HERSHEY, Pa. — The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an unprecedented era of retailing. Adjusting to the headwinds and remaining committed to its retail partners, The Hershey Co. sought a solution to virtually engage with operators and communicate the latest insights and solutions, broadcasted through a unique and remote platform. Thus, the Hershey Insights Network (HIN) was born.
"While this pandemic may have temporarily changed the way in which we meet with our retail partners, it has not changed the strong insights we have to offer our customers, which are especially crucial at this time," said Dale Clark, senior director of category management for Hershey. "Our retail partners depend on this insight-driven data to help them stay ahead of the retail landscape, and this is another way we continue to adapt during this time to ensure that retailers are set up for lasting success."
Launched in October 2020, HIN is a virtual platform through which the category management and snacking leader can provide solutions to its retail partners to engage their shoppers and enhance their overall experience both in-store and online during the coronavirus and beyond. HIN functions much like a television studio with its own network, multi-camera studio, and video switcher.
"We are going above and beyond to set up retail partners for success, now and in the future," said Clark. "It's so important to adapt quickly to all the changes that continue to take place this year, and we are proud to be a trusted partner for retailers in this evolving world, bringing them the latest insights and results with paypoint, center store and innovation to accelerate growth."
Although HIN was not in the works prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become the next evolution in how Hershey dissipates insights and solutions to its retail partners. Since 2006, the company has offered its Global Customer Insights Center (GCIC) to retail partners in person at its Pennsylvania headquarters. In 2018, it launched the Mobile Customer Insights Center (MCIC) as an extension of the GCIC — the 53-foot, expandable tractor trailer takes Hershey’s shopper insights and expertise on the road to retail partners.
"The HIN came about as a result of the need to improve our ability to virtually communicate with our customers and bring our Insights Centers and shopper-based solutions to life in a new way," Larry Thomas, senior manager, HIN/GCIC/MCIC, told Convenience Store News. "We realized as a company that we had to elevate our ability to conduct virtual meetings at a level that matched our Global Customer Insights Center and Mobile Customer Insights Center experiences, and offer customers the same value they receive from participating physically in those environments."
It took approximately two months for Hershey to rework the GCIC experience into the HIN and, over the past six months, the system capabilities have been constantly refined and expanded. The company developed a system for HIN that allows it to project its category management insights in a manner similar to a television news production. This improves the quality of the presentations, while also allowing live interaction with presenters and demonstrations of physical examples of shopper insight-developed solutions throughout its merchandising lab areas, Thomas explained.
"Telling a story combined with the ability to show live examples of solutions has shown our virtual meeting capability to be at the tip of the spear," he remarked. "By improving the experience, we have been able to interact with higher-level customer decisionmakers throughout the COVID-19 period."
In addition to everyday brick-and-mortar business-building solutions, channel players are trying to figure out what the new retail landscape is going to look like. Through HIN, Hershey is able to share its expertise across category management and e-commerce/digital/omnichannel in a unique and powerful way.
Over the course of 24 meetings using the HIN platform, Hershey and its retail partners have unlocked nearly $12 million in incremental category growth by leveraging insights to develop test-and-learn trials, according to the company.
HIN has proven itself to be a valuable tool during the current COVID-19 period, and will provide the company with the ability to engage a broader breadth of customers in the future. Thomas pointed out that the new virtual platform has allowed Hershey to expand the number of customers it deeply engages with each year, and involve a greater number of retailers’ team members as well.
"We see the HIN still having a role even when we are able to start having in-person meetings again at the GCIC; to be able to share our shopper insight-based category growth initiatives and solutions to those who can’t make the trip to Hershey," he said.
The Hershey Co. has more than 80 brands globally that drive upwards of $8 billion in annual revenues, including such iconic brand names as Hershey's, Reese's, Kit Kat, Jolly Rancher, Ice Breakers, SkinnyPop, and Pirate's Booty.