MAKING PLANS FOR CHRISTMAS

Christmas is the season for candy sales, according to retailers contacted by SN, who pulled out a bag filled with ideas for keeping this year's sales going strong.Displaying candy in high-traffic areas, cross-merchandising it with the floral department and using multiple unit pricing were among the strategies retailers said they would use to generate Christmas candy sales.While most retailers said

Christmas is the season for candy sales, according to retailers contacted by SN, who pulled out a bag filled with ideas for keeping this year's sales going strong.

Displaying candy in high-traffic areas, cross-merchandising it with the floral department and using multiple unit pricing were among the strategies retailers said they would use to generate Christmas candy sales.

While most retailers said they would be carrying the traditional holiday fare -- year-round favorites wrapped in holiday packaging and seasonal novelty items, such as chocolate Santas -- two said their lines candies made in-store also would feature a seasonal twist.

For them and others, gift-oriented items -- usually those available in boxes, tins or other attractive containers -- are expected to generate a healthy amount of holiday sales.

"We sell a ton of candy during the Christmas season," said Grant MacLean, candy buyer and merchandiser for Rosauers Supermarkets, a 16-store chain based in Spokane, Wash.

"Our stores merchandise most of the product in gondola type of carts which we use for seasonal displays and usually place in our greeting card section," he said.

In addition, MacLean said the chain carries a number of items that can be purchased for gifts or stocking stuffers and displays them on endcaps to take advantage of impulse sales.

"Christmas sales usually increase our candy category about 33%," said Jacquie Hassen, a buyer at Seaway Food Town, a 44-store chain based in Maumee, Ohio.

"Each of our stores generally devote a full aisle for displaying all types of Christmas items, including candy," she said.

At Bales Thriftway, a single-store independent in Portland, Ore., sales of chocolate candy made in the store's in-store bakery jump fourfold during the Christmas season, according to Yvonne "Vonnie" Noble, who is in charge of candy made in-store.

"While we usually sell about 50 pounds of chocolate during an average week, that figure jumps to 200 pounds during the Christmas season," she said.

Noble estimates that 60% to 70% of her category sales during the holidays are made from customers purchasing candy to give away as gift items.

And Noble said she hopes a tie-in with the floral department will generate even higher sales this season.

Burgess Markets, a one-store independent in Bath, Maine, plans to display its products on individual tables and three or four endcaps throughout the store to capitalize on impulse sales, according to Carol Phillips, store manager.

Candy carried in the grocery department of Bales Thriftway will be displayed on three endcap displays at the front of the store for higher visibility, instead of at the back of the store, like last year, said Alan Best, grocery manager.

At Pay Less Supermarkets, Anderson, Ind., increasing competition from mass merchandisers has simply strengthened the resolve to fight for holiday sales, according to Rod Boni, the nine-store independent's grocery, dairy and frozen merchandiser.

This year's strategy includes a stronger commitment to introducing products right after Halloween, placing it in high-traffic areas and increasing the use of multiple-unit pricing, he said.

"We're not going to lose sales to the mass merchandisers without a fight," said Boni.

Here's more of Boni and other retailers had to say:

Rod Boni grocery, dairy, frozen merchandiser

Pay Less Supermarkets Anderson, Ind.

We put a lot of thought into our Christmas candy sales, because we face strong competition from mass merchandisers, who pursue the business very aggressively.

I can't say sales have been growing in the past few years, but we haven't lost any ground.

Every summer we ask sales representatives to present their products at a meeting of our store managers and those in charge of candy sales. This helps us focus on the upcoming season and choose the best selection.

We're also making a stronger commitment to introduce the products right after Halloween, place them in high-traffic areas and increase our use of multiple unit pricing -- all factors that are important, since most seasonal sales are made on impulse.

Although we used multiple unit pricing -- such as pricing a product two for $5 -- on about 10% to 15% of our seasonal items last year, we'll more than double that figure to 25% to 30% this year.

We're not going to lose sales to the mass merchandisers without a fight.

We try to offer a good product variety during the Christmas season. As it is, we usually offer about 260 stockkeeping units. We carry all the traditional items, such as the M&M's and Hershey's Kisses that come in special Christmas packaging, along with chocolate-covered Santas and other novelty items.

Although we carry boxed chocolates and decorative tins filled with candy, these gift-type items only generate about 5% to 8% of our Christmas candy sales.

Jacquie Hassen buyer

Seaway Food Town Maumee, Ohio

Christmas sales usually increase our candy category about 33%, and although we haven't started planning for this year's season, we'll probably follow our strategy of previous years.

Right after Thanksgiving, each of our stores generally devotes a full aisle for displaying all types of Christmas items, including candy.

We carry all the traditional holiday candies, including the Hershey's Kisses and other items that feature holiday packaging.

We also carry some giftable items, such as candy-filled tins and boxed chocolates. But although there's a definite market for these items, I think our sales could be higher.

We carry a pretty conservative inventory of both. Still, the boxed chocolates make a nice contribution to our bottom line, since the larger boxes may be priced $12 to $14.

That's quite a bit higher than our average candy sale, which might peak at about $2.49.

As for advertising, we usually incorporate our candy sales into the store's overall seasonal advertising.

Carol Phillips store manager

Burgess Markets Bath, Maine

We usually increase special Christmas candy displays using individual tables and three to four endcaps throughout the store during the holidays.

