When Thinking ‘Inside the Box’ Is the Way to Go

Lisbeth Echeandia
Direct Line: (903) 965-9300
e-mail: lecheandia@stagnito.com 

The National Confectioners Association State of the Industry event is always an interesting and worthwhile conference, and this year was no exception! I had the opportunity to participate on a panel discussing the topic, “Where Consumers Shop for Confectionery and Why.” The background slides for the roundtable are available on the NCA Web site (www.ecandy.com), but, of course, the lively and informative discussion is not!
I don’t know who coined the phrase “thinking out of the box,” and although it’s rather overused, it still has merit. Certainly doing just that needs to be encouraged. At the same time, I believe strongly that there is still a great deal of opportunity to think inside the box!
Discussing where and how candy should be displayed has always been one of my favorite topics. At the “Where Consumers Shop for Confectionery and Why” roundtable at the NCA Conference, it was highlighted how many “new and different” outlets now successfully display and sell candy. The list includes Home Depot, Tractor Supply,  FedEx Kinko’s, Bed, Bath and Beyond, PetsMart, Fry’s, Menards, Jo-Ann Fabrics and many more. Clearly these alternate channels represent growth opportunities for manufacturers and incremental revenue for retailers, and they allow consumers to buy confectionery at even more locations.
Beyond the candy aisle
In terms of thinking inside the box, I believe there is still too much focus on the candy aisle/candy gondola, particularly in the supermarket channel. It seems to me that all of the research and data show that consumers are shopping differently than they did in the past, with different priorities and needs. Yet the candy aisle hasn’t really changed. The fact is that fewer and fewer people go down the candy aisle. They shop the perimeter of the store or target specific departments. Improving the candy aisle — and yes, if we have to have the candy aisle, we need much better signage, better lighting and more creative ways of merchandising the product — won’t  be enough to change shopping behavior. Just because you build it, does not mean they’ll come!
Retailers and manufacturers need to work out how to put permanent, additional primary displays of confectionery products where shoppers shop. Retailers need to do more in produce, where bulk candy already has a strong presence, as well as in the deli, floral and greeting card departments, the bakery and the pharmacy area.  I’m not talking about shippers here. Shippers are a great tool, but that isn’t what’s needed to consistently do better with candy at retail and meet the needs of the shopper.  
I do understand that there are many obstacles that need to be overcome to change the way confectionery is currently offered to the consumer in the mainstream channels. It’s not easy for the confectionery buyer to get space in the bakery or in the deli area. And manufacturers must get more creative with packaging. Laydown bags are a problem, and peg bags seem to be losing favor with retailers I’ve spoken with recently. Theater boxes have chalked up encouraging sales numbers, and retailers certainly welcome the opportunity for a higher ring.
I encourage retailers to do some creative thinking inside “their” box and challenge their confectionery vendors to help make the category more profitable for them and more relevant to the consumer.