Upmarket retailers like Waitrose and M&S have done a lot to glamorise the chilled category in recent years, but tinned food and other ambient products are winning renewed popularity. Canned food sales have recently risen for the first time in five years, says Alan Eriksen, Marketing Director, Princes Group, as consumers reappraise the convenience, quality and value for money credentials of ambient food.

In this upbeat environment Princes and other ambient producers have ambitions for growth. Princes, a long established brand in the Ambient Groceries category, has invested in a major rebrand across its entire range, its first significant update since 2004. The £5m investment will modernise pack designs and formats to enhance brand consistency and differentiation across all Princes product categories – Fish, Meat, Fruit, Juice and Ready Meals. Princes are also bringing out NPD in various categories throughout 2019.

The Princes brand refresh will be promoted through a substantial ATL campaign and communications programme across TV, digital and radio advertising, PR and retailer promotional activity, running through into spring next year.

Alan Eriksen says: “This is a significant step in Princes‘ plan to drive growth and respond to challenging market conditions. The rebrand has been designed to encourage purchase from new shoppers, while encouraging re-appraisal and increasing loyalty from the 15.7m households Princes reaches each year.

“Generations of families have grown up with Princes and over half of all UK households buy our products every year. Our audience base is constantly evolving and becoming ever more diverse, and the shape of family life has fundamentally changed. This rebrand is a significant part of our response to these developments, and a key part of the strategic plan we launched two years ago. Our extensive range review puts us in a strong position to both remain relevant, and continue to grow as one of the UK’s largest food and drink brands.”

When the Pot Noodles brand first launched in the UK in 1977 it became an instant hit, establishing Instant Hot Snacks as a grocery staple, including in the convenience sector. Instant Hot Snacks have been going in and out of style since then, but with their accessible price and ease of preparation they are still guaranteed to sell well. These days Instant Hot Snacks are are back in vogue and growing 11.9% yearon- year, with consumers seeking products that reflect the health and wellness trend as well as providing a fuss-free lunch to enjoy ‘al desko’ or wherever. Lena Portchmouth, Brand Lead for Mini Meals, Unilever UKI, who now own the Pot Noodles brand, has the latest picture:

“Our hectic lifestyles mean the food we eat has to fit around jam-packed schedules, so no wonder food-to-go is experiencing rapid growth. Shoppers are no longer satisfied with a sandwich or salad at lunchtime, they’re looking to try a variety of flavours as our palates become more adventurous.”

Last year Unilever shook the snacking category with the launch of new brand Prep Co, offering a healthier lunch option in a handy pot format, made with natural ingredients.

Prepared by simply adding hot water to the natural ingredients inside, Prep Co lets consumers enjoy a fuss-free hot meal on-the-go or at the desk. Globallyinspired recipes include Mediterranean Couscous, Thai Green Curry, Indian Spiced Lentils and Mexican Chilli Rice. Each pot contains enough vegetables to fulfil one of the recommended ‘five a day’ and provides a source of fibre and protein, while being low in saturated fat.

There’s hot news from Pot Noodle too. Last year Pot Noodle, the UK’s number one Instant Hot Snack brand, expanded their highly successful Pot Pasta range with the addition of Tomatoey Mozzarella. Now, to feed our growing appetite for flavours from across the globe, Unilever is launching a brand-new range of Asian inspired rice noodle pots under the Pot Noodle parent brand. Asian Street Style comprises four tasty, new variants – Thai Red Curry, Malaysian Laksa, Japanese Miso Noodle Soup and Vietnamese Beef Pho, tapping the huge trend for world flavours and street food and appealing to health-conscious shoppers, with each pot low in fat and under 250 calories.

The new Pot Noodle sub-brand is designed to stand out in its own right and draw new shoppers into the instant noodle category. In line with Unilever’s bid to become more sustainable, the packaging is fully recyclable, with an aluminium lid, clear plastic pot and cardboard sleeve. Asian Street Style Thai Red Curry, Malaysian Laksa, Japanese Miso Noodle Soup and Vietnamese Beef Pho are available at £1.75 RRP.

Quorn has been growing steadily in chilled and frozen, but sales look set to climb higher still with the launch of its new ambient range, featuring eight new products for the food cupboard aisle. “Chilled meat free is the number one growth category in retail,” says Alex Glen, Marketing Director at Quorn Foods, “with frozen meat free at number three, so there’s a significant opportunity for retailers and wholesalers to drive profits from meat free as part of the food cupboard or ambient offering.”

