It’s the most wonderful time of the year and, as Christmas approaches, we caught up with Quality Street’s Senior Brand Manager, Jon Smith, for a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to be working on the first signs of Christmas all year round.
Jon, you’ve been with Nestlé for three years now and working on Quality Street for a year, what did you think when you were first asked to take on the brand?
I thought I’ve got the chance to work on one the most amazing confectionery brands there is. It’s got an amazing heritage, it was the 80th anniversary year when I joined, its 81 this year, and it’s been at the heart of the British nation for all of that time. It sparks emotive memories for me, takes me back to my childhood and you have got to relish working on a brand that means so much, to so many people.
Talk us through the process that you go through every year to bring Quality Street to our homes in time for Christmas…
It starts three to five years in advance in terms of our planning and our work behind the scenes. We develop a plan based on lots and lots of consumer research: talking to consumer groups, talking to people on the street and gathering opinions on potential new products or any changes we are proposing to make. That might be changes to the artwork or to the sweets themselves or about the different sweets we put in each tub, tin or pouch. That work is always grounded in ‘how do we make Quality Street it can be for our consumers?’
We then go through a process that gets us closer and closer in terms of concepts and ideas that we then test further until we get to a point where we’re happy and the plans come together. Then each year, in February, those plans are presented to other teams here at Nestlé and then to retailers in advance of the season.
Last year you introduced a new sweet, the Honeycomb Crunch, when would that decision have been made?
We review our sweets every single year and use a testing process with hundreds of consumers. One of the key things for us is variety. One person’s favourite is another person’s least favourite, it sparks debate and we want to understand if any trends are changing. We put ideas and concepts for new sweets on the table. For Honeycomb Crunch we brought that in last year and it was first developed in 2013 so it’s a good two to three year process, and we are continually looking to innovate.
How about the manufacture of the sweets? How does that work at the factory?
At the peak of the season, at our Halifax factory, there are 10 million individual Quality Street sweets made every single day! So you can imagine that there is a lot of planning in advance. We start our research years before production starts so there needs to be a detailed plan in place for how each production line needs to be changed or how the factory processes the individual sweets to get the right volumes. A new sweet has a knock on effect on other sweets so we have to work really closely with our great factory teams to understand what is possible and get that planned a good year in advance of production.
Quality Street is mainly a Christmas brand, what happens the rest of the year?
We start making Quality Street for the Christmas season in March and the factory runs 24 hours, seven days a week from March through to a couple of days before Christmas when we are dispatching the very last tubs out to stores. We start selling the Christmas range in August so we have to start producing in March to have that build-up of stock ready to be able to meet that demand. Our carton and pouch format are sold all year round so, as a brand, Quality Street has a role at all times, particularly as gift.
The size of Quality Street now and in the past has been a hot debate online – what do you say to people who want to see decent sized tubs and tins?
It’s really important that we give consumers what they want. Our tub weight this year is the same as it was last year at 750g and we are trying to make sure that we put the consumer first and give that variety and a good amount of sweets. That’s against a backdrop of a lot of our competitors dropping weight significantly. We’ve held our weight point year on year because we think it’s important to have an abundance of choice when family and friends are over.
It is right that, if you go back to the 80s and 90s, there were larger tins available but, in real terms, those products would cost a lot more per kg than today’s products. The consumer is getting fantastic value from Quality Street both in the long and the short term.
How important is it that Quality Street is still sold in tins as well as plastic tubs?
Massively important. People buy tins because they’re collectible, amazing for re-use, for storing bits and pieces, collectibles, valuable things you want to keep safe in your house. We want to give consumers the choice. They can choose the plastic tub or, if they want to spend a little bit more, they can buy a beautifully designed Christmas tin.
This year we’ve got a 1.2kg tin which has a Christmassy ice-skating scene on the front and is available in all of the major retailers. We also have a couple of exclusive tins at Asda and Tesco. For Tesco we have a 900g tin with a design that looks at some of the history and nostalgia of Quality Street. Then, at Asda, we have a beautiful 1.5kg special edition tin that features the Quality Street Major and Miss more prominently.
What are the biggest challenges you face as the person responsible for such a famous brand?
I think the biggest challenge is making sure that, over the long term, we continue to protect the value that is in the product. We know how important it is to the nation, it’s one of our key brands, it forms part of Christmas and it is part of many people’s lives. It’s a product that’s made in the UK, in Halifax, and we feel we have a real duty to look after it and cherish the things it’s famous for.
The variety, the abundance, the sparkle, the fact we still have the traditional twist wrapped wrappers. We hold all of those dear so that future generations can enjoy Quality Street in the same way we all have. I feel a huge passion, personally, to make sure that my work on Quality Street means that this brand continues for another 800 years, let alone another 80 years.
Toffee Deluxe is back in the tubs and tins this year, why is that?
Toffee Deluxe has come back for two reasons. Firstly, we always listen to what our consumers want and, secondly, variety is absolutely key to our assortment. Last year it was safe to say that taking out the Toffee Deluxe created a bit of a storm on social media. There were lots of opinions, some serious and some tongue in cheek! It was great to hear that debate and people’s views on our sweets.
Toffee Deluxe is now going to be back in all of our tubs and tins and we’re going to move up to 13 sweets so that’s more variety and choice than in recent memory and, for me, that is key to what people love about Quality Street. Nobody is going to be disappointed, Honeycomb Crunch remains and we know consumers love it. We get a lot of great feedback about Honeycomb Crunch so it’s here to stay and we’re bringing Toffee Deluxe back into the fold and giving the nation what they want.
Are there any other plans for Quality Street this Christmas?
Yes we still have our carton and pouch products on sale. The pouch is the new kid on the block and is great for sharing, the carton is great for a small gift and we also have a range of gifting products including a giant Purple One and a giant Strawberry Delight which are full of just those particular sweets. There is a product in the range for everyone and for every single occasion.
We will also be going live with our revamped TV advert on Monday 6th November which I suggest people keep an eye out for as we’ve got an extra surprise this year. We also have an exciting experience coming up at the Magical Lantern Festival at Roundhay Park in Leeds where we’re giving visitors the chance to walk down a Quality Street experience and buy special personalised tubs. That’s running from 23rd November through to 31st December.
Last question, we have to ask, what’s your favourite Quality Street?
Now that is a hard question! For me it’s the caramel swirl. It’s got to be my number one.