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    Open Season

    Retailers and manufacturers balance competing consumer demands for the familiar and the extraordinary in seasonal candy.

    By Bridget Goldschmidt, EnsembleIQ

    Candy may be a year-round constant in grocery stores, but its adaptability to various seasons is probably unsurpassed among center store products.

    At Itasca, Ill.-based Jewel-Osco, a New Albertsons Inc.-owned chain operating 185 locations in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, Category Manager Jeff Hancock gears up for the fall and winter selling occasions by keeping a close watch on his customers? needs, traditional or otherwise.

    ?Halloween is snack size for trick or treat, along with orange/yellow items for decorating ? Brach Candy Corn items,? he notes. ?We have seen a customer shift to the larger bags for Halloween. ? Tanksgiving/Christmas is about decorating early, then baking usage, St. Nick Day, stocking stuffers and gift giving. Hershey?s Kisses and M&M?s are huge baking items, along with personal consumption.?

    Unusual items also resonate with customers. Recalls Hancock: ?We brought in a drink glass made of peppermint stick candy last year, from Bee International Candy: nice-looking piece, good packaging, priced right, and it was completely different ? we sold out in two weeks!?

    As for how his chain?s overall seasonal candy sales have performed, Hancock points to positive growth for the past three years, citing ?good order writing and a good item selection that will sell, along with strong promotional plans? as major factors in that success. ?Most important is the excellence in execution we get from the store teams,? he asserts. ?That really has been the key in our sales trends.?

    Merchandising also plays a big part in the company?s stellar results. ?Our seasonal aisles drive the majority of our sales, the tie-in with the seasonal general merchandise offering a one-stop-shopping location,? Hancock explains. ?Also, end cap displays in grocery and in the drug side of the stores do well, along with an outpost display of key ad items.?

    Coming up, Jewel-Osco has ?a variety of promotions planned for all seasonal candy, timed to coincide with the portion of the season we are in,? Hancock says, referencing ?candy corn early in Halloween for fall decorating, fun size closer to trick or treat, box chocolate hearts for Valentine?s Day [and] chocolate candy dish items for holiday parties.? The grocer also runs a combined ad featuring Rolo, Fisher Pecans and Snyder?s Pretzels ? the main ingredients in homemade Rolo candy treats ? around Christmastime.

    Jewel-Osco?s experience with seasonal candy aligns with recent findings. ?Research by the Retail Feedback Group found that seasonal aisles and products are the No.1 way to create a fun and exciting grocery trip experience,? says Jenn Ellek, senior director, trade marketing and communications at the National Confectioners Association, in Washington, D.C. ?Manufacturers and retailers have worked hard to create a fun environment with new products and old favorites. NCA research found that nearly half of shoppers (43.4 percent) tend to buy other seasonal items along with seasonal candy, such as decorations or costumes. As such, many retailers have started to integrate candy promotions and merchandising with other merchandise.?

    Growing Concern

    ?Seasonal confectionery sales have experienced tremendous growth over the past few years,? affirms Susan Gwinnett-Smith, VP of grocery/retail for Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Chocolate North America, referring to Nielsen Co. data that showed an 8.2 percent uptick in the grocery channel over the past 52 weeks, as of June 2014. ?The shapes segment continues to grow, with 62 percent of consumers purchasing shapes at Halloween and 63 percent purchasing shapes at Easter,? she adds.

    In common with Jewel-Osco?s Hancock, Gwinnett-Smith acknowledges the competing pulls on shoppers of tradition and the unexpected: ?When it comes to seasonal candy, I think consumers tend to seek out two different varieties: they want the items that have been family favorites for generations, plus they want to add a little excitement with new, unique items.?

    Mars offers no shortage of either, delivering clever seasonally themed variations on such iconic brands as Dove, M&M?s, Snickers and Twix. New products include Snickers Brand Harvest Minis Bag for Halloween, Twix Brand Gingerbread for Christmas, and the M&M?s Brand Milk Chocolate Twist?N Pour Dispenser for Valentine?s Day.

    ?Secondary displays play a crucial role in boosting seasonal confectionery sales,? notes Gwinnett-Smith, when asked about merchandising. ?We?re developing eye-catching displays, from shippers to Mixed Shapes Miniwings, that can hang anywhere in the store and showcase singles bars and seasonal shapes.?

    For the 2014 holiday season, Mars will launch a ?Share the Joy? display program. ?Consumers can treat themselves and give the gift of chocolate to others with a ?get one, give one? offer via a tearpad on Singles displays,? explains Gwinnett-Smith. ?This promotion will feature top Mars Chocolate brands: 3 Musketeers, Twix, M&M?s, Snickers and Milky Way brands. The campaign will include major marketing initiatives like promotional radio, social media and shopper marketing.?

    Minions for Christmas

    Over at Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born, ?seasonal candy represents 35 percent of total sales ? comprised primarily of the Peeps brand,? says Peeps Assistant Brand Manager Christina Cheek. ?Just Born has had great seasonal success, especially with the Peeps brand at Easter. Peeps is the No. 1 nonchocolate candy brand at Easter ? however, our fans embrace our other seasonal offerings, including Christmas, Halloween, Valentine?s Day [and] summer.?

    Continues Cheek: ?Overall, Halloween is the biggest holiday for candy sales, and Just Born has a variety of candy offerings from Peeps, Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales and Goldenberg?s Peanut Chews specifically with trick-or-treating in mind. Our brands offer snack-size bags [and] individually wrapped Peeps, as well as festive flavors and shapes.? For Valentine?s, Peeps will premiere its popular chicks and bunnies ?a couple months early? in pink, which, she explains, is America?s best-selling Peeps color of those iconic shapes, after yellow.

    Noting, along with Hancock and Gwinnett-Smith, current consumer preferences for ?both trendy and traditional,? Cheek observes that nearly all of Peeps? Christmas 2014 lineup has been hijacked by the Minions from the ?Despicable Me? movie series, who appear on the packaging. Meanwhile, an on-pack promotion will drive consumers to Peeps social sites for a chance to win a trip to the Despicable Me ride at Universal Studios Hollywood, and Peeps is introducing a floor display for its 3-count Candy Cane Chicks dipped in chocolate, in addition to the attention-grabbing displays highlighting Peeps Minions-shaped marshmallow candies and a limited-edition Mike and Ike Minion Mix.

    ?Our seasonal aisles drive the majority of our sales, the tie-in with the seasonal general merchandise offering a one-stop-shopping location.?
    ?Jeff Hancock, Jewel-Osco

    ?When it comes to seasonal candy, I think consumers tend to seek out two different varieties: they want the items that have been family favorites for generations, plus they want to add a little excitement with new, unique items.?
    ?Susan Gwinnett-Smith, Mars Chocolate North America

    By Bridget Goldschmidt, EnsembleIQ
    • About Bridget Goldschmidt In addition to serving as Progressive Grocer’s Managing Editor, Bridget writes many print and digital features encompassing a range of grocery and fresh categories across the store. Bridget also enjoys on-site reporting assignments at such key industry events as the New York Fancy Food Show and the International Boston Seafood Show, in addition to visiting stores for PG’s prestigious Store of the Month feature. In her years with the magazine, she has developed into a knowledgeable voice on grocery industry trends, sought by such distinguished publications as The New York Times.

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