pladis report reveals Britons’ love for biscuits as category nears £3bn in sales

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

2020 saw biscuits play an increasingly important role in Briton's daily lives. Pic: pladis
2020 saw biscuits play an increasingly important role in Briton's daily lives. Pic: pladis

Related tags pladis Mcvitie's Biscuits Health Digestives Kitkat Oreo

2020 was a bumper year for biscuits – posting the strongest growth in more than five years – as lockdown saw shoppers add an extra packet of the biscuit aisle’s bestsellers to their trolleys.

Sales were up 7.2% from a year earlier to reach £2.96bn and are forecast to tip over the £3bn mark by the end of 2021.

According to pladis, the nation’s top money earner [IRI Info Scan 52we Nov 2019] came from its own stable, namely McVitie’s Milk Chocolate Digestives, which clocked up 20.5% growth from the year earlier. McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes (+4.9%) and McVitie’s Digestives (+25.6%) snatched third and fourth spots, respectively.

The second biggest biscuit brand by sales was Nestle’s KitKat (+21.4%); and rounding out the top five biggest earners was Mondelez’s Oreo Cookies (+23.1%).

Winning with biscuits

During the rundown of its 2020 Annual Biscuit Review, the biscuit giant said its core biscuit portfolio was responsible for delivering 84% of the total category growth in 2020.

“Biscuits had an incredible year amid a tumultuous 2020,”​ said Scott Snell, VP at pladis UK & Ireland. “And, while there were certainly winners and losers in this mix, overall, biscuits began to play an increasingly important role in consumers’ lives.

“This category has always been important to shoppers, and biscuits are purchased by virtually all British households (99.5%), but last year we saw more people reacquainting themselves with the category and buying in more frequently to complement an uplift in hot drink moments at home.”

Within the core, the Top 10 Biscuit Brands grew in importance and significantly outperformed the solid sales success demonstrated the year before (+12.1% in 2020 vs +3.4% in 2019). pladis added this meant the Top 10 represented £1 of every £5 spent in the category – with seven recording double-digit value growth.

“In the convenience channel, this is particularly important as 80% of biscuit sales come from just 8% of products [IRI Symbols & Independents 2019],”​ added Snell.

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The pandemic shopper

Lockdown and restricted living saw the UK reset the way it shops: first prompting a spree of panic buying; then convenience and on-the-go giving way to ecommerce and making meals from scratch at home; and a surge in snacking and unleashing the budding baker as boredom struck home.

According to the McVitie’s maker, sales of alcohol, frozen goods and ingredients for home baking soared, along with the entire snacking category (+8.7%). Bagged snacks were the nation’s first pick (+12.0%), followed by chocolate confectionery (+11.7%) and then biscuits (+7.4%). Sales of cakes and pastries grew by 1.3%.

“It won’t shock anyone to learn that the pandemic had a meteoric impact on the way British people shop,”​ said Snell.

“In the UK, suppliers and retailers faced challenges aplenty as we hastily adapted in the face of rapidly changing shopper needs – first solidifying supply chains as worried Brits added a few extra items to their trolleys and baskets, then through facilitating the roaring consumer demand for online delivery slots and local shopping via the convenience channel.

“Of course, all these changes marked a significant shift in the way British people shopped for biscuits.”

This is certainly prompting the sector to innovate and biscuit NPD was worth £45m in 2020. pladis, itself, accounted for 26% of all branded launches, rolling out new flavours (McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes Pineapple) and collections (McVitie’s VIBs and McVitie’s Best of British), among others.

Expect a resurgence of Healthier Biscuits post-lockdown

The Healthier Biscuits category ticked in with a slower growth – from +4.5% in 2018 to +1.3% in 2019 [Kantar Worldpanel 52we 29 Dec 2019] – as consumers opted for small, permissible treats to overcome the stress of coping with coronavirus. The surge of in-home consumption and fewer trips to the supermarket led to the purchase of larger pack sizes of Everyday Biscuits (15.1%), Everyday Treats (11.9%) and Chocolate Biscuit Bars (11.5%).

“We’ve seen a return to favourites,”​ added Snell.

“Everyday biscuits are up 39%, while the removal of lunchbox restrictions has seen chocolate biscuit bars up 23%. This has also led people to look for bread alternatives, such as cream crackers, which are up 44% [Kantar 12we 19 May 2020, Nielsen 12we 23 May 2020].”

The Savoury Biscuits category saw growth more than double, from +2% in 2018 to +4.8% in 2019, with rice cakes being the top seller with almost +10% growth, driven by brands like Kallo and Snack-a-Jacks. Ritz Crackers were up 17.7% in 2019 (Kantar).

However, with the agenda firmly turned on health and healthier eating in 2021, the Sweet Biscuit category is likely to feel the heat. More than four in 10 Britons are now trying to lose weight, with 25% of them stating they are more influenced by health when grocery shopping.

The impact of more stringent restrictions on high fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) products could potentially be a £1.6bn hit for the entire snacking category, with 15% of those sales (around £267m) being felt by the Sweet Biscuit sector, according to pladis.

Prepare for a big 2021 Christmas

Despite this, pladis claims there is still enormous untapped potential – in fact, a £264m opportunity – that remains to be seized over the next couple of years.

Premium biscuit options will remain relevant for shoppers wanting to treat themselves; shoppers who have been stuck at home for the best part of a year will be searching for something new and exciting; and best of all, pent up demand for a festive season filled with larger-scale celebrations and friends and family will mean Christmas 2020 is bound to be huge.

But why wait until December? National Biscuit Day is just around the corner on 29 May 2021.

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