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How can supermarkets make the most of their candy sales? Manufacturers, retailers and other industry figures weigh in with a range of practical suggestions and creative ideas.
According to Jenn Ellek, director of trade communications and marketing at the Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association (NCA), whose annual Sweets & Snacks Expo takes place this month, the organization recommends five "Es" for "winning confections":
- Experience: Inspire shoppers and capture future trips
- Emotion: Capitalize on consumers' strong emotional connection to candy
- Effectiveness: Give shoppers what they want
- Efficiency: Demonstrate operational excellence
- Environment: Embrace such mega-trends as health and wellness; convenience; chocolate, particularly with nut inclusions; the growth in nonchocolate items like gummis; and food exploration and unique flavor choices among Millennials
"Shoppers buy candy across many outlets, but 58 percent of the time they go to supermarkets," observes Ellek. "Be effective and efficient because channel conversion rates continue to blur into other outlets."
"It's a well-known fact that consumers don’t like to be caught shopping in the candy aisle," said Leslie Sabino, category leader, candy at Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon Worldwide, "so it’s best to work … the candy aisle along with identifying additional areas for merchandising candy. The ideal situation is to drive traffic and excitement throughout the store. Many retailers place the candy aisle strategically as one of the first aisles to greet consumers entering the store."
Agreeing with NCA's Ellek, Sabino notes: "To increase sales and traffic, it is important to ensure the candy shopper has an enjoyable experience. This is an emotional category that should generate excitement and be used as a traffic builder."
These are best realized "by creating some sort of in-store theater, either in center store or somewhere logical for the consumer to be delighted and enjoy the surprise," she continues. "Theater can be achieved through capitalizing on the emotion of the category (nostalgic, seasonal, or thematic); ensuring assortment stays current and dynamic to the consumer's needs and wants each year; ensuring inventory is well stocked and planned throughout and in between the seasonal drive periods; and staying ahead of category trend fluctuations."
But what should the area look like? "The candy aisle may not be able to be stocked and merchandised like a candy store, but it should hold the assortment and inventory in an organized fashion that encourages visitation, and is arranged in a way that allows new items to be visible and creatively showcased," Sabino advises.
Tops in Confectionery
Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Markets LLC's candy strategy aligns with many of Ellek and Sabino's recommendations, to great effect, through such efforts as its "Candy Carnival" and "S'more Season" programs. Says Kenneth Hausmann, Tops' category merchandiser, warehouse beverage, PB/spreads, candy and bulk, "We challenge [store] operators to get creative with candy."
Noting that shoppers associate candy with holidays, Hausmann explains that Tops' seasonal initiatives in the category make it easy for them to find their favorite sweets by prioritizing not just creativity, but also usage occasions.
What's more, the grocer's "My Pick of the Week" program challenges cashiers to sell items like candy at the front end, which Hausmann describes as the "last chance to make a positive impression" on the shopper. Tops also positions candy products as baking and recipe solutions, thereby "getting the whole store involved," as he puts it.
Bend, Ore.-based Newport Avenue Market, which merchandises candy at various points throughout the single store, including the bulk section, relies on "personal recommendations from our knowledgeable staff," according to "Leader of the Pack" and COO Lauren G.R. Johnson, as well as "a benefit from a cost perspective of the repack items being a lower-cost item to piece-sample out, versus a high-retail specialty bar" to boost sales. Johnson has noticed a particular customer interest in specialty chocolate bars and caramels.
Among manufacturers, similar merchandising directives prevail. "Because candy is a treat, the aisle should be fun and colorful, which will help draw in shoppers and generate excitement for confection," counsels Brian Kavanagh, senior director, category strategy and insights, food channel at Pennsylvania-based Hershey. "Candy is often not on the shopping list, so using an attention-grabbing end cap with appetizing visuals will draw shoppers into the aisle. In fact, we have seen successful end caps draw 10 percent more traffic into the candy aisle. Helping consumers navigate the aisle is also important. We advise setting the aisle by usage occasion. For example, create sections for candy dish, gifts and snacks, and within the usage occasion, organize the shelves by brand."
As far as preferred packaging solutions go, Matthew Pye, VP of trade relations and corporate affairs at Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born points to consumer preference for convenient stand-up bags. "Retailers should take advantage of [this trend] by carving out stand-up bag sections and in particular carrying products like the new Peeps Minis, which will be the first time Peeps will be available year-round in the candy aisle."
In the realm of marketing, manufacturers have locked onto Millennials as a key demographic. Noting that they account for 42 percent of all non-chocolate candy consumption, Jen Redmond, associate brand manager, Airheads Candy, part of Erlanger, Ky.-based Perfette Van Melle USA, says that the company is "beginning to up-age our marketing and communications to this audience. In February, we launched 'The World Needs More Airheads' campaign, aiming to celebrate life's humorous mishaps and encouraging fans to share their own airhead moments for a chance to star in an upcoming commercial."
To reach its intended audience, Airheads is "trying to engage them in the social spaces where they spend a lot of their time … and we are extending that to the candy aisle through signage and displays."