We try to really distribute the product, instead of placing everything in one area, since most of the purchases are made on impulse.

Chocolate represents our No. 1-selling product, probably accounting for 37% of our holiday sales, and anything from Hershey's seems to sell the most. In fact, the brand practically sells itself.

This year we'll be carrying the holiday packaged staples, such as Hershey's Kisses, along with the company's new Hershey's Hugs.

About 25% of our sales come from ribbon candy, which is a hard candy that comes in a 1-pound box, and another 25% comes from candy-filled tins. Another big item is our peanut brittle, which also comes in a 1-pound box.

I think our customers are buying these items for their own household consumption, as well as for gifts.

We create special displays of giftable items, and my guess is that about 25% of our holiday sales come from customers purchasing items to give as gifts.

Candy canes are another big seller for us -- probably accounting for about 12% of our sales. We carry all different sizes -- individually wrapped ones that sell for a penny and 25 cents, those that come 10 to a pack, and big ones that sell for 99 cents each.

Grant MacLean candy buyer. merchandiser

Rosauers Supermarkets Spokane, Wash.

We sell a ton of candy during the Christmas season. In sales, it's right up there with Valentine's Day and second only to Halloween.

Our stores merchandise most of the product in a gondola-type of a cart, which we use for seasonal displays and usually place in our greeting card section.

Our stores carry about 100 SKUs on the average, but that number varies from store to store, depending on size and location.

We carry a number of items that could be purchased for gifts or stocking stuffers, and we try to place many of them on endcaps to take advantage of impulse sales.

For example, we carry prewrapped boxes of Russell Stover chocolates, the Life Savers story books and candy-filled tins.

We usually introduce the products right after Halloween to start building customer awareness, which is essential to the eventual sale, and also to take advantage of impulse sales.

We sell a lot of Christmas candy before Thanksgiving. I don't think it has anything to do with that holiday. I simply believe that candy on display sells.

Alan Best grocery manager

Bales Thriftway Portland, Ore.

We usually put our Christmas candy on display right after Thanksgiving.

This year, we'll be moving our displays from three endcaps at the back of the store to three at the front of the store for higher visibility.

This will really help sales right before the holiday, since a lot of people come in looking for something to bring to their office parties or whatever.

Before, the holiday candy was separate from the regular candy aisle and at the back of the store, so there was a chance that customers would miss it.

Giftable items probably represent about 20% of our holiday sales, and they generate a profit margin of 35% to 38%, which is more than the approximately 20% profit margin generated by the other holiday items.

We carry a lot of candy-filled tins and novelty chocolate items that come from a local specialty shop.

The chocolate items include a 16-ounce solid chocolate hammer that sells for $9.99 and 8-ounce, 12-ounce and 16-ounce sizes of Santas and reindeer, which sell for up to $11.99.

About 90% of our gift item sales are probably made just before the holiday.

Our average holiday sale is about $2.29 to $2.69, and about 80% of the purchases are made from such traditional items as Hershey's Kisses, M&M's and Snicker's candy bars in holiday packaging.

Yvonne "Vonnie" Noble head of in-store-made candy

Bales Thriftway Portland, Ore.

We usually start displaying our Christmas candy in small amounts right after Halloween, then bring it out in full force after Thanksgiving.

We've only been making our own candy for about four years, so it's still a fairly new category to us. Still, we're seeing it grow. While we usually sell about 50 pounds of chocolate during an average week, that figure jumps to 200 pounds during the Christmas season.

We carry truffles, chocolate-

covered candies, peppermint patties, chocolate suckers in holiday shapes and a variety of other items.

This year we hope to tie in our candy sales with the floral department by placing a display in that department. I think it'll really enhance sales. We'd like to place a floral display on our candy display, but there just isn't room.

Probably about 60% to 70% of our holiday sales are made from customers who are purchasing candy to give away as gifts.

All of our chocolate is priced $11 a pound, and most of our customers buy about half a pound. In addition, they can purchase a gift box for an additional $2 -- which brings our average sale to about $7.50.

The boxes are really elegant. We use appropriate colors -- like red and green for Christmas -- and decorate them with silk flowers on top, a gold tie and a ribbon.

We offer 12 varieties of truffles, and they've become one of our most popular items, generating about half of our holiday chocolate sales.

We offered decorated Christmas tins for the first time last year, and they increased our holiday sales about 5%. We'll be stocking even more of them this year, and I expect them to increase sales another 5%.

Although almost all of our sales are made through the service case, we will pack some boxes and tins and place them on self-service tables.

John Smolders bakery manager

West Linn Thriftway Portland, Ore.

Although we've carried candy in our in-store bakery in the past, we just started making our own in-store line last fall, so we're still pretty new at it. This is our first Christmas season.

We make about 25% of our total line in-store and get the remaining items from outside sources. We devote two shelves in a 5-foot refrigerated case to the candy.

We make chocolate caramels, orange sticks, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, mint and chocolate squares and marzipan, among other items. We also bring in truffles and mints from outside sources.

For the holiday we'll probably use molds to create chocolate Christmas items and use decorative gift boxes to be placed on a self-service display for customer convenience.

We'll also sample our chocolates and mention them in our bakery holiday advertisements.