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Britain has always been a nation of biscuit eaters – in fact, Lizzie Collingham’s The Biscuit: the History of a Very British Indulgence revealed that here in the UK we spend £8 million on biscuits every single day. Throughout the pandemic, this trend has only accelerated with a growing desire for nostalgic products, indulgence and comforting snacks boosting demand for sweet biscuits, while savoury biscuits are riding the wave of the home working and health trends. Public Health England reported that the number of biscuits purchased rose by 12% in the year to June 2020.
New product development plus a firm focus on provenance among fine food brands ensures that tradition and innovation are always blending in this market, and by 2025, research by Industry ARC predicts that it will reach a value of $129 billion. While huge opportunities clearly exist, it is also a diverse sector fuelled by numerous and sometimes contradictory consumer demands. Here, we look at six of the main consumer types for biscuits and how retailers can delight each through a tailored product offering.
The market for savoury biscuits is growing quickly, presenting opportunities for retailers to refresh their shelves with the latest launches. “Consumer buying trends are leaning increasingly towards savoury snacking,” explains Matt Hodgetts, UK and export sales manager at Peter’s Yard. With Peter’s Yard having won the title of Best Biscuit Brand across both sweet and savoury categories for the last two years in a row, it’s clear that retailers will not want to miss out on savoury snacking. “This is not only growing at a faster rate than sweet biscuits, but I believe is offering more innovation,” Matt adds.
New product developments include launches from the likes of Island Bakery. While the business was known for its shortbreads and chocolate-dipped melts produced on the Isle of Mull, the brand has jumped on the savoury trend with products steeped in local flavours, from traditional Scottish oatcakes to cheese biscuits which are made using Isle of Mull Cheese’s award-winning product. “We’ve been planning to make savoury biscuits for a long time,” says co-founder Dawn Reade. “In 20 years of producing sweet, organic biscuits, we have occasionally met people who profess not to have a sweet tooth, and who prefer to indulge in more savoury treats.”
Cheese biscuits were an obvious choice as Joe Reade’s brothers Brendan and Garth run Isle of Mull Cheese. “Our cheese biscuits will suit those people, and those who like to enjoy food with a great provenance, and no-holds-barred ingredients,” she says.
Matt believes that savoury biscuits will only continue to grow in demand as advertising regulations come into play for food or drink that is high in fat, salt or sugar, and the importance of healthier, nutritious and functional snacks grows. “I believe that savoury snacks cater to these trends a lot more effectively.”
Savoury biscuits are also perfectly suited to cater to customers with a desire to experiment with flavourful pairings and create winning combinations, whether for a quick snack, a sharing platter or a starter to an elaborate meal. Savoury biscuits’ versatility is key, as they are well-suited to an array of flavours. Stag Bakeries have designed their biscuits to be the ideal partner for a wide range of products. “Our Water Biscuits have been designed with the cheeseboard in mind, and they pair well with any kind of cheese,” says Daniel Smith of Stag Bakeries. “The biscuits are also excellent carriers for meat, fish, or pâté, making them a versatile option for canapés. We love trying to match up the different flavours we make with all kinds of toppings.” His favourite combination? Seaweed Water Biscuits with cream cheese and smoked salmon.
Olina’s Bakehouse offers a similar proposition – but while its new Black Pepper Wafer Crackers are ultra-thin in order to let accompanying cheeses sing, another firm favourite, its Seeded Toasts, offer something a bit different. “The products are double baked, giving them a crisp texture and flavour, and the unique recipes contain a high percentage of fruit and nuts blended with honey and Greek yogurt,” says Stephen Hodgetts, UK sales manager at Olina’s Bakehouse.
With exciting flavours of savoury biscuits hitting the market, retailers can get creative with pairings, making this segment a prime target of the upsell. “From a retail perspective, it’s important to note that savoury snacks attract an increased basket spend as there are a wide range of accompanying products to sell alongside, like cheese, dips and spreads,” Matt says. Indeed, by strategically displaying savoury biscuits with these products, shop owners can easily spark the imagination of their customers. Daniel says the team at Stag has found this to be an effective sales strategy for savoury biscuits in order to provide inspiration to shoppers.
What’s more, these displays can take on a position in the seasonal calendar, with some pairings suited to summer picnics, while others will be fit for the winter holidays. “We have found that different flavours come into their own in different seasons of the year. Cheeseboard selection boxes are a great option all year round, but we find they really shine during the festive season,” Daniel explains.
A growing focus on health is influencing trends across the food and drink sector, and biscuits are no exception. Sweet biscuits in particular are being held to a higher standard when it comes to their health credentials. Brands are responding to this by creating products that fit with the health and lifestyle goals of the modern consumer. Mintel found that product launches with ‘no sugar added’ claims are growing in Europe, with the UK leading the way.
An analysis of the sector from Research and Markets says that new products are continually being introduced with stronger health credentials, including free-from options. In particular, gluten-free biscuit products have risen “considerably” across the global market.
