At the Sweets & Snacks Expo last May, Mars Chocolate North America presented merchandising strategies that take into account the exploding use of self-checkouts by customers.“Since the front-end is a critical location of every store, at Mars Chocolate, we’ve focussed much of our research on determining the optimal merchandising strategy in that area,” notes Timothy LeBel, VP of sales-grocery/value/military for Mars Chocolate North America, in Hackettstown, New Jersey. “Our research includes self-checkout, since one study projects that the growth of self-checkout in the U S across all outlets will increase 63 percent by 2015.”
Continues LeBel: “In an average cashiered lane, shoppers spend nearly five minutes in line, so they have time to shop the front end before becoming involved with the actual transaction. With self-check, shoppers only spend 3½ minutes at the front end, and they’re involved in the transaction during most of that time. Therefore, it’s imperative to adjust the merchandising approach with products that capture attention during this limited time. This is especially true for grab-and-go categories such as confectionery items. Confectionery is the largest front end category in both dollars and profits, yet the category is under-spaced.”
The company has also leveraged the worldwide reach of parent Mars Inc to develop strategic front end merchandising principles encompassing multiple channels. This work, which combines more than 150 global studies, has been distilled into a concise set of
But Mars Chocolate isn’t just concentrating on the front of the store. “Consumer shopping patterns have continued to evolve,” explains LeBel. “Shoppers are streamlining their navigation of the store, focussing on perimeter categories, and minimising their trips down the interior aisles. Confectionery is highly impulsive, highly expansive, and it has high household penetration. With this in mind, Mars Chocolate helps retailers capture impulse purchases through secondary displays. We offer multiple displays across pack types, brands and price points.”
Because of the high impulsivity of the category, “it’s important to put confections in front of the consumer,” he says. “Nearly two-thirds of consumers do not visit the candy aisle, so retailers should put candy on display in high-traffic locations and include power brands and consumer-relevant packs.”
Mars Chocolate also puts much effort into developing new items and line extensions that meet shopper needs. “Consumers like bite-size, unwrapped chocolate that is convenient, portable and easy to share,” says LeBel. “In May, we introduced Snickers Bites and Milky Way Bites, which are doing so well that we’re adding to the line. In 2014, consumers will enjoy Twix Bites, Milky Way Simply Caramel Bites and 3 Musketeers Bites.
Such strategies have worked well for Mars and its retail partners. Rob Auerbach, president of Louisville, Kentucky-based CandyRific, a manufacturer of licensed and unlicensed novelty confectionery, agrees with LeBel that since “impulse is the prevalent behaviour (in the candy category), an emotional ‘hook’ is needed, such as a positive licensed character, value discount or new offering.”
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania-based Hershey Co. implemented an insights-driven performance (IDP) process to aid strategic annual planning, and enable greater customer alignment and collaboration in unlocking consumer demand. Employing this process, the company worked with a Southwest grocery chain to expand its set size to be competitive with its marketplace, providing a proprietary set-size calculator so the chain could understand the projected dollar growth for the candy category by store. As a result of this expansion of its average candy gondola set size from 20 feet to 28 feet/32 feet in the majority of its stores, the grocer experienced a double-digit incremental increase for the candy category in base take-home sales.
By providing the right mix of insights and actionable solutions to improve retailers’ event execution at store level, Hershey is seeing continued “impressive” success with this approach.
What it comes down to, ultimately, is surpassing consumer expectations.“Given the current environment of retail channel blurring and the expansion of digital, taking steps to enhance shopper experience is the leading opportunity for retailers to capture the full potential of confections,” asserts Jenn Ellek, director of trade marketing and communications at the Washington, DC-based National Confectioners Association (NCA). “Key actions retailers can take include creating theater in-store, leveraging cross-category promotional in-store displays, and delivering more around the store via points of interruption to capture the many occasions involving celebration with confections.”