Quorn, the UK’s best-selling meat free brand, is advising retailers about the benefits of expanding their meat free offering beyond the chilled and frozen categories, to capture shoppers looking to meat reduce on the move and environmentally conscious consumers looking for meat free options.

“With our new ambient range, we’ve made it easier than ever for consumers to enjoy great-tasting meat free meal solutions, enabling them to meatreduce across new meal occasions in or out of home, with healthy protein for a healthy planet. This is especially important as sustainability and environmental factors play a key role for shoppers when making purchasing decisions throughout the day, including at lunchtime.”

In a category-boosting move forecast to generate £10 million worth of sales in the first year, Quorn’s new ambient offering comprises eight products across three formats; Wonder Grains, Bowls and Strips.

Three 200g Quorn Wonder Grain products, nutritious grains with vibrant flavours for a stir and eat cold lunch, rrp £2.19, are complemented by a range of three Quorn bowl products, hearty nutritious bowls for a hot lunch (300g, rrp £2.49), and two Quorn Strips products (180g, rrp £2.99), perfect served cold with a salad, or warmed up in a stir fry.

The Wonder Grains range is backed by national TV advertising focusing on the Thai Style Wonder Grains SKU, complemented by extensive digital, social and sampling support and instore marketing, and comprises Quorn Thai Style Wonder Grains, Mediterranean Wonder Grains and Quorn Mexican 3 Bean Wonder Grains. The Bowls are Quorn Chilli Bean Bowl, Quorn Biryani Bowl, Quorn Spiced Chickpea and Lentil Bowl. The Strips are Quorn Spicy Tikka Strips and Quorn Smoky Fajita Strips.

“Meat free options need to be more readily available,” Alex Glen points out. “Today’s time-poor shoppers want easy food solutions whatever the occasion. With more meals now eaten on the move, our new range has brought meatfree to an even broader audience and range of meal occasions.”

Consumers are always looking for novelty in ambient products, says Kevin Butterworth, Marketing Director at Symington’s. “We know from our shopper insight and talking to customers that both are craving more excitement and modernity from this category.”

The new Twistd brand is a range of flavoured couscous, super grains, grains & pulses, flavoured risotto, wet cup soup sachets, snack pots and world flavoured rice, based on global food trends and authentic flavours. Twistd meets the demand for experimenting with different flavours, says Kevin Butterworth, providing a convenient, healthy way to add colour and culture to eating occasions. SKUs include flavoured cous cous sachets, Super grain sachets, Express grains & pulses pouches, Flavoured risotto, Snack pots and World flavoured rice Symington’s Mug Shot brand has enjoyed great success in the last couple of years. New SKUs include Protein Pots, containing a minimum 13% protein across range, under 2% fat and under 300 calories, Vegetable Pots and On the Go Rice Pots.

Symingtons are partnering with Alton Towers to launch a promotion across the Mug Shot brand offering consumers two for one entry to Alton Towers. The promotion will run across all Mug Shot sachets, Mug Shot Cup Soup and On The Go pots and will appeal to families, thrill-seekers and young adults. Mug Shot will be on TV as part of the promotion and will also be supporting the new SKUs with a large scale marketing and PR campaign including influencer activity, a branded Symington’s and Alton Towers microsite and a strong social and digital campaign. Promotional packs will be available in cash & carry and wholesale operators.

Premier Foods supplies a range of instantly recognisable grocery brands, including Homepride, Loyd Grossman, Bisto, Sharwood’s, Batchelors, Mr Kipling and Cadbury Cakes. “Our products have been a staple part of UK shopping baskets for years,” says Steve Kelly, Premier Foods’ Channel Director – Convenience & Wholesale, “but as consumer habits change, it’s even more important that we and our wholesale partners support retailers in keeping our brands front of mind with shoppers.

“People look for familiar brands when shopping, so retailers should place our well-known cooking sauces, such as Loyd Grossman, Sharwood’s and Homepride, in visible areas, such as shelf ends or at eye level. Cooking sauces are perfectly suited to being displayed as part of a ‘meal for tonight section, alongside other ingredients like rice, pasta or accompaniments.”

Consumers are widening their repertoire by trying different flavours and cuisines, such as Indian, Chinese, Tex-Mex and American. To help retailers capitalise on this changing demand, Premier Foods launched Sharwood’s regional Indian and Chinese sauce pouches last year. These are packed with authentic flavours and the premium pouch format means shoppers are trading up, driving value into the category.

