You are here
Coming soon to retailers: a free candy sample in exchange for a simple smile, with no store associates or in-store marketing firm employees involved? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.
Faced with dire warnings of the imminent death of center store, The Hershey Co., manufacturer of iconic Hershey's products and other well-known confectionery and snack brands, undertook research over the past two years to find out "what … a good experience [looks] like at retail," Frank Jimenez, senior director, insights driven performance (IDP) and retail evolution at the Pennsylvania-based company, told Progressive Grocer in a phone interview. The main takeaway from all of that research, according to Jimenez, was that "consumers love to sample products." What's more, shoppers' prevailing attitude was found to be, "If you can give me an experience in-store, I will pay for that," he noted.
Recognizing the importance of these two pieces of information, Hershey, whose innovative Candy Experience concept debuted late last year at Winn-Dixie and is expected to roll out in versions tailored to individual retailers across channels during the third and fourth quarters of this year, turned to technology and marketing partners to help create a sampling-related "engagement model" to "get people down the [candy] aisle," said Jimenez -- a particularly crucial goal for retailers with limited cap ex, where it isn't feasible to "blow up the aisle" like the Candy Experience does.
One collaborator on the project was Wild Blue Technologies, an upstream experiential design firm based in De Pere, Wis. Acknowledging that sampling as it currently stands is "labor-intensive" and "transactional" in nature, Wild Blue President Steve McLean explained that the idea was to make it "labor-neutral" and "playful," but still "interactive," while banishing forever the image of "a person with a hairnet handing out product."
Noting that candy is a "happy category" with "fun brands," McLean said that the project positioned candy as a reward or treat for consumers through an in-aisle automated sampling system, thereby driving traffic down the candy aisle. A consumer participant's smile would activate the machine, which would then present the smiler with a sample. "Basically, you’re rewarded for smiling," observed McLean. The system's facial recognition technology would keep people from abusing the privilege by coming back for multiple candy samples; individual retailers would be able to set the machine to their own specifications as to how long an interval can elapse between repeat visits.
The system, currently in prototype form, is "getting retail-ready," according to McLean, who added that the designers were grappling with such issues as the right type of candy to offer in the machine, including new product introductions; possible allergens in items; and even ADA requirements affecting certain shoppers, such as "people who physically can't smile."