To Every Season

Ignore the slight slump in sales; here’s how to make seasonal candy turn, turn, turn.

The IRI numbers reveal it’s not the year 2000 any more for seasonal candy. Back then, the category showed healthy gains — some even double-digits — spanning both chocolate and non-chocolate, as well as across all the holidays — Easter, Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
For the next two years, numbers got a bit more modest, until last year, when they were all declining, although nothing too drastic.
Of the major holidays, Valentine candy took the biggest dollar drop in the chocolate segment last year (7.2 percent), and Halloween took the largest drop (7.3 percent) on the non-chocolate side.
While Easter still holds the largest dollar share of all the seasonal candy — both in chocolate and non-chocolate, Christmas is gradually making gains to nearly equal it in non-chocolate, and not too far behind it in chocolate. For both chocolate and non-chocolate, according to IRI numbers, the order in dollar share of holiday candies is the same: Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Halloween.
Note: Halloween is last on the list because IRI tracks seasonally wrapped candy. Thus much trick or treat candy is not included here.
The Imperatives
The good news is that the opportunity in seasonal candy is still perhaps the best in the business; more excitement surrounds it than any other, due to its constantly rotating, festive nature.  But wherever possible, the emphasis should be on seasons — more so than holidays — to try to get the most out of the timeframe.
Mass retailers from all channels are using seasons as a marketing focal point — both in-store and in weekly circulars. Seasonal candy — with its holiday-coordinated colors, creative shapes, and special packaging — is the perfect in-aisle decorating tool, not to mention impulse initiator for add-on candy sales. Remember that holidays are notorious for striking positive (emotional and memory) chords with consumers. Candy ties into that.
As far as seasonal candy is concerned, the weakened economy is a good thing. Consumers are still buying holiday-related gifts, but they’re looking to spend less and have it go farther. Seasonal candy, especially when it’s a little more upscale, dressed up for the occasion, and perhaps coupled with another small gift item (plush characters and coffee mugs are all making a comeback in candy pairings), or as the focal point of a themed gift basket, perfectly fits the bill. Corporate gifting trends have helped set this standard for more upscale chocolate, and for the acceptability of the candy/gift trend itself. The warehouse clubs have quickly excelled in meeting this consumer trend, with discounters and drug stores following suit with less expensive versions, especially during the fourth quarter.
Consumers are also trending towards small candy gift treats of more upscale quality — for themselves. Having a little bite of something satisfying involves no guilt.
Seasonal candy makers support the notion of marketing seasons, wherever possible, rather than holidays.  Instead of just using Christmas icons, they are moving to winter images such as snowflakes, to make the candy last until February. And rather than just using hearts for Valentine’s Day, they are incorporating flowers, so a package can ease into spring. Fourth of July is better marketed as summer, with picnic or beach icons. Back-to-school takes over from there and carries into fall, which is now more autumn-leaf and pumpkin-focused, rather than strictly a Halloween-oriented occasion.
Borrowing ideas from their distribution in club stores, less upscale seasonal candy makers are providing seasonal candy that is case-ready for palletizing, popular now in stores like Wal-Mart, Office Depot, OfficeMax and other larger mass market stores that have made the aisle space.
The gift aspect of seasonal candy opens up a host of cross-merchandising display options — basically, anywhere a gift might be purchased — toys, picture frames, candles, even books. The idea is for retailers to get creative. One regional drugstore recently featured a small display of some heart-shaped chocolate near the best-selling fiction novel, Chocolat, in paperback, right around Valentine’s Day. The beauty of this approach is that retailers can easily encourage add-on impulse buys because candy is often a secondary gift choice. Consumers will still buy the first gift and pair it with candy if the idea is planted via in-store merchandising.
Expect seasonal candy to reflect more of consumers’ interest in portion control and fat-, sugar- and carb-consciousness in the near future. While many consumers would rather have a little taste of the “real” thing, a growing number of consumers would also like to see their candy match their diet goals.
And since seasonal candy is becoming more like everyday candy (as the seasons are created to roll right into one another), it follows that seasonal candy will also have to match everyday diet trends to capture more growth.

Seasonal Merchandising Musts
Get seasonal candy out really early in the season to reap the most rewards. 
This year, the savviest stores had a small portion of Valentine’s Day candy SKUs on display the week of Christmas, when traffic was at a high, letting customers know that there would be a seasonal reason to come back the following week. What’s more, it provided new-year impulse candy sales for all those customers returning unwanted gifts the week after Christmas.
Create a mood that fits the season with words and display. 
Seasonal candy comes complete with seasonally appropriate colors and mood enhancers. It doesn’t take much effort for retailers to build words (shelf talkers, counter cards) and a theme around it.