UB gets to grips with health trends

Changing consumer demand – influenced by health trends – has led to the rise of two significant trends in the snacking market – “better-for-you products” and indulgence ranges. United Biscuits UK’s (UB) next major launch, McVitie’s Fruitsters,

Changing consumer demand – influenced by health trends – has led to the rise of two significant trends in the snacking market – “better-for-you products” and indulgence ranges. United Biscuits UK’s (UB) next major launch, McVitie’s Fruitsters, is aimed squarely at the former category (MW last week).

The range is understood to be the first of a number of healthier products intended to offer consumers biscuits that have naturally healthy ingredients, such as fruit and nuts, but don’t make consumers feel they are having to compromise taste for health. It follows the &£2.5m launch of McVitie’s Moments, a premium biscuit range positioned as a special treat, earlier this year.

These two trends – along with the demand for convenience products – make up UB’s innovation strategy. UB group marketing director Jon Eggleton says the company is also focusing on its core products ranges, and health and nutrition is central to the plans.

Paul Cousins, founder of Catalyst Marketing and a former marketing director at Jacob’s, believes it is the right direction for the business. He says: “There will always be a demand for treats, and operating at both ends of the spectrum – healthier and indulgent – is the right thing to do. It appeals to the credit/debit attitude: if you have something good, later you can have something bad.”

UB has a vast portfolio of brands, that also includes McCoy’s, Hula Hoops and Jaffa Cakes. It bought Jacob’s from Danone in 2004, a deal that extended the company’s reach into the savoury biscuit market, and this year it acquired Nik Naks and Wheat Crunchies crisp brands from Golden Wonder.

Company sales rose 4.7% last year to &£1.3bn. That said, Eggleton admits that growth in the core biscuit market is slow. According to AC Nielsen, the market grew by just 2% in 2005, and the moving annual total for this year so far is 1%, indicating a similar result.

McVitie’s, Jaffa Cakes and Go Ahead!, UB’s original better-for-you brand that has just been relaunched, are key brands for investment, although the aggressive innovation and advertising is mainly supporting McVitie’s. The brand grew by 0.3% last year and now takes a 41.7% share of the everyday biscuit market.

On the savoury biscuits side, UB is developing the Jacob’s cracker range with new flavours, such as roasted garlic, and a lower fat variant. In the snacks market, Eggleton says the company is “not about flat crisps” but products that are different, such as Hula Hoops, Skips and Twiglets. Last year, it launched the McCoy’s Specials range to break into the sharing market and the brand had a 0.8% share by the end of the year. It has followed this with the launch of McCoy’s Tortillas, ridged for a point of difference. There is also a healthier eating trend in this category, and UB has reduced salt and saturated fat in key lines.

While Eggleton admits that in lower growth categories UB is seeking to steal share, he believes the company also has a responsibility to lead innovation and develop markets it is in. He says: “There is a perception that snacking is under threat, so we have to raise awareness of the natural ingredients in our products. We are looking to drive category growth with big changes.”

Caroline Parry

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