Pouches are also available across Homepride and Loyd Grossman and are a popular pack size for the growing number of two-person households, who account for 60% of all UK grocery spend. For retailers with limited space, pouches are ideal as they take up less room than jars and have great stand-out on shelf.

In the Pot Snacks category, the Batchelors brand is well positioned to cater for the increasing demand for quick meal solutions. Super Noodle Pots and Batchelors Pasta ‘n’ Sauce Pots open up lunchtime and snacking occasions, helping entice new shoppers. On the gravy side, shoppers are increasingly time poor and want simple solutions, but are unwilling to compromise on quality or flavour. There will always be a place for Bisto’s original gravy drums, Premier’s Bisto Best range offers a more premium option.

Particularly in the lead up to key seasonal occasions such as Christmas or Easter, shoppers are willing to pay more for brands they know and trust. Premier’s desserts portfolio also offers premium choices through the Ambrosia Deluxe range, which has seen double digit growth over the last few months, led by new Ambrosia Deluxe Rice Pudding.

Driving sweet sales

Premier Foods’ popular cake brands – Cadbury Cakes, Lyons and Mr Kipling – account for seven of the top ten bestselling cakes and with the category growing within convenience, there’s a strong opportunity for retailers to grow their sales. In addition to a strong core range – including Cadbury Mini Rolls, Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewells, Apple Pies and Angel Slices – Premier drive excitement in the category though limited editions and seasonal favourites.

Premier Foods’ Top Tips

1. Use brand blocking to help retailers find their bestsellers. Many prefer to stock multiple products from the same brand to give shoppers consistency

2. Stock the bestsellers from brands people know and love

3. Highlight promotions and seasonal editions at displays at the front of the depot, away from the main fixture. Think about what events are coming up and earmark display space accordingly

4. Signpost best-selling brands using eye-catching POS, making it easy for retailers to find what they are looking for

5. Stock price-marked packs of wellknown brands. They allow retailers to be transparent about prices and offer shoppers great value on top products

The Foodservice perspective Ambient groceries are essential for caterers, as much as for retailers, says Gary Mullineux, Purchasing Director at Caterforce, and are used to create dishes from scratch or finish off dishes with creativity and flair. With just over 120 products in the Chefs’ Selections range, Caterforce see the ambient selection increasing in popularity, due to the products’ long shelf life and competitive pricing:

“The quality of ambient products is improving as we see more innovative, authentic products being introduced such as tinned fish, oils and an increase in dried fruit, nuts and seeds as customers look for more healthy ingredients. As allergen information is becoming more prevalent, there is also a need to change certain ingredients in order to meet the customer’s needs.”

Best-selling ambient products include store cupboard staples such as sauces and condiments, herbs and spices, gravies and bouillons, tinned tomatoes as well as pasta and rice. The Chefs’ Selections range offers an exclusive range of reliable, quality products which are essential for creating appetising menus. Every product is produced by BRC accredited suppliers, and Caterforce are constantly reviewing and improving their products to ensure the best quality.

New products from Caterforce include Tempranillo Red Cooking Wine, Perdina White Cooking Wine, a Herbs & Spices range, Garlic Puree, a Ready to use cooking sauce range and Gluten free gravy granules.

The Caterforce in-house marketing team create marketing material to include in members’ monthly promotional leaflets and recipe suggestions to help customers with menu ideas and inspiration. The Chefs’ Selections range is showcased to customers at trade shows throughout the year and customers are informed about the quality of the brand. Another foodservice specialist, The Bay Tree’s founder Emma Macdonald says addressing the health trend and the demand for products which offer a high quality, better for you option, is a key focus for her company:

“We’re always looking to innovate and offer convenient, premium and flexible solutions, helping operators deliver what consumers want.”

The Bay Tree‘s three new reduced sugar launches are adaptations of their most popular recipes which are favourites in foodservice – Strawberry Jam, Orange Marmalade and the bestselling, Spicy Tomato & Onion Chutney. Containing at least 25% less sugar than their traditional counterparts, the premium preserves producer has developed the range to promote sugar reduction, a topic being brought increasingly to the public’s attention. Carefully formulated to appeal to customers looking to cut the sweet stuff by opting for simple swaps within their everyday diets, the variants don’t compromise on quality.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, The Bay Tree’s ethos is grounded in making the ordinary extraordinary. Offering operators point of difference with their product innovation, The Bay Tree caters for the foodservice sector’s everchanging needs across pubs, restaurants and cafes.

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