Stay Sweet

10/1/2011

To keep ahead in the candy category, grocers must tune into the latest trends.

Consumers' tastes are always evolving, and this holds as true in the candy category as anywhere else. However, with all of the competition grocers face from other retail channels, all of which are strong contenders in the derby for shopper candy dollars, it pays for supermarkets to keep on top of the newest flavor sensations in sweets.

That's a strategy to which Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Chocolate North America, the market leader in the growing bite-size segment, adheres faithfully. “Regarding flavor trends, according to the National Confectioners Association, consumers aren't choosing between sweet and savory snacks; instead, they're looking for items that combine the two flavors,” notes Timothy LeBel, VP of sales-grocery/value/military at the division of McLean, Va.-based Mars Inc. “In response to this trend, in May 2012, Mars will introduce the first official M&M's Brand Snack Mix. It's the snack mix that satisfies consumers' desire for a creamy-crunchy-sweet-and-salty snack all in one bag. Available in three varieties, each in an 8-ounce resealable standup pouch, M&M's Brand Snack Mix [will be] an option to please everyone.”

According to LeBel, Mars is seeing two other candy trends emerge:

Consumers' Interest in Variety: “In May 2010, our Mars Optimization Study found that 25 percent of consumers' purchases are for variety,” he notes.

■ Emergence of the 'Hand-to-mouth' Segment: “In the hand-to-mouth segment, standup pouches are convenient, and the pricing provides a strong consumer value,” explains LeBel. “This format offers many consumer benefits: It's resealable for freshness, portability, portion control, convenience and 'share-ability.'”

To satisfy both of these trends, in January Mars Chocolate will introduce a line of M&M's Brand Candies in a standup pouch. Available in three flavors — brand powerhouse M&M's Brand Milk Chocolate Candies and two new flavors, Mint Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Dark Chocolate — the 8-ounce pouches, retailing for a suggested $2.99, will be peg-able for retailers. LeBel describes the new line as offering “a convenient, portable and shareable packaging solution that's growing in popularity globally and in the U.S.”

The line's two new flavors will satisfy consumers' desire for flavor variety, LeBel contends, citing IRI data finding a 7.9 percent sales increase in mint chocolate sales for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 30, with 80 percent of those sales nonseasonal. “The raspberry dark chocolate flavor is the highest-scoring fruit flavor for the M&M's Brand, and 76 percent of consumers tested expressed an interest in eating it, according to consumer research,” he adds.

Another Mars addition to the hand-to-mouth segment will be Dove Brand Milk Chocolate Covered Raisins & Peanuts. Launching in April 2012, the product will feature crunchy roasted peanuts and plump raisins drenched in milk chocolate. This item will come in a 5-ounce standup pouch retailing for a suggested $3.49.

CandyRific, which sells candy and novelty product combinations employing popular licensed brands, is also capitalizing on consumer wants with its top-selling M&M's Brand Star Wars novelty candy, including the Light-Up Lightsaber, as well as with Peeps Treats, a crispy-rice marshmallow treat.

“M&M's Brand Star Wars novelty candy is selling like crazy as fans get ready for the new boxed-set 'Star Wars' Blu-ray release later this month — just in time for Christmas and the first 3-D movie release in February 2012,” says Larry Lindenbaum, VP of sales for Louisville, Ky.-based CandyRific. “Our new license with Peeps Brand, by Just Born Inc., is also an exciting endeavor.”

Seasonality and Beyond

Innovative promotions also keep consumer interest in candy fresh. With the arrival of football season, The Hershey Co. has teamed up with Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods and “ESPN College GameDay” analyst Jesse Palmer to position's mores as “the Official Dessert of Tailgating” and encourage cross-category purchases. Featuring Hershey's Milk Chocolate, Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows, and Honey-Maid Graham Crackers, the venerable treat can be enjoyed at tailgate parties via the “build it, wrap it, grill it” preparation method spotlighted in the promotion. Fans can get more tips and s'mores recipes for tailgating season at www.smoressmiles.com.

Meanwhile, Wonka, a brand of Franklin Park, Ill.-based Nestlé USA Confections and Snacks, recently publicized its latest product introductions, Triple Dazzle Caramel and Fantabulous Fudge, in a novel fashion: This past summer saw the launch of the Wonka Imagination Room, “a fully immersive and interactive video experience never before seen on YouTube in the U.S.” The promotion was the first 360-degree branded video ever to appear in the U.S. market on YouTube, and marked the first time an online U.S. marketing campaign has ever been featured on YouTube, according to Nestlé USA.

Employing both in-video captions and 360-degree video technology, the Wonka YouTube channel experience at www. youtube.com/wonka takes visitors through four rooms, each related to a specific Wonka chocolate: Chocolate Waterfall, Scrumdiddlyumptious, Triple Dazzle Caramel and Fantabulous Fudge. Consumers can control the view and uncover various puzzles and other online challenges.

Impulse Merchandising

How items are displayed has a big impact on sales, manufacturers have found. Mars Chocolate's LeBel offers advice to grocers on how to best merchandise candy. “In the grocery channel, confections are highly impulse-driven, with 66 percent of brand decisions made in the store,” he says. “Leading the aisle with impulse-oriented products — such as confections — encourages impulse sales. Retailers that lead the aisle with confectionery sell 6 percent more than average. Strategically placing confections at the end of an aisle, as well as securing displays in the deli, wine and floral sections, will drive aisle traffic and leverage the expandable, impulse nature of the category.”

He also emphasizes the importance of premium chocolate, as well as gum and mints, to overall confection sales. “In addition to leading the aisle with confectionery grocery retailers should anchor the ends of the section with premium chocolate and gum/mints,” LeBel observes. “Chocolate shoppers are redefining how they view premium chocolate in this new value economy; therefore, retailers should adjust shelf space to reflect shopper trends toward value to help total in-aisle confectionery profitability. Research shows that most retailers should reduce space on premium chocolate and increase space for everyday premium chocolate like Dove Chocolate; everyday chocolate, including M&M's Brand and Snickers Brand; and candy confections.”

Greg Decker, sales manager at CandyRific, recommends “off-shelf floor displays and power wings” as shopper draws in the confection section. “Novelty is a highly impulsive and incremental purchase,” he continues. “If it's in line and on a shelf, you lose that impact.” Among CandyRific's upcoming displays is a Star Wars 36-piece power wing tied into the Feb. 16 3-D release of “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.”

Taking advantage of on-trend products, exciting retail promotions and impactful merchandising can help grocers move forward in the cutthroat competition for candy sales. PG

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