Confectioners get set for sweet talking

The continuing power of such brands as Mars, Kit-Kat and Smarties demonstrates the essentially conservative nature of the confectionery business. However, according to the organisers of an international conference taking place early next month (2-3 June), this situation is changing.

"Retailers - particularly the major chains - are not just accepting what's available these days," says Angus Kennedy, joint managing director of Kennedy's, confectionery and food publishers and organisers of the event taking place at the Intercontinental Hotel in London's Mayfair.

Supermarkets and other groups are putting significant amounts of pressure on manufacturers to create products especially for them, to provide own brands and to come up with specific packaging and presentation methods, he adds.

There are various knock-on effects of this trend. Not only do manufacturers need to become much more responsive, "they put pressure on their equipment makers to provide increasingly flexible machinery," says Mr Kennedy. "The days of a plant producing one product for a decade or longer are dying."

The ultimate result of this is that there is a need for greater communication between those involved in the various stages of the production process. Even competing manufacturers will have to talk to each other in an effort to understand better how they can meet the changing requirements of retailers and consumers.

The conference being organised by Kennedy's is an attempt to fill a perceived need for "people to break down traditional boundaries, take a step out and look into the real future that the international industry holds for them".

Representatives from more than 300 confectionery producers from countries as far afield as Russia, Australia, Argentina and India are planning to attend Confection 97, the first in what is hoped to be an annual event.

The two-day event will also feature several presentations devoted to different aspects of the confectionery business.

Among the booked speakers are Ian Chaplin of Woolworths, who will talk about knowing the consumer; Matthew Cadbury of Cadbury Schweppes, who will describe the company's strategy for entering the Polish market in the wake of the collapse of the former Soviet Union; and Tim Cooke, managing director of Seymour-Cooke, a specialist research company, who will examine the opportunities in such emerging markets as Latin America, China and India.

Other sessions will include a presentation by Nick Sawbridge of Innovate, product design consultants, on how to make products succeed in the marketplace; an examination by Lee Taylor, of Ogilvy & Mather, of the potential risks and rewards of advertising and other forms of promotion; and an exploration by Gary Freer, of Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, a law firm, of legal issues in food safety. While other conferences are mainly devoted to technical issues or cover the whole food industry, the organisers hope their event will meet a need in one sector of the market for a conference addressing common problems and discussing market trends "in order to develop an insight into where the confectionery industry is headed".