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Limited Success


As summer gives way to autumn, shoppers at Lubbock, Texas-based United Supermarkets begin to grow excited about new treats heralding that time of year, which brings with it Halloween and Thanksgiving, and the knowledge that Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s aren’t far behind.

“Shoppers anticipate fall flavors more and more,” notes Mike Osornio, senior business manager for center store at the 37-store chain with locations in 24 Texas markets. “It seems to set the tone for the season.”

Generating most of this excitement, according to Osornio, is “the snack category, [which] does not have the same fall flavors year after year. For example, chocolate-covered chips and pumpkin or spice cookies are fairly new to the category and season, versus items that have been produced year after year, like red-and-green-packaged candy or candy canes.” Perhaps in response to this positive reaction on the part of consumers, he’s observed “an increase in limited-edition fall flavors from more and more manufacturers.”

One of those is Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Salem Baking Co., whose new Pumpkin Collection consists of Pumpkin Caramel with Sea Salt Delightfully Thin & Crispy Cookies, Pumpkin Cheddar Cheese Straws, and Pumpkin Spice Moravian Cookies. “As demand for pumpkin products continues to grow, we anticipate a very positive reception in the marketplace,” says Salem President Brooke Smith.

Blurred Lines

Seasonal snacks may be creating greater buzz than candy by virtue of their relative novelty, but they’re often borrowing from the candy ingredient list to do so, with chocolate, caramel and peppermint among the flavored flavors.

Indeed, Claire Cretors, president of Waukegan, Ill.-based G.H. Cretors, a maker of gourmet flavored popcorn, has observed a “blurring across category lines — candy brands are moving into the snacking space and traditional snacks have been inching closer to the candy space.” Adds Cretors, “There are no more ‘rules’ when it comes to playing in your category during the holiday season.” She also notes as major seasonal trends the continuing proliferation of new and unique flavors — sweet, savory, and sweet and spicy, among others — and the launch of indulgent flavors.

G.H. Cretors has just entered the seasonal-snacking arena; the company’s first such lineup consists of four SKUs: Orchard Apple Caramel Corn, Pumpkin Spice Caramel Corn, Double Chocolate Caramel Corn, and a tin with three flavors: Orchard Apple Caramel Corn, Pumpkin Spice Caramel Corn and G.H. Cretors’ “famous” Chicago Mix. “These flavors will be targeted to consumers seeking premium, artisanal and unique seasonal flavors to enjoy at home, share with friends or give as a holiday gift,” Cretors says.

Another newcomer to the segment, West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Brownie Brittle LLC, is launching Chocolate Chip with White Snowflake Drizzle, Mint Chocolate Chip with Dark Drizzle and Salted Caramel with Dark Drizzle varieties, all in festive snowflake-spangled packaging.

The inspiration to create the line, notes company founder Sheila G. Mains, arose partly from an emerging consumer need: “While the holidays are usually seen as a time for indulging, one of the trends we have seen is the idea of ‘indulging responsibly,’ and this was one of the catalysts that sparked the idea for this treat.”

In addition to its new holiday SKUs, Brownie Brittle has joined forces with the St. Helena, Calif.-based Robert Mondavi Winery “to showcase how well chocolate works with their wines,” says Mains. “This will take place during the months of November and December, [and] will include a bottle necker with a coupon for Brownie Brittle on select Mondavi varieties.”

Visual Appeal

Among established seasonal players, Charlotte, N.C.-based Tropical Foods has Christille Bay, a line of four-compartment party trays; a collection of resealable cubes filled with traditional holiday candy and holiday-themed snack mixes; and Festive Favorite Chocolate and Yogurt Pretzels. According to Director of Marketing Chad Hartman, consumers “love Christille Bay because they can buy an assortment of snacks … all in one package. They like the unique snack mixes in the resealable cubes, especially Reindeer Food, which blends … peanuts, candy corn and dried fruit. Festive Favorite has also had positive feedback for the beautifully designed bag and the tasty coated pretzels inside.”

Big Shippers

Tropical’s seasonal merchandising strategy has a solid grounding in experience. “We have found that shippers or being part of destination holiday displays are the best merchandising,” says Hartman. “With shippers, you stick out from the normal flow of a grocery store, so it is easy to catch the shopper’s eye with the right product. Dedicated holiday displays are a key part of in-and-out holiday sales in grocery and retail stores. They are a destination that consumers go to and buy; having your products in that display talks to all consumers [who] are seeking out products such as yours.”

He continues: “The key to our marketing strategy is providing visually appealing product in key destination locations. All of our packages show as much product as possible so consumers know exactly what they are getting. … Establishing great locations within the store to attract customers is a second key strategy to get maximum consumer visibility.”

