Always in Season
By Bridget Goldschmidt
Retailers and manufacturers can lift sales by finding reasons to celebrate all year round, and giving shoppers more choices when it comes time to purchase.
The classic occasions are still huge opportunities for seasonal sweets and snacks, but other times of year are beginning to see movement as well.
According to Robert Rybick, grocery buyer at East Windsor, Conn.-based Geissler's: "For us the biggest are still Christmas, Easter and Halloween for candy, and Super Bowl, Memorial Day and July Fourth for snack. Both are based off what consumers are looking for at those particular times."
Consumer behavior affects buying patterns, however. "Christmas is still the biggest for candy, and it becomes more and more last-minute every year," Rybick says. "Someone may have picked up one bag on impulse instead of three to four, so when it is gone, they are scrambling last-minute for what they planned to have for the holiday. You need to have the product a few days before, because there is less advance buying for the actual holiday."
Meanwhile, George Zoitas, CEO of Big Apple-based Westside Market NYC, notes: "Halloween is our biggest selling occasion, as it is a holiday that focuses on treats and candy. We also see the biggest variety of candy being bought during that time period." When asked what sort of confection sells best at the four-store chain, Zoitas replies: "Chocolate is the No. 1 type of candy that people buy for the different holidays, as it appeals to greatest number of people."
Offering another way that shopper habits impact purchases, he adds: "A lot of people were avoiding [seasonal] candy [because] it was packed with sugar. Now, with the addition of healthier and more natural alternatives, people are tending to buy this product again, maybe not in as [large] quantities, but we do see higher sales."
"With the addition of healthier and more natural alternatives, people are tending to buy this [candy] again, maybe not in as [large] quantities, but we do see higher sales."
As for emerging observances, "the smaller one-day 'Hallmark Holidays' are becoming bigger" for Geissler's, Rybick notes. "We provide the convenience of floral and cards for customers, and the Mother's Day, Valentine's-type holidays are becoming bigger and bigger as we get the right candy items for the occasion and time everything correctly. Because so much volume is done on the one to two days prior and day of those holidays, it is important to have the displays up early enough that your customer base knows you have them for when they remember the day before they need a box of chocolate and some flowers. ... The key is having enough product for the one-day surge, and being out of it when the holiday is over. It's a constant challenge."
Another challenge is fending off stiff competition. "Overall, seasonal candy has declined as we lose to other channels," admits Rybick. "In our market, we have several Targets that have converted to the Target Fresh [format] and have brought in more grocery, as well as a Walmart that has expanded grocery in anticipation of moving down the street to their new supercenter. So ... between the big-box and pharmacy competition, we have lost some of the core item sales."
"Overall, seasonal candy has declined as we lose to other channels."
To pique customer interest in its seasonal treats, Geissler's, which operates seven stores in Connecticut and Massachusetts, uses 4-by-8-foot plywood tables "to waterfall product down the sides and create a pyramid effect in a key traffic area," Rybick says.
Since seasonal sales account for "a big part" of the confection category for retailers and manufacturers alike, Ellek suggests that they collaborate on creating other, unique occasions to sell product, especially during the summer, with Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and back-to-school standing out as prime opportunities. The rest of the year presents such occasions as Super Bowl and Thanksgiving, but "summer seems to be traditionally a downtime for confection sales," Ellek says, recommending that retailers use all of these times "to create theater in stores."
Such a strategy, Ellek asserts, will enable grocers to stand apart from the competition. Of late, NCA has "seen more and more push toward" this type of selling, she says.
Consumers' growing awareness of additional buying occasions is borne out by Westside Market NYC's experience, where "we used to not see as many people buying candy for summer holidays – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, etc. – but that has changed," explains Zoitas. "More people are purchasing these snacks and candies to add to the desserts that they are having at barbecues and outdoor parties."
Another sales-maximizing tip Ellek offers, in common with Geissler's Rybick, is to push product before the occasion instead of the more typical practice of markdowns the following week.
Take Storck USA's Merci brand of chocolate, for instance. "Each box of Merci contains a variety of indulgent, European flavors," says Laura Bernard, marketing manager at the Chicago-based company. "It can be given throughout the year to show people your appreciation just as easily as it can be paired with other gifts to be more holiday-specific." As she points out, the idea of the item as an anytime token of gratitude makes sense, since "merci means 'thank you.'"
