From cinema to supermarket: Bulla Choc Tops’ shift to ‘shelf-ready’ format enabled COVID-19 sales success - CEO

By Pearly Neo contact

- Last updated on GMT

Bulla Dairy Foods’ decision to shift its popular ice cream Choc Tops from a cinema foodservice-style distribution format to a ‘shelf-ready’ product for Coles supermarkets during the COVID-19 lockdown in Australia enabled the brand to continue successful sales during the crisis. ©Bulla
Bulla Dairy Foods’ decision to shift its popular ice cream Choc Tops from a cinema foodservice-style distribution format to a ‘shelf-ready’ product for Coles supermarkets during the COVID-19 lockdown in Australia enabled the brand to continue successful sales during the crisis. ©Bulla

Related tags: Bulla, Ice cream

Bulla Dairy Foods’ decision to shift its popular ice cream Choc Tops from a cinema foodservice-style distribution format to a ‘shelf-ready’ product for Coles supermarkets during the COVID-19 lockdown in Australia enabled the brand to continue successful sales during the crisis, according to the firm’s CEO.

Choc Tops have traditionally only been sold in cinemas over its 35-year history, and this is the first time that the product has ever been sold in a packaged format.

“As Choc Tops are sold individually at cinemas, they are usually distributed in large containers [and scooped out to be sold to consumers] – In Australia, cinemas were one of the first establishments to close down due to lockdown laws amidst the coronavirus crisis, [so Choc Tops could no longer be sold via this model,”​ Bulla Dairy Foods CEO Allan Hood told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“[As such, during the cinema shutdowns], we re-packed these into shelf-ready cartons of 48 with a perforation tear to expose a window so that they could slide into the ‘specials section’ in Coles supermarket freezers. The goal was to bring this [to] supermarkets, and homes, across the country as many Australians took to their couches to recreate the cinema experience at home.

“This partnership also allowed us to keep people employed – we reassigned some of our factory staff impacted by the shutdown of cinemas to hand packing these products to ensure they were suitable for sale in Coles.”

Six flavours of packaged Choc Tops were sold across the country. Mint and vanilla were available in all states, but Salted Caramel and Cookies & Cream were limited to Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, whereas Chocolate Fudge and Boysenberry were limited to Queensland, West Australia and South Australia.

Responding to queries on whether this meant packaged Choc Tops would become a permanent part of the Bulla portfolio, Hood said that the newly packaged Choc Tops were ‘hugely successful’ ​and sold over 100,000 units in the first two days of sales, but that as cinemas started reopening the main focus for Choc Tops for now would still be through the cinema distribution model.

“Bulla Choc Tops are an iconic part of the Australian cinema experience. They are our best products in the portfolio, and the most technical products to make, which therefore comes with higher costs,”​ he explained.

“Cinema allows us to charge what we need to allow this product to remain profitable, yet affordable for Australians, and deliver a ‘something special’ experience to go with their move choice.

“[That said], Bulla has also set up a partnership to sell Choc Tops through certain Metcash stores in Australia, although this distribution is on a much smaller scale compared to Coles.”

Bulla in the age of COVID-19

In alignment with food and beverage trends found to have risen in Australia throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, Bulla found its chilled ranges and premium Murray St ice cream range to be most popular during lockdown.

“Much of our chilled ranges - Cooking Cream, Thickened Cream, Dollop Cream and Sour Cream – saw great popularity as many budding home chefs took to their kitchens,”​ said Hood.

“Our new premium ice cream range – Murray St – also saw an increase in popularity in this time, with many Aussies looking for new and quality treats, made with locally sourced fresh milk, cream and free-range egg yolk.

“[This range was found to be] the number one new ice cream product in Australia in the last quarter, outperforming both premium and non-premium brands [according to Nielsen Scan Data Qtr 10/5/2020].”

Outside of Australia, Bulla found sales in its international markets to have improved during the pandemic, particularly in China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

“[Our] entire Asian portfolio has been performing incredibly well for the first half of 2020. Key to this has been our successes on eCommerce platforms such as Tmall (where we are one of the top brands), JD.com as well as China’s revolutionary online meets offline Hema stores,”​ said Hood.

“Our Creamy Classic range and Frozen Yoghurt in particular have always been popular in Asia, but this year the new star [has been] Murray St, especially in Singapore where it is available in all major supermarkets.”

Building on this success, Hood also revealed that Murray St will be releasing a new Blackberry Swirl with Brownie Pieces flavour in October, and that Bulla has recently launched into Taiwan and Vietnam as well.

“[In Taiwan and Vietnam, we will start by]selling select products from our much-loved Frozen range, [as] we continue to explore opportunities in the Asian market​ [where] our 110-year old brand is not as well established as it is here in Australia [but] we have seen strong results and positive feedback,”​ he said.

Related topics: Chocolate, Retail & Shopper Insights

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