Creating Sensational Seasons
By Mary Ellen Kuhn
Selling seasonal candy affords the perfect opportunity for thinking outside the box.  And, despite some disappointing numbers recently, there’s still plenty of growth potential.  
One of the toughest things about selling seasonal candy is dealing with the compression of the shopping cycle. Take the winter holidays, for example. For the past three years, sales in early December have not been all that great. The real retail rush has been concentrated in the 7 to 10 days before Christmas, along with some strong gift card sales in the week after.
With shoppers in stores for less time, the impact on seasonal impulse buys is obvious. Meanwhile, planned seasonal purchases have taken a hit thanks to the less-than-stellar economic climate.
“If you’re keeping a close eye on your budget, it’s easy to decide that, ‘This year, I can get along with only five bags of Halloween candy instead of the six I got last year’ or ‘I’m going to cut back a bit on Easter basket novelty candy,’” points out Jim Corcoran, vice president of trade relations for the National Confectioners Association. Still, Corcoran and other industry experts have not given up on seasonal candy growth.
Take a lesson from Hallmark, advises marketing guru and St. Joseph’s University professor John Stanton, Ph.D. The giant card and gift retailer recognized early on that the best way to generate incremental sales was to create more card-buying occasions. The same approach can be applied to candy. It’s easier to sell more on a series of new occasions than it is to get people to buy more for the same holiday occasions they’re already shopping for, says Stanton.
Rather than merely trying to eke out increases at the Big Four holidays, create promotions and/or products linked to other special events—everything from graduation, First Communion, St. Patrick’s Day, back-to-college, he suggests.
If the demographics warrant it, ethnic populations afford a particularly strong marketing option. Consider a candy promotion targeted to Hispanics for Three Kings Day, for example, says Stanton.
Or, as Joan Sweeting national sales manager for Madelaine Chocolate Novelties, suggests, think Thanksgiving! Marketers at Madelaine have found that retailers that create an in-store focus on Thanksgiving tend to be successful with it because they don’t have a lot of competition, Sweeting points out.  
Channel strategies
Last-minute holiday shopping is an issue for retailers in most classes of trade, but that scenario may create an opportunity for supermarkets, Corcoran suggests. After all, most Americans continue to make at least a weekly trek to the supermarket. So how about some weekly candy and candy/gift specials from grocery retailers? A strong assortment, creatively promoted and merchandised, accompanied by a decent everyday low price on red and green candy “staples” could serve up a full six-week growth opportunity for this channel. Far too many supermarket retailers are conceding the category to drug stores and mass merchandisers, Corcoran emphasizes.  
There also are untapped opportunities in the convenience channel, where men are a core group of shoppers. And—let’s face it—the average male is a notorious last-minute shopper. So why not create a few SKUs of truly sensational gift items and deliver a bona fide shopping solution for those harried guys who would love to find a great gift or maybe even a sweet add-on gift for their significant others. And the good news here is that this is one time when price is not the object.
As Corcoran points out, many men love to do their seasonal shopping in drug stores because they’re convenient and compact. Well, that’s equally—if not more so—true for convenience stores. So why not capitalize on that?  
Of course, while we’re talking c-store, don’t forget the seasonal impulse items for the countertop. This is a perfect place for traditional favorites as well as new and special offerings—perhaps a regional favorite or a seasonal limited edition item. n
Bright Idea: Gift Cards and Candy
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the growing popularity of gift cards may be taking a bit of a toll on seasonal candy gift sales.
So why not seize upon the trend as a candy marketing opportunity, suggests Ellen Tolley, media relations manager for the National Retail Federation and a speaker at last month’s National Confectioners Association State of the Industry conference.
"Why not merchandise around the gift card craze?" said Tolley. "Why not create a box of chocolates that can hold a gift card?"
Merchandising Must
Don’t mark down too early. We all know that consumers are shopping later and later, so don’t be an "enabler" by encouraging the mindset of, "I’ll wait ‘till later when it’s on sale!"
Going Upscale Ups Seasonal SalesAt Chicago Area Jewel Supermarkets
Expanding the space allocated to premium chocolate during the 2004 winter holiday season paid off nicely for Chicago area Jewel Supermarkets.
Tyler Jeffrey, vice president of sales and marketing for Chicago-based World’s Finest Chocolate, was playing close attention to how things went for Jewel this holiday season. That’s because the retailer opted to stock World’s Finest Chocolate seasonal product display shippers featuring assorted premium SKUs in 168 of its stores.
In fact, according to Jeffrey, about 14 percent of Jewel’s winter holiday seasonal sales came from premium confections vs. just about 5 percent in the prior year. World’s Finest products accounted for 30 percent of that total, Jeffrey reports.
Overall, seasonal chocolate category sales for the Christmas season climbed by 0.6 percent for Jewel. That may not sound like a huge increase, but across the board in the supermarket sector (as tracked by IRI), sales declined by 8.4 percent, so clearly that growth is significant.
The World’s Finest displays Jewel stocked (primarily within the holiday confections aisle) featured four of the company’s items attractively presented in boxes suitable for either self-gifting or more traditional gift-giving. They included Mint Meltaways and Caramel Whirls, both in 5.5-ounce boxes with a suggested retail price of $2.99; milk chocolate-covered Continental Almonds in a 14-ounce box; and milk chocolate-covered pecans in a 12-ounce box. The latter two items each retailed for $4.99.
For 2005, World’s Finest will add another SKU—dark chocolate covered almonds.
One final bit of good news: The addition of the World’s Finest SKUs did not cannibalize sales of other premium brands the Jewels stocked, according to Jeffrey.
It’s a success for us," says Jeffrey, "but it’s also a success for the premium category."