Burton’s Biscuits: Identifying new markets

International expansion is on the cards for British company Burton’s Biscuits. Although its chief commercial officer Steve Newiss describes it as a “small to medium-sized enterprise” that takes pride in its British roots, two years ago Burton’s announced an ambition to treble its overseas sales in five years.


To achieve this aim, Newiss is introducing products that suit particular markets.

He explains: “I spent 20 years at Kraft before joining Burton’s. I spent the last eight years at Kraft as vice-president of international development, working across 157 international markets with a classic international expansion package – taking products with strong heritage in their home markets into new territories.”

Newiss is now pursuing a similar approach with Burton’s products, which include well-established British biscuits such as Wagon Wheels, Jammie Dodgers and Maryland cookies. The company also manufactures and distributes Cadbury’s chocolate biscuits under a licence that it holds for about 85% of the world.

Wagon Wheels had been sold previously in Russia, before the financial crisis led to Burton pulling the brand out. Newiss says this decision was taken due to fears of not being paid by buyers, not because of the failure of the product.

With Russians generally having a sweeter tooth than Britons, the marshmallow and chocolate covered treats are a surprisingly good fit for the market, he claims, and Burton’s is now trying to reintroduce them there. He says: “We are trying to build business by reigniting Russia because we know there is heritage there for Wagon Wheels.”

The Cadbury licence is particularly lucrative, and was credited as the primary reason for Burton’s more than trebling its profits to £13.1m in 2010, the latest period for which accounts have been publicly filed. Being nearly 200 years old, the Cadbury’s chocolate brand has more heritage than most, and Newiss says this helps to determine where in the world Burton’s takes Cadbury’s biscuits.

Newiss says not only the desire for a product but also the means of introducing it will be governed by local tastes. In Canada, he continues, Cadbury is associated with seasonal events, so everyday consumption of Cadbury’s biscuits must be built on the back of that. In France, it is the other way round.

One of the uncharted markets the company is currently exploring is China. Here, Burton’s is advancing city by city, starting with Shanghai. Now it is seeking a second city, but Newiss points out that “you can disappear in China” by being too ambitious too soon.

When the international expansion plans were drawn up, Newiss says they put great emphasis on breaking into new markets. In fact, Burton’s has found greater headroom for growth than it previously realised in existing overseas markets such as France.

There, the Cadbury’s Fingers brand has been slightly adapted to be called Finger, with a small Cadbury endorsement. The chocolate coating has also been changed to cater to French tastes and the resulting sales growth has been impressive, Newiss says.

He adds that you have to be able to identify markets that already suit your products and keep as close to the original formula as possible.

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