HERSHEY, Pa. — The Hershey Co. is no stranger to bringing insights and innovations to its retailer customers. Since 2006, the company has invited retail partners to its Pennsylvania headquarters to spend time at its Global Customer Innovation Center (GCIC), a facility designed for educational sessions on shopper behavior, methods for boosting sales, the evolving future of retail, online sales, and more.
After nearly a decade, though, Hershey recognized that today’s retailers need a new playbook as the retail landscape shifts at an unprecedented rate. To quickly and efficiently deliver tailored, strategic insights to its retail partners, the supplier decided to extend the GCIC into a mobile venture. The Mobile Customer Insights Center (MCIC) was born.
A slimmed-down version of the GCIC, the MCIC is a 22-foot by 53-foot expandable tractor-trailer that looks like a rolling Hershey’s chocolate bar, with graphics on the outside displaying products such as Kit Kat, S'mores, Reese's, Kisses and Twizzlers.
On the inside, the MCIC resembles a convenience store, and includes a collaborative work space that provides an experiential opportunity for retailers to discuss strategies and results with a team of Hershey subject-matter experts.
Bringing the concept to fruition in less than a year, the MCIC made its maiden voyage on Sept. 19, 2018. Approximately 103 meetings have been held aboard the MCIC to date, serving retailers of all sizes nationwide.
"It is incredible in a little over a year and a few months to have that kind of breadth across the country to engage with our customers," Alexis Garber, category strategist for the MCIC, told Convenience Store News. "The biggest success so far has been getting out and meeting in real time, especially as we are learning more and more about the convenience store shopper, the changing retail landscape, and snacking trends in general."
With the MCIC, each retailer has an experiential opportunity to discuss strategies and tactics with a team of category experts. During the scheduled meetings — which are planned eight to 12 weeks in advance — retailers can delve into research and solutions that can be applied directly to their stores, around such areas as:
- Shelf merchandising and product layout optimization, as well as overall store layout.
- Pay point tactics, and unlocking unique opportunities in under-counter merchandising and queuing options. Seventeen percent of the time within a shopper's journey in the store happens at the checkout, where loyalty is driven, Garber noted.
- Leveraging foodservice as a differentiator. For instance, Hershey has looked at meal bundling in Europe and adapted it to the United States, tapping its pack type teams to understand what a meal bundle looks like, what a shopper is looking for, how they are interacting with bundles today, and what components are necessary.
- Focusing on the entire instant consumables category, the ever-changing grab-and-go set, and the candy aisle. For example, with shoppers spending 27 seconds on average in the candy aisle, Hershey examines what strategies will help convert shoppers quicker by studying how they engage with the brands and pack types they want.
"It really is a full, robust day that we take together on the truck and talk about a multitude of things," Garber explained. "It's nice to get our leaders and our customers' leaders in one room at the same time, because we know business is ongoing and ever-changing, but it's when we can come together to hash out strategies and goals, it becomes valuable on both sides. It's helped us evolve our learning plan from our category management and shopper insights teams. In addition, it's strengthened our partnerships with our customers where we’re making sure we’re supporting them in the right ways with our brands and how we’re going to market, to make sure it creates a unique and aligned vision."
RETAILER SUCCESS STORIES
According to Garber, Hershey has witnessed a magnitude of success among its convenience store retailer partners in the time since the MCIC hit the road. Without identifying any retailers by name, she offered up the following success stories:
Retailer No. 1: Sought to optimize the performance of each confection segment within its candy aisle
At the time, the retailer's instant consumable set was underspaced: it accounted for approximately 75 percent of the sales, but had just 58 percent of the space. Working with the MCIC, the retailer shifted space from its grab-and-go set to expand its instant consumable space, and paired it with a vertical merchandising strategy. The changes yielded double-digit growth in the overall category.
Retailer No. 2: Sought opportunities to capture increased sales within its growing fresh cooler section
With 86 percent of confections being bought with something else, and about 30 percent of the combinations being with a foodservice item, the Hershey team helped the retailer develop unique fixtures to increase basket sales and create a shopper solution.
Retailer No. 3: Sought to meet shoppers' expectations at the pay point
Hershey presented the retailer with solutions to optimize space under the counter with power categories — or categories with high household penetration, high purchase frequency and high impulsivity — such as confection, instant consumables and salty snacks. The aim was to improve conversion at the pay point. The retailer reallocated space in favor of the assortment and categories that best met its shoppers’ expectations.
In an effort to continue bringing tailored, strategic insights to its retailer customers, Hershey's MCIC is being enhanced with new features.
Two key features are slated to be introduced in June, CSNews has learned. The first is a self-checkout merchandising unit, where Hershey can explore alternative pay points that can be tailored to the convenience channel, like frictionless checkout.
The second new feature is a tip-top table, which is essentially a large iPad that can virtually move aisles around and explore how messages on emerging snacks and paths to purchase across dayparts can engage shoppers.
The Hershey Co. is a global confectionery leader with more than 80 brands that drive more than $7.4 billion in annual revenue, including such iconic brand names as Hershey's, Reese's, Hershey's Kisses, Jolly Rancher, Ice Breakers, and Brookside.