That said, the brand's biggest selling occasions are Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, teacher appreciation, wedding/graduation season, and the holiday/Christmas timeframe, Bernard notes, observing that Merci's seasonal sales are forecasted to be up this year "behind distribution gains and an increase of secondary displays in the food channel."
After wrapping up a paid media promotion with Walmart for Father's Day and graduation season, Storck at presstime was "gearing up to begin promotion of the 7-ounce boxes of Merci in Target," according to Bernard. "In addition to the promotions on our social channels, we will be conducting a blogger program around National Friendship Day [the first Sunday in August] to help raise awareness of the brand."
Sheila G. Mains, founder and CEO of West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Brownie Brittle LLC, sees back-to-school and graduation emerging as seasonal opportunities. "We believe it is important to show the flexibility of our products," says Mains, whose product promises "Rich Brownie Taste With a Cookie Crunch!" on each package. "So we tailor recipes to match different holidays and occasions – from Brownie Brittle S'mores at the Fourth of July to special holiday cocktails that have a Brownie Brittle and peppermint rim, we are responding to the wants and desires of our consumers."
Expansion and Innovation
"The seasonal segment is growing, and one of the primary drivers across all seasons is the expansion of variety bags," says Timothy LeBel, VP of sales-grocery/value/military for Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Chocolate North America, whose biggest season in the grocery channel is Halloween, followed by Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day. "This pack type provides shoppers with a mix of their favorite brands, typically in bigger bags with better value."
What's more, LeBel says, "seasonal shapes is a growing segment, which allows shoppers a fun way to enjoy the category in a snack. At Mars Chocolate, we expanded our 1.1-ounce singles shapes portfolio, and this year, we'll offer new Snickers Brand Peanut Butter Pumpkins for Halloween, Twix Brand Santas for Christmas and Twix Brand Hearts for Valentine's Day 2014."
Among the consumer needs Mars seeks to meet during seasonal selling periods are decorating, sharing with others, and gift-giving. For the last of these, LeBel cites such upcoming heart-shaped gift box offerings as "M&M's characters dressed as teachers and teens with ear buds, [and] even a football-themed box filled with Snickers Brand Minis."
Since Mars has "found that consumers enjoy our popular brands and like to try new flavors ... that are closely tied with different seasons," LeBel says, the company has built on that insight in developing new products. "For example, candy corn is popular at Halloween, so this year we're offering M&M's Brand Candy Corn White Chocolate Candies in singles," he says of the award-winning product that debuted last year in a larger bag.
"Consumers look forward to limited-edition seasonal flavors, like the combination of mint flavor with the Christmas season," LeBel says. "We've seen an increase in sales for our mint-flavored holiday treats: Dove Brand Promises Silky Smooth Peppermint Bark and M&M's Brand Mint Chocolate Candies in holiday packaging. Another unique winter season item is our 3 Musketeers Brand Hot Cocoa Minis, which got rave reviews when we launched it last year. Some consumers associate white chocolate with Easter, so our Easter lineup includes Dove Brand Silky Smooth White Chocolate Eggs and a Dove Brand Silky Smooth White Chocolate Solid Bunny."
"There are almost no formal or informal holiday occasions that consumers don't include their favorite snack items with," declares Jim Breen, CEO and founder of Way Better Snacks, a division of Minneapolis-based Live Better Brands LLC. "Particularly strong, though, for Way Better Snacks are the summer picnic holidays such as the Fourth of July and, of course, the Christmas season. Our line of sprouted tortilla chips are great right out of the bag at a picnic, and also perfect as an entertaining accompaniment to go along with your favorite dip or homemade salsa."
To that end, the company has come up with a uniquely autumnal snack. "We crafted our Oh, My Sweet Punkin Cranberry Chips specifically for the fall holiday season and included classic fall flavors such as pumpkin and cranberry," says Breen. "We also made sure that the package was beautiful so that it would be a complement to any retailer's holiday item presentation. The stylish white pumpkin on the bag is designed to give the product more longevity so it can be comfortably displayed from early fall through the Christmas period and still look right in place with other holiday décor which might be present in-store."
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