Burton’s Biscuit Company The bakers behind Britain’s best loved treats

As a nation we’re all increasingly concerned about healthy living and diets that are better for you, but the fact remains, shoppers still like to take time out of their busy lives to indulge and cheer themselves up with their favourite biscuits and snacks.

Burton’s Biscuit Company bakes some of Britain’s longest established and favourite treats, with marketleading brands including Maryland Cookies, Jammie Dodgers, Wagon Wheels and Fish ‘n’ Chips, all strong sellers in impulse and convenience outlets through the wholesale channel. Jo Harwood, Burton’s Biscuit Company Sales Director spoke to Wholesale Manager, about Burton’s business and her role.

“Ultimately, it’s my job to ensure our sales remain on track. I liaise with our customer controllers to gauge what’s happening and attend customer meetings. I also keep an eye on customer service levels and monitor market trends and developments. It’s hugely rewarding to play a key role in the success of one of Britain’s most successful biscuit manufacturers.

“I get out to the trade as often as I can and I’m heavily involved in developing our annual plans, including promotional activity and support packages, and formulating our product offering for the wholesale channel.”

Burton’s utilise a range of solutions to best service the wholesalers, fulfilling the needs of both their customers and the business, says Jo:

“We have a dedicated wholesale team who visit customers directly, along with a partner that ensures our customers receive the very best service and support from us.”

The history of the Burton’s business can be traced back to the mid 1800’s, when George Burton began baking biscuits in Leek, Staffordshire. Under the Burton’s family stewardship, the bakery expanded quickly and Burton’s biscuits and other snack foods became household favourites throughout the 1900’s. The Burton’s Biscuit Company was formed in 2000 and was purchased six years ago by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

“Almost two hundred years on,” says Jo, “and our commitment to quality and innovation, and to baking treatier biscuits and snacks that people love, remains as strong today as when the story began.”

“The UK biscuit market continues to develop,” says Jo, “and we’re seeing increased focus on quality, health and free-from options.”

Drilling into the data, Jo says ‘Everyday treat’ and ‘special treat’ are driving growth in sweet biscuits. Cereal bars and healthier options have also made an impact, with the ‘healthier’ segment expected to grow 14% by 2021:

“Consumers are looking for lower fat, salt and sugar options that don’t compromise on quality or price point. Even so, shoppers still like to indulge, and ‘treatier’ biscuits are also driving the market. Special treat biscuits are growing nearly ten percent annually.”

As a leading biscuit baker, Jo says Burton’s are actively embracing the ‘healthier’ trend:

“Last year we reformulated our entire minis portfolio and introduced a one hundred-calorie flash on-pack. The move applied to best-selling products such as Maryland Minis, Maryland Minis Double Choc and Jammie Dodgers Minis, enabling shoppers to make a more informed choice at the fixture.

“We also introduced an additional inner bag to both flavours of Maryland Minis multi-packs, with a smaller portion size offering one hundred calories per serve. This followed research showing consumers would prefer a slightly smaller portion size if it meant only one hundred calories per serve.”

In the wholesale sector, Burton’s biscuits are bought – either in depots, or via a delivered solution – by a plethora of customers, who cover a large proportion of convenience retail, forecourts, foodservice and other out of home markets.

“Across our business and industry, we have access to a vast array of category data. Our category team works closely with our customers to ensure we share the relevant data in a concise and timely manner to meet their individual business requirements. This also ensures we are building the right range, to best suit our different consumers and occasions.

“Alongside this, we work with our customers to deliver mutual business plans, focused on opportunities to support and grow both businesses. These plans are across both branded and own label where relevant. What’s important to us is delivering quality products, offering value for money.”

Jo says in 2018 Burton’s brought several SKU’s to market as a direct result of consumer and customer feedback. They also take note of consumer trends like the growing demand for free from alternatives for people with food intolerances:

“The increased focus on quality, health and free from options have had a major impact on sweet biscuits in the last twelve months. We have recognised these developments along with consumers wanting to indulge, and this continues to drive our thinking.”

Biscuits are at the heart of British life and Burton’s keeps its brands front of mind with memorable TV commercials. The recent “What would you do for a Maryland?” TV campaign depicted consumers carrying out a range of tasks to impress a retailer, in order to buy some Maryland cookies. Jo tells the back story:

“We wanted to create a value behind the Maryland brand and found our consumers would do almost anything for Maryland cookies, whether it’s rewarding themselves for taking the dog for a walk, or something more extreme.”