For its Pretzel Crisps line, available annually in Dark Chocolate & Peppermint and White Chocolate & Peppermint holiday varieties, Snyder’s-Lance Inc., also based in Charlotte, similarly discovered “that pre-packed shippers work best around the holidays because of their simple and clean design,” says Eric Van De Wal, VP marketing and innovation at Clearview Foods, a division of Snyder’s-Lance. “Holiday shopping is a busy time of year, so we like to ensure that our products stand out in the deli aisle as simply and clearly as possible.”

“We plan on using holiday-themed header cards on our limited-edition product packaging. The header cards will reinforce the decadent theme of our holiday indulgent line and give a uniform look on displays.”

Candy’s Still Dandy

Of course, seasonal candy’s still a big deal. Although it’s a mature category with no major major shifts in brands or flavors, and therefore experiences only to moderate year-over-year gains, United’s Osornio notes, “Seasonal candy sales are approximately 20 percent of all candy sales.”

“Seasonal flavors, shapes and packaging continue to drive excitement for the category,” affirms Brandy Woolford, associate manager, brand public relations at The Hershey Co., whose upcoming products include limited-edition Lancaster Caramel Apple caramels in the fall, and Kit Kat Dark Chocolate Mint Miniatures and Hershey’s Peppermint Bark Bells, the latter previously available only at Target, for the winter holidays. “From pumpkin spice or caramel apple flavors during the autumn to peppermint in the winter, consumers want to enjoy their favorite seasonal flavors in new forms, including candy. Seasonally themed packaging is definitely an important factor, as packaging is often one of the first things that catches a consumer’s eye.”

Over at Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Chocolate North America, whose M&M’s brand is the most-purchased chocolate brand for gifting, stuffing stockings and filling candy bowls, according to the “Christmas Beacon Report,” seasonal products include redesigned variety bags and fun-size packaging to “really stand out on shelf” during Halloween, and M&M’s White Peppermint Candies, according to Larry Lupo, VP of sales/grocery, convenience & drug channels. Another seasonal innovation: Snickers Baking Bites for the Holidays, which, he notes, enables “consumers to add their favorite candy bar to their family recipes.”

“Vibrant seasonal packaging adds excitement to the seasonal aisle, attracts attention to stand out on shelf and is a very important cue to connect with the shopper,” says Lupo, echoing Woolford’s observation. “Secondary displays are key to grabbing shoppers’ attention,” he adds. “Two new displays from Mars that showcase single bars and seasonal shapes are the Mixed Shapes Miniwings — which keep the aisles clear and can hang anywhere in the store — and the Mixed Shapes & Singles Towers, which retailers can stand, hang or mount to capture impulse purchases.”

The company’s seasonal promotions include Holiday on the Go, slated for November and December, during which consumers who buy Mars’ Singles products can send a text for the chance to instantly win free Mars Chocolate and cash cards.

Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born, maker of the iconic Peeps candies and other items, also embraces the importance of packaging for its seasonal offerings. “At Christmas, consumers are looking for a product that fits into a stocking, and for Halloween, a snack size for the Halloween bowl,” notes Matthew Pye, VP of corporate affairs and trade relations. The company’s fall and winter holiday lineup includes Mike and Ike Zours Zombies in five intense sour fruit flavors and Red Velvet Christmas Peeps dipped in cream-flavored fudge.

In common with Mars, Just Born looks beyond merchandising only in the seasonal candy aisle, seeking out “secondary placement such as in the specialty sections, baking aisle or on displays,” notes Pye. To that end, Just Born has teamed exclusively with Target on an item that, like Snickers Baking Bites, aims to inspire consumers to include their preferred seasonal candy in baked goods.

“The new Peeps Halloween Marshmallow Toppers kit includes a variety pack of Peeps tombstones, pumpkins, cats and ghost-shaped marsh-mallows with a recipe on the back of the package that encourages consumers to bake cupcakes with Betty Crocker products and top the cupcakes with Peeps,” explains Pye. “The kit is a test and will be placed in the seasonal set.”

If the item — Just Born’s first in the baking set — does well, “it will be rolled out nationally with additional seasonal kits to drive baking and crafting activity,” he says, noting that the company will also team with Universal Pictures for the winter holiday DVD releases of “Minions” and “Jurassic World.”

Whether candy or snacks, fall- or winter-themed, seasonal items definitely have an impact on retailers’ sales. Affirms United’s Osornio: “As soon as product lands in our stores, we begin to see sales spike.”

“Shoppers anticipate fall flavors more and more. It seems to set the tone for the season.”
—Mike Osornio, United Supermarkets

“Candy brands are moving into the snacking space and traditional snacks have been inching closer to the candy space. There are no more ‘rules’ when it comes to playing in your category during the holiday season.”
—Claire Cretors, G.H. Cretors

“From pumpkin spice or caramel apple flavors during the autumn to peppermint in the winter, consumers want to enjoy their favorite seasonal flavors in new forms, including candy.”
—Brandy Woolford, The Hershey Co.

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