A Sweet Opportunity


Convenience store operators have begun to take advantage of seasonal candy, but there’s still a lot of untapped potential that, if developed correctly, can lead to even sweeter sales.

There are four peak holidays when it comes to the candy category: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas. Dollar sales in the chocolate segment ebb and flow along with these holidays, according to data shared at the 2013 NACS Show.

The convenience channel is underleveraged in seasonal chocolate sales, Tim Quinn, vice president of trade development at Mars Chocolate North America, pointed out during the “Tis the Season for Seasonal Sales” educational session held at the October show.

Specifically, IRI data through Dec. 31, 2012 shows that seasonally wrapped chocolate accounts for only 3 percent of chocolate category dollar sales in the convenience channel. That number lags far behind 45 percent in mass, 25 percent in food, and 21 percent in drug. Meanwhile, non-seasonally wrapped chocolate accounts for 24 percent of c-store chocolate category dollar sales.

It’s not too late, though, for c-store operators to get into the seasonal game, especially given the fierce competition and channel blurring happening in more product categories every day.

“Seasonal candy presents a decent opportunity for convenience stores, but I do think it requires a little bit of work,” Lisa Dell’Alba, president and CEO of Square One Markets Inc., told Convenience Store News. “If you don’t do it right, it could be a bit of a detriment.”

According to Dell’Alba, wholesalers seem to be asking retailers to put in seasonal candy earlier each year. Square One Markets typically places its orders four to six months before a holiday and merchandises it as soon as it arrives — “a good four to six weeks before the holiday,” she said.

“Because we are in the impulse business, we have to get ahead of our competitors,” Dell’Alba added. “Even the grocery store channel presents competition and there are only so many Cadbury Creme Eggs you can buy.”

The earlier the seasonal candy hits the counter, the better the stores do in sales. “As we get closer to the holiday, people are like ‘Yeah, OK,’” she noted.

When it comes to merchandising, seasonal candy is placed on the counters at Square One Markets. While the stores do not have dedicated space for seasonal candy, the counter essentially becomes its home for six months out of the year — from Halloween through Easter.

“Finding the space in-store for seasonal candy is definitely difficult,” Dell’Alba acknowledged. “We try to do a quick in-and-out, on-the-counter setup. We don’t really get carried away with a lot of variety; I try to stick to the things that sell.”

One seasonal candy item that does sell well for Square One Markets is Peeps, a home-grown treat manufactured in the same town as the retailer’s headquarters. The Bethlehem, Pa.-based convenience chain operates stores spread across five Pennsylvania counties.

“We are in Bethlehem and that is where Just Born is from, so Peeps have a different significance in this area. People know them and they are local,” she explained.

In addition to keeping variety in check, Dell’Alba tries to keep inventory in check as well, usually bringing in just one or two boxes of a seasonal item. Retailers still merchandising seasonal candy after the holiday can find themselves with a consumer perception problem.

“We want to get it out the door before the holiday is over. The day after the holiday, that candy is no longer fresh to the customer,” she said.

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