Taking the biscuit… and cake

With low-sugar diets and healthier habits setting in across the nation, the biscuits and cakes category is undergoing a transition. But don’t worry, there’s still demand for the classics, as well as other options

What is it that makes Brits reach for the biscuit or cake tin? A bad day, getting in from work, watching TV, visits from friends and family, kids getting home from school…?

Cakes and biscuits are the ultimate in comfort food. For a nation that’s becoming increasingly health-conscious, it’s good to know there’s still a place in our hearts for a brew and a biscuit. And the stats prove it.

The biscuit category is worth around £2.4 billion a year in the UK, with a massive 99% of households buying into the category and spending more on biscuits than on other treats, such as confectionery, crisps or chocolates. It seems that when people open the biscuit barrel, they’re increasingly opting for premium lines they see as a treat and willingly pay the higher price tag. The result is a 12% growth in the treat sub-category.

This trend for trading up from everyday biscuits to more indulgent treats has occurred over the past few years. As for cakes, sales soared by £43 million between 2015 and 2016 to £19bn and are growing incrementally year-on-year, with small cakes and bite-size versions showing the biggest increase.



While the sugar tax doesn’t seem to have affected sales of biscuits and cakes – sales in the convenience channel are up 1.5% year-on-year – manufacturers have responded, now offering reduced-sugar variants of popular lines, mini bags and individually wrapped, single-serving  products. This also helps with portion control for those consumers who are eating more healthily but still want to enjoy a snack or treat.

Burton’s, for example, has re-formatted its Kids Minis range to contain 100 calories or fewer and Premier Foods’ Mr Kipling range of cakes includes single slices, wrapped individually.

“Shoppers still like to indulge every so often and ‘treatier’ biscuits are also driving the market,” says Jeremy Peters, Head of Category and Insights at Burton’s Biscuit Company.

“Everyday treat biscuits are growing at more than twice the rate of the market as shoppers take the opportunity to treat themselves in-between healthier snacking.”

This mini, single-serve format taps into the food-to-go trend too and the emerging culture of snacking, both of which are having an impact on cake sales. The growth in food-to-go – now worth £20.7bn (MCA Food-to-go report, February 2018) – is changing the way the category is driven. While previously it was all about products that were taken home or purchased for an occasion, particularly cakes, now it’s about consumers wanting something to buy and eat on the go.



Steve Kelly, Channel Director at Premier Foods, says: “The biscuits and cakes sales category has previously been driven by the take-home occasion, but out-of-home snacking is a key focus across the industry.

“Wholesalers can capitalise on this trend by stocking products that allow convenient, individual portions to be taken. Within this, portion control is of importance to consumers as they are increasingly conscious about their food choices.”

Other key trends are for lighter snacking options and free-from products. Brands are meeting this demand for ‘better-for-you’ snacks with an ever-increasing range and style of products, such as ‘thin’ versions of standard lines.

Consumers changing their diet for health reasons are opting for products that are free from gluten and dairy due to perceived health benefits. Figures from Coeliac UK in 2017 showed that 13% of the UK population avoids or aims to cut down on gluten, plus a further 8% said they would like to cut gluten out of their diet. So there is an increase in the number of people buying into the category who don’t have an intolerance.

Peters adds: “The health segment is expected to grow by 14% to 2021 as consumers look for lower fat, salt and sugar options that don’t compromise on quality, in addition to their usual favourites.”



Another strong theme to bear in mind is provenance. In all aspects of their eating habits, consumers are now looking for reassurance on where their food has come from and how local it is.

And with these on-trend premium products, consumers are happy to pay more for authenticity.

Brioche Pasquier’s Foodservice Sales Manager Jon Turonnet says: “In keeping with the trend for regionality across all types of foods, provenance is increasingly important in bakery.”



Lantmännen Unibake Marketing Manager Kate Sykes on the bakery trends wholesalers should be paying attention to this year

“There’s an insatiable appetite for world flavours and this year we’ve seen the growing popularity of Scandinavian soft doughs and the huge success of the Portuguese custard tart – sales have increased a staggering 458% since 2016. Middle Eastern tastes are also proving popular, straddling both savoury and sweet bakery.

“New product development plays an important role in growing the bakery category, driving people on to the fixtures to try the next big thing, so look out for more regional number-one delicacies from around the world.

“There’s plenty of scope for expansion in both sweet and savoury bakery, but core ranges remain fundamental to sales success. In the same way that more retailers wouldn’t consider leaving the number-one seller Coca-Cola out of their soft drinks range, retailers will want to ensure they stock the UK’s bestsellers in Danish and French pastry (maple pecan plait, cinnamon swirl, vanilla crème crown, all-butter croissants, pain au chocolat and pain aux raisins). The top-three-selling Danish pastry SKUs deliver 62% of the total category value sales.

“Wholesalers and cash and carry outlets should advise retailers to maximise their square footage and be brave about all-day availability of this type of product – you can’t sell what isn’t on-shelf and prioritising time to restock the bakery fixture will pay dividends.”


Consumer trends are changing the channel’s focus, according to Burton’s Biscuit Company’s Category and Insights Controller Isabel Lydall. So what should wholesalers be stocking?

 “The increased focus on quality, health and free-from options has had a major impact on the sweet biscuits category in the past 12 months, providing an opportunity for wholesalers looking to make more of biscuits.

“While everyday and treats are driving growth in sweet biscuits, cereal bars and healthier options have also made an impact, with the health segment expected to grow by 14% to 2021. This prediction comes as consumers look for lower fat, salt and sugar options that don’t compromise on quality, in addition to their usual favourites.

“We’re committed to enabling consumers to make informed choices, allowing them to enjoy biscuits and snacks that suit their lifestyle.

“We also recognise the importance of offering a variety of permissible snacks to cater to different consumer needs and occasions, and have a wide range of initiatives on sugar, portion control and calorie reduction.

“Earlier this year, we launched a sugar-free alternative to Maryland Cookies, followed by extensions to our Maryland and Jammie Dodgers Minis range of permissible snacks under 100 calories. More recently, we’ve strengthened our permissible snacks under 100 calories offering with the launch of Maryland Cookies Chocolate Cookie Bars and Maryland Cookies Oaty Cookie Bars.

“Wholesalers also need to recognise that an increasing amount of space in retailers’ stores is now being given to healthier options and cereal products, with space for chocolate biscuit bars being reduced by some retailers.”



Mondelēz Trade Communications Manager Susan Nash gives her three tips to make the most of the biscuit category


Concentrate on growth by offering products that meet the needs of today’s consumer. We have identified two key pillars to help illustrate these requirements: Wellbeing and Treat.


Stay on top of upcoming trends. For example, consumers are increasingly concerned with their wellbeing: 85% of consumers claim they are trying to improve some of their diet to become healthier. Belvita has recently launched its first reduced-sugar variant, chocolate chip with 30% less sugar, to help wholesalers and retailers tap into this.


Optimise sales through making the most of new launches. Belvita recently launched Belvita Seeds & Berries, which comes in two delicious flavours: Raspberry & Chia Seeds and Blueberry & Flaxseeds.

biscuits Brioche Pasquier Burton's Biscuit Company cakes free-from healthy eating Lantmannen Unibake low sugar Mondelez Premier Foods trends