The campaign not only championed Maryland’s core 10g cookie, but also drove sales of the wider portfolio including Maryland Mini’s – the number one kid’s mini brand – and the new Big & Chunky lines. The campaign was supported by a range of POS and display tools, including wobblers and shelf strips, for convenience retailers.

With the UK government taking a close interest in sugar levels in our food intake, Burton’s keep a very close eye on all potential legislative changes regarding food production, and are doing their bit to introduce healthier choices. Jo Harwood takes up the story:

“Biscuit manufacturers have made great strides in recent years to ensure consumers can choose the products which best suit their individual needs, including free from and healthier options, with the promise of more to come, including from Burton’s. Watch this space!”

Jo says the recent consolidation in the UK grocery market, with the collapse of Palmer & Harvey and Tesco buying Booker “felt inevitable in the current climate. However we continue to adapt to ensure we go on building upon our strong customer relationships and ultimately ensure that our consumers can purchase our products from all avenues.” As a company, she adds, “we’re fleet of foot and highly adaptable, which strengthens our offer when the market is undergoing such change.”

Jo says the merger of Landmark and Today’s as Unitas Wholesale is good news for Burton’s and their retail customers, especially as they promise to be champions of brands:

“The formation of Unitas Wholesale will create new and exciting opportunities for supplier partners, including ourselves. We’re looking forward to working closely with the newly-formed group to identify new market opportunities, not least for the many thousands of independent retailers it serves. These are exciting times in the wholesale/convenience channel and we welcome change when it provides opportunity of this kind.”

It’s an important part of Burton’s work with their wholesale customers, says Jo, to develop products and lines which are appropriate for them and their customers:

“We recognise the need to develop products that are appropriate for the sector, and as such continue to offer both our core range and key new products as price marked packs where it’s appropriate to do so. We also look at case size within the development of products to offer where possible the best size for the sector.”

The current commercial climate requires suppliers to be increasingly adaptable and responsive, says Jo: “We pride ourselves on baking great biscuits and would like to be known for doing so. We try to be easy to deal with and are willing to be flexible and listen to our customers to ensure our products can be sold and enjoyed by consumers wherever they are.

“It is important that within cash ‘n carries and delivered wholesalers, best-selling products are at the very core of our activities. As such, the focus is on our Maryland, Jammie Dodgers and Wagon Wheel Brands, to ensure these best-selling household favourites are widely available. We have a programme of new product launches across the market, and make sure that any appropriate ones are available and supported. A recent example is bringing out PMP versions of our Maryland Big & Chunky range – Milk & Dark Chocolate, and White Chocolate.”

Burton’s promotional strategy in cash ‘n carries and delivered wholesalers differs slightly by customer, says Jo, and is dependent on individual objectives, “but ultimately, we try to deliver on one key principle – value for money.”

Price mark packs continue to be important for the wholesale sector and, Jo says, Burton’s continue to extend their PMP offer where suitable as well as supplying POS materials to drive further standout of their products across the sector, especially when it comes to NPD or in support of a nationwide campaign. Last year Burton’s ran an above the line media campaign for Maryland, which they subsequently supported in depots, driving both an increased level of excitement about the brand and sales growth.

“This is something we wish to build upon this year,” says Jo.

As they do with wholesalers, Jo says Burton’s have developed tools that can help retailers maximise sales, and work with wholesalers and trade publications to make sure this advice is readily available, including range, merchandising, promotion and product feature:

“We are in the process of extending the availability of these tools for retailers and will announce developments in due course. We are also working closely with our retail partners to ensure Burton’s presence within their on-line and digital platforms.”

Jo remains confident about biscuits and snacks’ prospects in 2019 and beyond:

“The market’s focus on health and treats will remain important to the category, so we’re advising our wholesale partners to stock both. As economic uncertainty looks set to continue, retailers will continue to focus on PMPs as a way of reassuring shoppers they are getting the very best value.

“As we start the new year, wholesalers and retailers can look forward to lots of exciting brand initiatives from Burton’s in support of our core range. We’ll continue to innovate across household favourites such as Maryland Cookies, Jammie Dodgers and Wagon Wheels, creating a clear point of difference for some of the nation’s best-loved biscuit brands. These really are exciting times, for us and our wholesale partners.”