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The Interview - Walkers' Nonsuch - world famous for English toffee & more

England's finest toffee manufacturer, Walkers' Nonsuch Ltd is world famous for its range of high quality toffee. Walkers' Nonsuch was founded well over a century ago, starting in a tiny sweet shop in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, where Edward Joseph Walker began hand-making toffee for local customers. Since those early days, the popularity of Walkers' toffee has vastly increased, with its confectionery range now available from both supermarkets and independent retailers across the UK. A hefty 40% of Walkers' Nonsuch business is exported, with ranges produced and distributed to over 30 countries around the globe. But it's not just about toffee - the Walkers' range is extending into exciting new areas, with last yearÕs introduction of new English Crocante. The company is currently owned and run by Ian Walker, Managing Director and grandson of Edward Walker, supported by various family members, one of whom, Katie Walker, UK Sales Manager, spoke to The Grocery Trader.

The Grocery Trader - First of all, Katie, how big is the total UK toffee market in value?
The UK toffee market is currently worth approximately £50 million.

GT - What different formats is toffee sold in?
Toffee is sold in a variety of exciting formats - bars, bags, individual twist wrapped for pick and mix and gift boxes. Bags are the biggest sellers, followed by pick and mix, bars and gift packs.

GT - What share does toffee have of the overall UK confectionery market?
It has a small but significant share, 10-12.5% by volume of the whole confectionery market.

GT - Who are the key UK consumers of toffee? How is toffee bought and consumed?
Toffee consumers are predominantly middle-aged males and females, but it is becoming increasingly popular with the younger audience. Toffee also has a steadily growing following among ramblers and walkers, who like twist wrapped toffees in bags as a compact source of energy for people on the move.

50% of toffee purchases are on impulse, for self-treating - there is nothing better than a bag of delicious toffee to munch on in front of the TV. Also, the 2lb slabs and big tubs are very popular for sharing, especially at Christmas.

GT - When are the peak times of year for toffee sales in retail? How important is gifting as a reason for purchase? What about sharing?
Generally toffee is sold all the year round, but the main peak is Christmas and the run-up to it from September onwards. However, in the last 10 years, sales of gift lines have been growing around the year, due to the increase in number of celebration days, such as MotherÕs Day. Also, much like the US, which we export to, the trend is to buy bigger bags of toffee for sharing. Gifting is gaining in importance and accounts for around one in four toffee purchases. Sharing represents another quarter, the remaining 50% being impulse as mentioned.

GT - When was WalkersÕ Nonsuch founded, and how big is it now?
WalkersÕ Nonsuch was founded in 1894, and currently has a £4 million turnover. We have 50 people at our head office in Stoke on Trent, where we manufacture our toffee. We don't quote volume production figures, but I can reveal we use enough toffee wrapping to cover half the world every year!

GT - When did you start producing the Walkers' Nonsuch range, as we know it? Are there any "traditional" elements still evident in your manufacturing?
We started making Andy Packs in the 1930s and hand twist wrapped in wax paper. WeÕve had our current styles of wrapping since the 1960s. In terms of traditional elements, we started batch cooking by gas in the 1930s, and moved to continuous cooking methods, which replicate the batch process on open-top cookers, enhancing the flavour of our toffee.

GT - What market share of total UK toffee sales does Walkers' Nonsuch have?
We have 20% of branded toffee sales, and approximately the same share across each of the different formats mentioned earlier. We concentrate 100% on branded products: at present we do not make any private label. We do not see why we should give away all our years of experience in recipes and cooking knowledge by doing private label work.

GT - What proportion of your UK toffee sales go through supermarkets? What about other outlets?
Supermarkets account for 30% of our sales: the rest goes through independent CTNs, wholesale cash 'n' carries, garden centres and the gift market, with growing sales to department stores like Selfridges, Fenwicks and Julian Graves. We also work with wholesalers covering leisure and travel outlets, and supply mail order catalogues like Express Gifts. People also like to repack our toffees in gift packs for sale in leisure outlets and visitor attractions. We offer customers total flexibility.

GT - Who handles your supply chain?
We use recognised independent logistics providers, and supply stock to their depots for onward distribution. Our distributors deliver to customers from Lands End to John O'Groats, from supermarkets to small souvenir shops. We aim to offer all customers the same quality service.

GT - What sets Walkers' Nonsuch apart from other toffee brands?
I'd have to say our quality, the unbeatable taste of our toffee, our stylish packs and the excellent service levels. Some competitors may not achieve the same service levels as us: we donÕt leave people without stock at the critical moment.

We have a loyal consumer following, and shoppers finding us in a particular outlet will come back to that stockist and buy more. Once you've got the taste for our toffee, it's quite addictive!

GT - Have you won any quality awards over the years?
We've won toffee taste awards in various women's magazines over the years, but generally we're too busy making and selling toffee to have time to think about entering competitions!

GT - How much do you invest annually in improving your production facilities? What recognised industry standards do you work to?
The majority of our profit is reinvested in improving our plant and machinery. We have the BRC Global Standard - Food Certification across the company.

GT - What are the advantages of being an independent company, as opposed to part of a bigger group?
Being independent and a family-owned business, it's not just a job: it's our passion and a way of life. We can choose our own destiny - we're not answerable to any shareholders or outside investors, and our management team is firmly committed to our continuing success.

GT - Looking specifically at products, what Walkers' Nonsuch retail varieties and pack formats are currently available?
In supermarkets our range comprises our number one seller, Andy Pack, in Original and Brazil nut, RSP 52p to 79p: our Hammer Pack toffee (which contains a toffee hammer), which is the best seller in the gift market, priced from £2 / £2.50 for 200g and £3.50 / £4.50 for 400g: and the 150g twist wrap bags, RSP 90p and available in eight flavours, led by Nutty Brazil, Liquorice and Assorted Royal Toffees.

GT - What ingredients does your toffee contain?
We use only the finest ingredients - full cream milk, butter, brown sugar with molasses, very good chocolate with high cocoa solids, whole Brazil nuts cut here, and dried fruit as appropriate.

Other brands often use skimmed milk, not full cream, white sugar instead of brown sugar, and artificial flavourings. Our toffees are free of artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.

GT - What other confectionery products do you market?
We're mainly toffee specialists, but recently we added English Crocante to our range.

GT - What does the English Crocante range comprise?
We offer three varieties - Toasted Sesame, Brazil Nut and Roasted Peanut, dipped and drizzled in pure Belgian chocolate. We've invested heavily in a new million pound production facility, with bespoke machinery specially made for us in Germany. We launched the range at the Cologne ISM Show in 2005.

GT - How has it been received?
It's been well received by the trade, and it's rapidly helping us win a wider audience among younger adults who enjoy sweet treats. It has also opened up different avenues of business for us in specialised outlets such as health stores and chemists.

GT - What other products are new from Walkers' Nonsuch for 2006?
We've just launched some new twist wrapped Chocolate Toffees, which are available in 150g bags and bulk bags for pick 'n' mix and jars for specialist stockists. They're genuine chocolate toffee, with real dark Belgian chocolate blended in. We are using dark chocolate, as it is fast becoming an influential healthy ingredient. The idea was prompted by customer demands from the Middle East - they're the ideal treat in summer for people who want a chocolate fix that doesn't melt.

GT - What marketing activity are you currently doing?
We're advertising regularly in the grocery trade press, and we're planning a large consumer campaign in the run-up to Christmas, including the key toffee usage occasions of Bonfire Night and Halloween.

GT - What Christmas gift packs are you producing for 2006, and when will supplies be available? What about big packs for sharing?
Our gift packs and big packs are big sellers at Christmas, and are available all year round. For gifting, our Duo hammer packs and Selection hammer packs are unique in the market. New this year for sharing is our Toffee Break range - Chocolate Covered, Brazil Nut and Original Creamy, packed in reusable baking trays and great for family celebrations.

GT - Do you work with retailers to help them maximise the in-store opportunity for toffee sales?
WeÕre continually working with them to position toffee prominently in store and promote it in confectionery displays. We believe a strong toffee offering can help make a retailerÕs confectionery section stand out from the rest, and weÕre happy to talk to buyers about achieving in-store impact.

GT - Where should toffee be merchandised in store for best results?
We recommend that it's placed by the checkout and at waist level on the main fixture.

GT - What is the shelf life of your toffee?
12 months - but it's extremely unlikely to remain on the shelf for that long!

GT - Have recent health concerns about sugar etc had any impact on toffee sales?
Yes, these concerns have had an impact, to which weÕve responded positively. We recognise the 'trans' fat issue and have eliminated all hydrogenated fat from our products. But apart from that weÕre not changing our recipes - weÕre proud of our natural, high quality ingredients. Everybody deserves a treat: if youÕre worried about your figure, just have a smaller portion!

Talking of smaller portions, we also supply 50g pocket size bars in Liquorice, Original, Banana Split, Chocolate-covered Brazil Nut and Chocolate ƒclair. Banana Split, incidentally, contains a real white chocolate centre. They're all available on request.

GT - Following Cadbury's recent problems with salmonella, are there any similar problems associated with toffee, and how do you minimize the risks as a company?
Salmonella doesn't affect us: toffee is cooked at such high temperatures that thereÕs no risk of it arising. Furthermore we have track and traceability quality control as part of our BRC certification.

GT - Do you do any in-store samplings?
We do and they work very well: tasting is our most successful selling tool. We're planning more tastings this autumn when our consumer campaign starts pre-Christmas.

GT - Do you have a web site?
Yes we do - We're currently redesigning it and it's scheduled to go live on 1 October with lots of exciting features.

GT - Can you buy Walkers' Nonsuch products on-line?
Not currently, but we're considering adding on-line sales in the near future.

GT - Which countries generate your biggest export sales?
We export 40% of our production to North America, Scandinavia and the Middle East. We have a distributor for each country: our toffee can be bought at airport gift shops in those countries, and in the US it's also available in big food retail warehouses and mail order catalogues.

GT - Have you any plans for manufacturing outside the UK?
Quite honestly no - we like to be able to control and oversee production of everything that has our name on it.

GT - Finally, where do you see Walkers' Nonsuch going from here?
We want to continue concentrating on our product quality and service levels, and enabling our company to take a bigger share of the toffee market and be recognised as the benchmark for good toffee throughout the world. We'd like to do that while still remaining independent and carrying on the family tradition.

Walkers Nonsuch
Tel: 01782 321525
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