “Our McVitie’s Penguin brand is best known for bringing humour and playful Penguin fun to afternoon snacking, and our products have always been seen to bring a touch of chocolatey indulgence,” says McVitie’s Marketing Director Adam Woolf.

    Over at Mars Chocolate Drinks & Treats (MCD&T), TWIX Secret Centre Biscuits arrived last month, signalling further evolution in the category with the biscuit-isation of the already quite nicely biscuity choc-toffee bar) Twix brand.

    Combining biscuit, chocolate and caramel, the new treats bring all the DNA of Twix to a delicious new format within the Special Treats Biscuit category.

    “Our Secret Centre Biscuits range which includes Mars and Bounty variants have added more than £680k to the category,” said Michelle Frost, general manager at MCD&T.

    “We expect the new Twix Secret Centre Biscuits to accelerate this growth even further, bringing Twix fans to the biscuit aisle,” says Frost, noting that each 132g pack contains eight biscuits.

    To dunk or not to dunk - that is the question

    In short, sums up FBC’s Taylor, “Convenience stores are integral to the Sweet Biscuits category and are responsible for £1 in every £4 spent on Sweet Biscuits in British grocery. They are also growing faster than other channels at +22.8 per cent year-on-year and efficient merchandising can help retailers unlock more sales from the category.”

    With that in mind, make National Biscuit Day a special one in your store.

    To dunk or not to dunk - that is the question

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