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Why McKee Foods Is 2016’s Sweet Snacks Category Captain


COLLEGEDALE, Tenn. — Across the country, the baked sweet goods (BSG) category has grown by more than 30 percent in convenience stores thanks in large part to premium coffee being offered at convenience store chains. Because of this, McKee Foods Corp. has taken the lead in ensuring its retail partners are positioning themselves to capitalize on the category growth.

For McKee, this means providing everything from monthly category scorecard updates and insights, to planograms and other space management recommendations, to shopper marketing campaigns that align to the retailer’s strategy which oftentimes is to reward loyal shoppers while attempting to grow the BSG category.

For its efforts, McKee was selected winner of the 2016 Convenience Store News Category Captains award in the packaged sweet snacks category.

Now in its third year, the awards program applauds outstanding category management initiatives implemented in the convenience channel over the past 12 months. All entries were judged by product development experts at consumer research firm Past Times Marketing based on the information supplied by participating companies.

One of the primary services McKee provides its retail partners — including Pilot Flying J, Kroger Convenience and headquarters, and MAPCO Express — is a monthly category scorecard update. Each scorecard is customized to the retailer’s specific requests for information, but all include the top-performing brands for the category and the performance of each subcategory over the past four weeks, 12 weeks, 52 weeks and year-to-date metrics.

By examining the scorecard over these time periods, McKee Foods is able to determine which brands and subcategories are leading or lagging in the category and make recommendations to the retailers that will help grow the category.

The McKee Category Insights Team has been working with one large, multi-division c-store chain to assist it in centralizing its operations through consistent communication with the retailer’s category manager, individual banner category managers, and a space management consulting firm. With this retailer, McKee provides SKU rationalization for each planogram to ensure the BSG category remains strong. For example, McKee recommended one of the retailer’s banners introduce Bimbo to the category because the brand is very popular with first-generation Hispanics. Hispanics make up one-third of this retailer’s trading territory.

In the summer of 2015, McKee also approached c-store retailer Twice Daily with shopper marketing ideas to help it grow the BSG category. The focus was to put the shopper at the center of McKee’s marketing efforts, while providing better selling opportunities to the wholesale distributors, all while supporting the strategic goals of Twice Daily’s category manager.

The Twice Daily category manager was interested in targeting loyal shoppers and driving customers inside the stores. McKee conducted a Text Living shopper marketing campaign where loyal customers who signed up for a text alert were notified that they would receive a free Coffee House Café item by simply going into the store and presenting the text message. The campaign was the most successful text shopper marketing program Twice Daily had done, with a 6.1-percent redemption rate, beating a previous energy drink campaign.

In the fall of 2015, McKee was approached by c-store chain Thorntons Inc., which asked for insights on millennial shoppers. McKee’s Category Insights Team worked closely with the retailer’s in-house consumer insights department and provided a 14-slide presentation that answered all of Thorntons’ questions and also explained what efforts McKee was making in targeting millennials. Thorntons was so pleased with the presentation that the retailer invited McKee to conduct a full category review in early 2016 to better help grow its BSG category.

According to McKee, it understands that a strong, profitable BSG category overall is good for its Little Debbie brand and thus it has made a commitment to helping category managers grow their business. The autonomy McKee gives its Category Insights Team shows the commitment to growing the category as a whole, and not just growing Little Debbie in the short term.

For more on the winners and their category management initiatives, look in the Convenience Store News Guide to Category Management, published this month.

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