But consumers aren’t only scouring packaging for gluten-free labels. They are also looking out for key nutrient-rich ingredients, such as oats and nuts, Research and Markets said. Island Bakery created its oatcakes as both a nod to Scottish tradition and also as a healthier option for the range, combining the nutritional benefits of both oats and extra virgin olive oil, Dawn says, adding, “Both are known to contribute to good heart and cholesterol control as part of a balanced diet.”
According to Euromonitor, it’s not only the domain for savoury – sweet biscuits also show strong potential for health positionings in the UK, including the use of immunity-boosting ingredients. But a product doesn’t have to boast functional ingredients in order to take a slice of the healthy eating market. Peter’s Yard created its new Sourdough Bites to cater to this growing segment of consumers. “Our first priority was to create a high-quality, indulgent and tasty snack. However, we couldn’t ignore the growing trend for healthy snacks and we’ve ensured that our new Bites range are baked and not fried,” Matt says. “A comforting treat doesn’t need to be an unhealthy, guilty pleasure – comfort also comes from knowing you are enjoying a well-crafted product, made with quality ingredients and care.”
In stark contrast to the health trend, many consumers are happy to indulge in sweet treats and small luxuries from time to time. In fact, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, chocolate and confectionery sales have been buoyed by the fact that consumers were happy to give themselves snacks to lift their spirits during a challenging and unprecedented time. “The permissibility of eating small amounts of sweet biscuits each day is continuing to support sweet biscuit sales,” said Richard Caines, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel.
While post-pandemic life will certainly shake up some of these habits once again, the desire to treat oneself will not disappear. In a recent survey, Synergy, an ingredient and flavour manufacturer, found that nearly half of respondents put ‘great taste’ at the top of their list when purchasing sweet products. Nearly a quarter said their topmost concern was that a product contained their favourite flavour.
How can retailers cater to the indulger? Opt for the flavours that are resonating with consumers today. Kerry’s Global Taste Trends identifies key areas where producers are innovating with flavour. Globally, there has been a pronounced focus on comforting and nostalgic tastes, including flavours such as toffee caramel, lemon meringue and honeycomb in Europe. The group adds that consumers are looking for “excitement” and products that “disrupt the monotony of day-to-day-life”. In other words, they’re looking for quality products that offer a mix of tradition and innovation.
Working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted consumer’s habits away from the traditional three meals a day and towards more fluid eating patterns. With these consumers on the hunt for snacks to treat themselves throughout the work day, they are becoming an increasingly important market for retailers to keep in mind – especially as hybrid working between the office and the home is expected to be a lasting impact of the pandemic. Sweet and savoury biscuits can both create inroads in snacks for home workers, paired with either a refreshing afternoon cup of tea or a wedge of cheese.
With the addition of the home cooking trend, consumers who are working from their homes are getting more creative with their lunchtime meals. “People have added a bit of variety or luxury to their mid-week lunch hour – whether it’s replacing a sandwich with a smoked salmon and cream cheese crispbread or trying new snacks or drinks,” Matt says. Indeed, Stephen agrees that home workers are tending to favour more elaborate lunchtime meals, from a grazing platter to a homemade soup or salad with a savoury biscuit to accompany.
Plus, with Peter’s Yard’s own research showing a significant increase in demand for meal boxes and grazing platters, Matt believes there may be even more innovation on the way to boost the biscuit sector. “I believe there’s certainly scope for retailers to expand on the ‘evening meal kit’ model and look at a similar solution for an everyday but special lunch-box kit.”
The wellbeing of the planet is increasingly important to the average consumer, meaning there is no excuse for fine food retailers not to consider the sustainability angle of the products they stock.
For instance, products which focus on locally sourced ingredients not only have a stronger sense of provenance, but they also have fewer food miles. At Island Bakery, for example, food miles are kept “as low as they could possibly be” thanks to their use of the Island of Mull’s unique products. Plus, Dawn adds, “All Island Bakery biscuits are made on Mull in an environmentally sustainable factory powered by local renewable energy.”
Stag Bakeries also recognises the importance of provenance to today’s consumer. “We try to use ingredients that are authentic to our location in the Outer Hebrides wherever possible,” says Daniel. “An example of this is our Seaweed Water Biscuits, which are made using a blend of three seaweeds. The seaweed gives the biscuits a unique flavour and character and the thinking behind the product was directly inspired by our island surroundings.”
Knowing the stories behind the products in your shop can be the key to securing a sale with a customer who is concerned about their carbon footprint, so don’t be afraid to shout about sustainable products – especially the ones local to your own shop.
Ethical shoppers are also increasingly drawn to organic products, with the Soil Association’s Organic Market Report 2021 revealing that sales grew 12.6% in 2020, outperforming growth in the non-organic sector. “Choosing organic reduces your carbon footprint; combines excellent environmental practices, including high biodiversity, preservation of natural resources, and high animal welfare standards; means there is less polluting artificial pesticide or fertiliser residue in your food; means you avoid most common food additives, which are banned from organic food; can help fight climate change by sequestering carbon in soils; and means you are choosing food you can trust,” says Dawn.
For retailers, sweet and savoury biscuits offer a wide variety of opportunities, and exciting developments around health credentials, flavour combinations and sustainability mean that no matter who your target audience is, you will have something to please everyone’s taste buds.
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