NACS SHOW REWIND: How to Increase Seasonal Candy Sales

Thinking outside the traditional seasonal selling period is just one recommendation.
Danielle Romano
NACS_seasonal candy session
From left: Peter Kempton Jr., Rebecca Gregory and Joseph Bortner

ATLANTA Although increasing sales is the goal of any convenience store retailer at any time of the year, there are particular times of the year that lend themselves to bringing in more customers and increasing basket size. As a percentage of category sales, no other category has the seasonal impact on total business as confection does.

This was the resounding sentiment among panelists during the "Growing Baskets With Seasonal Offerings" education session at the 2023 NACS Show, held last week in Atlanta. Speakers included Joseph Bortner, senior category manager for Rutter's; Rebecca Gregory, center store category manager for Weigel's Stores Inc.; and Peter Kempton Jr., senior category manager for TravelCenters of America (TA).

One of the ways York, Pa.-based Rutter's, operator of 85 c-stores Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, capitalizes on seasonal offerings is unlocking the potential of queue lines as a kind of merchandising vehicle for seasonal confections. While the chain carries the core seasonal offerings, the queue line allows the retailer to experiment with different pack sizes, for example, and capture customers' attention while there is a little bit of dwell time.

"We've worked with our vendor partners to get, essentially, their grocery capital. So, we put out larger pack sizes that you may not typically find [in c-stores], and I've really seen some success in just incremental sales," Bortner explained. "So, we still have our captured kind of core seasonal confection, while also tapping into this, I'll call it, 'untouched space in seasonal.'"

Gregory brought attention to another way in which convenience store retailers can optimize a promotional program that is already in place to draw in incremental seasonal candy purchases. Weigel's, the Powell, Tenn.-based chain of 75 stores, has historically held "The 12 Days of Christmas" promotion in which one vendor per day would support promotional pricing to loyalty members. Although the program received a lot of hype and was supported by advertising, the retailer didn't get a lot of redemption.

[Read more: Halloween Spending Projected to Surpass $12B]

In strategy meetings with the marketing team, the idea was presented to go deeper. Tying into another promotional program that Weigel's runs weekly on Wednesdays in which loyalty members receive one free item, Weigel's decided to extend "The 12 Days of Christmas" into "12 Days of Free Giveaways" and is not limiting the promotion to one vendor per day.

"So, for the 12 days right before Christmas, we're going to pour everyone in East Tennessee into our stores to get free things," Gregory said. "Hopefully, it'll encourage these customers' impulses to grab all of the seasonal items we put out."

Opportunities in the Space

Panelists provided a few ways in which convenience store retailers can optimize the selling period surrounding seasonal offerings. They included:

Think outside the traditional seasonal selling season.

For TA, the chain capitalizes on a season that many don't usually think of as a traditional season: National Candy Month. Running the month of June, the nationwide program celebrates the unofficial kickoff to summer with promotions that showcase the fun and uniqueness of chocolate and candy.

"National Candy Month is a great way to substitute for a holiday in June, do a lot of fun activity in the store, and is a great way to drive the category," Kempton pointed out.

Make it fun.

One way to engage both customers and employees during a seasonal selling period is contests. As Gregory explained, vendors for Weigel's will sponsor decoration contests in-store around the Christmas holiday. Stores can decorate and call attention to those vendors' particular products. They take pictures of their stores and displays that are then submitted to Weigel's marketing department for voting. The top three stores get cash, and, additionally, all of the photos are distributed among Weigel's network of c-stores.

"You're creating an interruption in your customers' paths when they walk in and see these decorations and realize, 'Hey, they play in this holiday space,'" said Gregory. "And it's a good way to compete with mass and grocery to show that our displays may not be as big and we may not have as many items, but we are definitely still that destination for this season.

"It just gets everybody involved, from vendors and your cashiers to your customers to everybody in the office. They love seeing the pictures and they love the engagement, so this has worked really well for us," she added.

Embrace the untapped creativity surrounding seasonal items.

Rutter's tied limited-time flavor offerings with its foodservice program with the creation of Xtreme Shakes. All Xtreme Shakes are made with a full candy bar and can be ordered at the kiosk.

"It's a great way we brought attention to our foodservice program while also promoting the LTO, and it really just gave a full store advertising campaign around the seasonal efforts that our vendor partners do."

Key Takeaways

Retailers plan ahead for seasonal selling months in advance, but once they're actually in that selling season, using data to help inform their decisions on how to maximize the season is crucial.

"Keep in mind when it comes to pricing how long your selling season is. If it's a product you intend on moving through, or it's a holiday that doesn't get a whole lot of volume, that is where you probably want to price a little lower just to move it through your stores," Gregory recommended. "But with Halloween and Christmas, you have a little more time, so just monitor your inventory and make sure you discount a product when you need to."

Another key aspect of the seasonal selling season is marketing. "Marketing is key to maximize a successful season. Whether it's through loyalty, social or signage, you need to be able to draw customers to choose you over the competition," Kempton said, adding there are several techniques to keep customers coming back. "Keep it fresh. Don't be afraid to try new and create ways to enhance seasons in your store(s)."

The 2023 NACS Show took place Oct. 3-6 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. The 2024 NACS Show will be hosted at the Las Vegas Convention Center Oct. 7-10, 2024.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds