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Candy giants in a not so sweet market

Chocolate ads featuring Mr T, the Caramel Bunny and the Gorilla playing the drums to the tune of Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight might hark back to the Eighties -- but the chocolate master brands are finding it more and more difficult to sell us more bars and sweets or even delicious new ones.

It's our favourite type of snack: we chomped our way through 9kg of chocs and confectionery on average per person, worth €583m, last year -- in a market that grew by just three per cent, meaning it's virtually at saturation point.

Nestle, Mars and Cadbury are finding it nearly impossible to persuade us into trying a new type of chocolate bar or packet of sweet treats -- we are content to stick with our long-established favourites.

"Most consumers eat one chocolate product a day. It's seen as a staple and a comfort food and so you're not going to get much volume growth. You also find that many people will eat less chocolate as they get older.

"These factors mean that the makers have to constantly ask how they can add value to their brands," says Tara McCarthy, director of consumer foods at Bord Bia.

Cadbury's Dairy Milk is the sixth-best-known brand in Ireland, representing a third of all of Cadbury sales and is the country's favourite bar, but only very rarely do new flavours hit the shelves.

Dairy Milk Bubbles helped to prompt a campaign on the internet calling for Cadbury to make the similar Wispa bar again -- and in 2008, it was back on sale. Less successful were orange, shortcake biscuit and double choc Dairy Milk flavours, along with Spira and Fuse bars.

While Cadbury is capitalising on its brand by selling us Dairy Milk choc ices and similar well-known ice-cream variations, you'll also find Caramel Nibbles, a variation on Dairy Milk's Caramel, and other such variations of the established favourites. A new Flake Allure -- a variation on the Flake bar, another of its bestsellers -- has very recently hit the market, targeted at women aged 18 to 45; while a Snowflake bar that featured white as well as milk chocolate seems to have vanished from our shelves.

Nestle is doing the same with KitKat. There was a limited-edition KitKat peanut butter version some time ago, and before that an orange-flavoured bar. Its 70 per cent cocoa content dark chocolate version has been a success and we're also being enticed to try their Chunky, Chunky Duo and Caramel Senses bars -- all variations on the much-enjoyed original chocolate wafer bar.

Mars is now selling Mars Planet bit-sized sweets, the Mars Duo, a Galaxy Caramel bar and Bubbles sweets and a low-calorie Twix Fino variation of the Twix. Are we buying these in any great numbers, though, or are they fad-type products without the real staying power of the old favourites?

Insiders say new "sharing bag" sales -- big bags of bite-sized treats -- are growing while in the UK, Mars recently tried out sales of a milkshake-chocolate snack combination called the Shake'n'Snack.

Cadbury developed its Time Out and Snack bars especially for Ireland's chocolate-lovers, but despite efforts to sell us larger Time Out bars and bite-sized sweets with the Snack name, only about one in five of us (generally aged 25 to 35, equally split between men and women and seen as the "excitable" segment of the market) will experiment with new products.

According to Euromonitor research, just under a third of chocolate eaters are "purists," mainly women aged 50 and above and are only interested in eating their favourite type of chocolate as a guilty pleasure.

A total of 37 per cent are "laid back", mainly men, treating themselves occasionally but not really interested in new flavours or products, while the remaining 14 per cent of us are "cultured chocolatiers", who are aware of health issues, cocoa content and whether it is Fairtrade.

For strategists and marketing whizzkids at Kraft, who took over Cadbury (which has 43 per cent of the total market here), and their counterparts at Mars and Nestle, coming up with any new ads -- let alone new bars and sweets -- while bearing in mind chocolate eaters' tastes and foibles, will not be an easy task.

Sunday Indo Business