Smarties rival unwrapped in battle for chocaholics

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Britain's chocoholics can look forward to a multi-million pound battle for their collective sweet tooth later this month when Cadbury's launches a rival to Smarties.

Cadbury's Astros will hit the shops on the August bank holiday backed by a pounds 6m investment by Cadbury's which already accounts for 30 per cent of the country's chocolate market. The promotional blitz will include a pounds 2m advertising campaign including a tie-up with Coronation Street, which is sponsored by Cadbury's.

Industry analysts say the launch is designed to bite a chunk out of Smarties' market share, though Cadbury's denies going head-to-head with one of Britain's most popular sweets. "They are a unique product aimed at older children and teenagers," Cadbury's claims. The company say Astros are targeted at the "snacking" market, which includes products such as Pringles, Duritos, Hula Hoops and Butterscotch popcorn. Cadbury's marketing director Alan Palmer says he hopes Astros will catch on with the newly identified market of "munchers". He said: "They need to be moreish, satisfying and, in my opinion, you've got to have lots of them."

Astros sound like a cross between a Smartie and a Malteser. They are colourful, completely round with a crunchy biscuit core covered in milk chocolate. Sold in a flip-top box, they will be launched on 25 August and priced at 28p. Nestle, the Swiss confectionery giant which owns Smarties, was sniffy yesterday about its rival's chances of success. "Many people have tried and failed to imitate Smarties over the years. Smarties are very, very popular with a very loyal following. We feel sure they will remain a national favourite."

Smarties, launched 60 years ago when they were called Chocolate Beans, notched up sales of over pounds 50m last year; the British public consumed 17,000 Smarties every minute.

The winner of the Smarties versus Astros battle can look forward to a true feast in financial terms. The UK spends more money per head on chocolate than any other country in the world apart from Switzerland. With a total of pounds 3.4bn spent on chocolate every year, the average Briton spends pounds 57 per year scoffing the stuff.

Cadbury's results, page 17