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Biscuits are somewhat synonymous with British culture – you’d struggle to find a Brit that doesn’t love a teatime dunk or savoury cracker snack. But with consumers becoming increasingly demanding and financial crises changing the way they shop, independent retailers need to carefully consider their stocking choices when it comes to biscuits.
In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, shoppers are thinking more carefully about where their hard-earned pennies go. As Hayley Waters, marketing manager at Springvale Foods, explains, “Consumers want to spend their disposable income on products that gives them a sense of luxury and the feeling of indulgence. They want to enjoy foods that spark positive emotions that they can share with family and friends or give as thoughtful gifts. Most importantly, they are looking for quality products that they can return to time and time again.”
Indeed, every consumer is different, but the trend towards little luxuries in times of financial strain is well-established. Therefore, independent retailers have a key opportunity to offer high-quality biscuits that feel like a real treat.
For Matt Hodgetts, speciality manager at Peters Yard, “The light, crisp and clean bite that the sourdough brings to our crackers is very popular with our consumers and it’s certainly a point of difference over other crackers. We believe that consumers who are buying quality cheese and other toppings are looking for a cracker range that is neutral enough to allow the pairing to sing but also shows off their unique flavour and crunch.”
Familiar flavours are always a winner, but according to Daniel Smith, sales and marketing manager at Stag Bakeries, consumers want more than this in 2023. “In our experience, consumers are still looking for their favourite staple products, the classics that never let them down, but in addition also want to experience different flavours, textures, colours and have the chance to experiment. Our product development team has been busier than ever trying out new additions in our water biscuit and oatcake recipes to see how far they can push the envelope.”
As Dawn Reade, director at Island Bakery, puts it, “There is a time and a place for a cheap packet of custard creams or digestives, but they perhaps don’t quite hit the spot in making you actually enjoy and relish your tea break with something much more flavoursome and, we think, fabulous!
“It’s the same with the savoury biscuits. Our Isle of Mull Cheese biscuits have a unique provenance, but they are more than a good story. Their texture and taste deliver a striking eating experience.”
Indeed, provenance is a key consideration for shoppers looking to spend on small treats, as Daniel explains. “Provenance and brand story are more important than ever – consumers want to know what goes into the biscuits they see on the shelves and why, and where the producer is from and how they make their biscuits.”
Catering to conscious consumers
Shoppers are looking to brands and retailers to offer a better choice in 2023, whether that is seeking out sustainably sourced ingredients or free-from options.
As Matt explains, “Consumers are looking for natural, high-quality ingredients in addition to health benefits such as high in fibre and low in sugar. All our products are made with natural, high-quality ingredients including Shipton Mill flour and Hillfarm rapeseed oil.”
Another brand catering to conscious consumers is Island Bakery. “With the exception of the Isle of Mull Cheese biscuits, all our products are certified organic”, Dawn tells Speciality Food. “The flour, butter, sugar and everything else are produced to organic standards which means no artificial fertilisers or pesticides are used in their production, and the milk for the organic butter comes from cows which have the highest organic welfare standards. We don’t use palm oil either.”
Also keeping free-from shoppers in mind, the Island Bakery range includes oatcakes and gluten-free cookies which are both free from animal products.
Similarly, at Peters Yard, “We have also seen a growing demand for vegan-friendly products, and we offer a selection of seven products to cater to the growing demand in this category,” Matt adds.
Indeed, free-from products are increasingly becoming more popular amongst consumers. According to Daniel, “Different dietary requirements are an important consideration and have been for several years, but consumer interest in product categories like biscuits suitable for vegans or gluten-free biscuits has never been higher than it is now.”
Retailers don’t need a specific vegan or gluten-free shelf to cash in on this demand. Mash Chiles, partner at Gourmet Partners, explains, “The Simply Seed and gluten-free ranges that Olina’s Bakehouse produces sit in both the free-from and core range areas, offering a unique opportunity for the retailer and unexpected health benefits to the consumer, even if they are not seeking them out. In fact, it’s a shame if they end up sitting in the free-from aisle when in reality, they can be enjoyed by everyone.”
Offering something special
Of course, to stand out from the multiples, independent retailers need to make sure they are stocking something special that customers can’t get anywhere else.
As Hayley tells Speciality Food, “It is so important for retailers to understand the other retail outlets stocking the brands they choose to list. The supermarkets are applying more pressure than ever on independent retailers, winning basket spend from price-conscious consumers.
“Sourcing products that are unique to the speciality food sector has never been so imperative for the independent retailer. Rendles is a brand that will hold its value as it will always remain exclusive to the independent food sector, allowing retailers to retain their customers and promote repeat purchases.”
This is something Dawn wholeheartedly agrees with. “Independent retailers need to offer something that can’t be found in the run-of-the-mill supermarkets. Shoppers in independent shops are expecting to find products which have an authentic provenance with exceptional taste and quality ingredients. Many supermarket biscuits are made with palm oil or cheaper margarines. We use all butter in our sweet recipes. It is more expensive, but it does taste miles better!”
While classic combinations will always remain popular, Daniel suggests spicing things up in independent retail to stand out from the crowd. “Different textures and flavours seem to be the order of the day as consumers look for something special to have as their afternoon treat. With such a variety of teas and coffees available too, we think more unconventional sweet biscuit flavours will really come to the forefront and shine in the future”, he adds.
Hayley concludes, “Retailers should look for brands that bring distinctness to their store and their sweet and savoury biscuit categories, building a portfolio of quality unique brands to attract footfall to their store.”