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Limited-Edition Candy Sweetens the Marketplace

Chris Schultz knew his love affair with the Limited Edition Mint Kit Kat bar was ill fated -- a romance with an expiration date. But that only made it more exciting.

"Oh, my God, I love them," Schultz, a 30-year-old computer programmer, told the Boston Globe. He found himself stockpiling the candy bar sold by Hershey's for a few weeks in 2003 before it vanished from shelves.

"The limited edition just makes us want them more because we fear they are only going to be around for a short time," he said.

Schultz and other consumers are being tempted like never before by limited-edition candy that has flooded the market in the past year. From Dark Chocolate M&M's released in April to Reese's Peanut Butter Lovers, the top three candy companies have found limited-edition offerings a powerful way to boost sales, maintain brand loyalty and crowd the shelves without damaging the existing product line, the newspaper reported.

Hershey's, the leader in the limited-edition phenomenon, said last month these products, which typically stay on the market for six to eight weeks, contributed to record first-quarter earnings that rose by 14.6 percent.

"The best way to control the candy rack and spike sales is to come up with these kinds of Hollywood sequels that get you to purchase the Piña Colada Almond Joy even if you didn't intend to," said Steve Almond, a Somerville, Mass. resident and author of the book Candy Freak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America.

Other candy conglomerates -- Mars and Nestlé -- recently entered the limited-edition market with products aimed at growing sales that mirror the increase seen during the holidays, when they sell red-and-green versions of their treats, said Jim Corcoran, vice president of trade relations for the National Confectioners Association. Marketing officials say the candy industry is embracing a strategy used by other businesses to drive up demand by artificially restricting supply -- such as Disney's 55th anniversary limited-edition DVD of Bambi.

In the candy industry, some limited-edition items are so popular during their test runs they become a part of the permanent product line, including the 2002 Limited Edition Kit Kat White Chocolate. But most are short-lived.

This candy reality has led to frustrated pleas to bring back beloved confections. Other fretting consumers have taken action, hoarding the chocolate and hunting limited-edition candy as though it were a sport.

The elimination of the Limited Edition Kit Kat Dark Chocolate struck a nerve among consumers, including Almond, who visited nearly every Mobil station in Greater Boston to stock up on his favorite treats.

"The problem for candy freaks is if the companies offer something really yummy -- then it's gone," Almond told the newspaper. "All my fellow candy freaks keep waiting for Kit Kat darks to return."

One Web site even tracks sightings of the candy. On Feb. 6, 2005, Terri from Elizabethtown, Ky., wrote that she spotted two cases of Dark Chocolate Kit Kats at her local gas station.

"I was very surprised since I had heard they were off the market as limited edition. The boxes were just opened and a little dusty upon further inspection, however I bought four and they were divine," Terri wrote. "So are they back in, or should I stock up??"

She was immediately advised to hoard them.

In a temperature-controlled basement in San Bernardino, Calif., Schultz has created a haven for limited-edition candy. And it's not just the Mint Kit Kats. He's willing to share with fellow candy cravers. For a price, that is.

Schultz, under the username "Limited-Edition-Candies-n-More," recently auctioned off on eBay a Lemon Cheesecake Kit Kat for $27.50. It retails in Japan for about $1.50.

With so many new products on the shelves, smaller candy companies are fighting back with their own limited editions to ensure consumers lured by the concept of temporary chocolate don't ignore them.

The New England Confectionery Co. is unveiling its first "special edition" candy this fall: Raspberry Creme and Orange Creme Thin Mints -- takeoffs of the original Haviland Real Chocolate Covered Thin Mints.

"It's always a struggle to get shelf space against the big guys and these limited editions have made it even more difficult," said Lory Zimbalatti, marketing manager for the New England Confectionery Co.

It is a price war to get access to prime real estate like the crowded candy shelves and impulse areas, said Kevin Griffin, publisher of the Griffin Report of Food Marketing.

"At the end of the day, it's all about money," Griffin said. "You have to have the funds to do it. And Hershey's and Mars have the clout that the average candy guy doesn't have."

For wholesalers such as Candy Direct in San Diego, limited-edition chocolate has meant good business and the ability to charge higher prices for some discontinued items.

"People will stockpile because they're desperate," said Candy Direct president Steve Traino, whose interest in limited-edition candy began after he made a $15,000 profit by hoarding the about-to-be-extinct Black Jack gum and selling it to diehard chewers. (Black Jack gum was later revived).

That type of profit is what Jen Kalicki had in mind when she spent $118 last week on a case of Limited Edition Green Tea Kit Kats that are being sold in Japan.

"I'm bad, I know," said Kalicki, who hopes to sell the Kit Kats that she doesn't eat. "I just wanted to see what it was all about."
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