Beanz meanz falling sales, swallowed by ‘instant’ food

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AFTER years of being viewed as a recession-proof necessity sure to see consumers through everything from fuel shortages to blizzards, it seems even the humble can of baked beans has fallen on hard times.

Sales fell both in terms of volume and value in 2011, according to a new survey for The Grocer magazine by analysts Nielsen.

Even runaway market leader Heinz saw the number of cans sold fall by 4.2 per cent, although money made from sales rose by £3.9 million, or 1.8 per cent, to £222.3m, thanks to a price rise.

Overall, the UK bought 2.7 per cent fewer beans than the previous year, with sales of branded tins falling by £4m, while own label cans fell even more sharply, by £7.7m.

Consumers appear to be looking elsewhere for their comfort food, with Pot Noodles and energy drinks seeing their popularity soar. The Grocer said: “While other premium drinks categories have suffered in the economic gloom, Luczade, Red Bull, Monster, Mountain Dew, Powerade and Relentless have grown, well, relentlessly.”

It added: “Other stand out performances in The Grocer’s Top Products Survey this year were instant pot snacks – up 15.2 per cent year on year to £182m.”

However, the decline of baked beans has surprised analysts.

The Grocer said: “It has been a challenging year for canned foods. Even sales of baked beans are down, that stalwart of the downturn. Even the mighty Heinz has had a difficult year.”

Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at Stirling University, said: “I think what is interesting is the rise in pot noodles and energy drinks, as they are about immediate consumption.

“When you think about baked beans, you need utensils and something to heat them in.

“So I think there’s something about immediacy of consumption in all this, and that’s down to changing lifestyles. People are living on the go, they are living faster lifestyles, and they are looking for energy boosts as part of that.

“And in the younger market it may also be about the lack of cooking skills that they have, even though you don’t really need skills to cook baked beans.”

Heinz is determined to boost sales by focusing on the health benefits of baked beans. Nigel Dickie, director of corporate and government affairs at Heinz UK & Ireland, said: “Heinz continues to focus on growing the beans market and increasing the awareness of their goodness, with campaigns such as one of five a day, which is showing early positive signs.

“The beans category as a whole has faced some significant headwinds driven by commodity prices. While this has affected volume, value remains stable for the overall market.”

Beans were not alone in having a poor year. More than half of basic products, from washing up to ice-cream, have suffered.