OFF THE FRONT END

Supermarket retailers are responding to parental preferences by giving candy less exposure at the front end.Increasingly, retailers are using at least one candy-free checkout per store. Some stores even use the strategy for several or all of their checkout lanes."This is a trend that will pick up steam," said Don Stuart, a partner with Cannondale Associates, a Wilton, Conn.-based marketing and sales

Supermarket retailers are responding to parental preferences by giving candy less exposure at the front end.

Increasingly, retailers are using at least one candy-free checkout per store. Some stores even use the strategy for several or all of their checkout lanes.

"This is a trend that will pick up steam," said Don Stuart, a partner with Cannondale Associates, a Wilton, Conn.-based marketing and sales management firm. Stuart noted that the tactic doesn't appear to be adversely affecting candy sales.

According to an informal SN poll, many retailers are using candy-free checkouts to make the checkout experience smoother and easier for parents with young children. Often, children will grab candy off the racks as parents are trying to pay for their groceries.

"We want to help customers feel good about shopping at our stores," said Odonna Mathews, vice president of consumer affairs at Super G, a Giant Food-owned, Landover, Md.-based retailer with stores in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.

Super G opened the lanes in response to consumer boards and telephone calls from customers. It also based its decision on feedback from postage-paid comment cards, widely accessible in every store, said Mathews.

According to Mathews, most Giant stores in Maryland, Virginia and Washington have been using candy-free checkouts for more than a decade. The chain expanded the concept about three years ago, when it moved into the Delaware valley under the Super G banner. Most Super G stores offer one candy-free lane per store. "One is adequate," Mathews said, adding that bright signage is used to highlight the aisles.

Several ShopRite stores of Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., also employ the strategy. For instance, ShopRite of Hunterdon County, N.J., has been using candy-free lanes for the past three years.

The store's manager made the decision to open candy-free lanes three years ago, said Frank Smith, a customer service manager. Out of 16 lanes, three are candy-free.

"It's less of a hassle for customers -- especially moms with three to four kids stacked on rolling carts," said Smith.

At the Shakoor ShopRite, Old Bridge, N.J., three of 11 lanes have always been candy-free, according to a store-level source.

Wakefern has been testing the candy-free concept in its newer ShopRite stores for six months, said Ingrid Achenberg, consumer affairs specialist at Wakefern's corporate headquarters.

Usually, five lanes in larger stores and three lanes in smaller units in New York and New Jersey are candy-free.

The wholesaler cooperative is using the lanes to offer convenience to its customers. Based on reviews of the store's comment cards, customers do not want candy at the checkout. Wakefern uses overhead signage to alert customers to the lanes.

Retailers are replacing candy with a variety of food and nonfood offerings. Of the retailers surveyed, the majority replace candy with general merchandise, including batteries and picture frames. However, many are using the space for everyday items like fresh juice, eggs, milk, bread and butter.

Piggly Wiggly Corp., Memphis, Tenn., which has been testing candy-free lanes for the last six months, would like to offer fresh produce. It plans to rotate products at different times of the day to service specific needs. For instance, it is considering offering fresh bread in the morning and cold milk in the afternoon.

"We want to alternate items with whatever is in season, because we are targeting the front end for convenience sales," said an executive at the chain, who requested anonymity.

Piggly Wiggly Memphis franchises 660 stores, 30% of which are using candy-free checkouts to some degree. About about 20% are testing the concept of having all lanes candy-free.

One Piggly Wiggly chain is testing candy-free lanes in five of its 12 stores. The majority of them offer candy-free checkouts in two of 10 lanes.

All the checkouts at a new store operated by Sewell-Allen, Memphis, a Piggly Wiggly franchisee with 12 stores, will be candy-free, said Barry Maddox, director of marketing for Sewell-Allen. The new store is slated to open late this year or early next year.

"We looked around and determined we're no different from anyone else -- the prime real estate is at the front end of the store," Maddox said. "We want to concentrate on higher velocity categories there. These tend to be perishables and other food produce.

"This part of the plan is evolving. We will go for convenience, or a rotational program with mainly seasonal items," said Maddox.

Retailers polled agreed with Stuart of Cannondale, saying that the loss of candy at some checkouts has not affected candy sales.

"As a matter of fact, this year candy sales are up," said Chuck Caplan of Russo's Stop & Shop, Chesterfield, Ohio, which offers one to two candy-free lanes in each of its stores.