SWEET SEASONS

Seasonal candy continues to create sales opportunities for retailers looking to cash in during the holidays, and supermarket chains are setting up creative displays and promotions to entice consumers into their stores.According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, seasonal candies for the four major holidays hit record sales for 1998, amassing a combined 5.2% increase. The main driving force for

Seasonal candy continues to create sales opportunities for retailers looking to cash in during the holidays, and supermarket chains are setting up creative displays and promotions to entice consumers into their stores.

According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, seasonal candies for the four major holidays hit record sales for 1998, amassing a combined 5.2% increase. The main driving force for seasonal candy is the "impulse" shopper, and, according to the National Confectioners Association's 1998 Trends Report, early displays reap early and repeat purchases.

"Without the store traffic during these early periods, many consumers did not get a chance to repurchase candy and, instead, made their first holiday purchase in December," said Jim Corcoran, director of trade relations at the McLean, Va.-based NCA.

The NCA estimated total seasonal sales for all trade classes represent $6 billion out of the total $22 billion retail confectionery category. Among the four major candy holidays -- Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas -- Corcoran said seasonal candy is prospering annually. "The seasonal phenomenon over the past five years has been growing at a faster rate than the overall candy category," he said.

Jeff McEllnea, chairman and chief executive officer at Einson Freeman, a brand-promotion agency based in Paramus, N.J., said seasonal promotions and displays are bigger than ever at the retail level. "Not only are they bigger, but they're more thematic and promotionally positioned within the stores," said McEllnea.

"Halloween has become the second-largest commercial holiday and retail has gotten behind it in a big way. Retailers now feel that this starts the pre-holiday momentum and it's become bigger than the slow ramp up we used to have," added McEllnea.

Certified Grocers of California, Los Angeles, takes its candy operations seriously and in turn has seen seasonal candy sales thrive. "We've had a huge increase with seasonal candy," said Michael Ortiz, new business development manager for full-service candy at Certified. "If you take Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas a year ago, in the past two seasons we've done as much business as the past four combined." According to Ortiz, the independent chains that Certified supplies run their seasonal bulk candy at 99 cents a pound. Certified features $2.99, or two for $5, for 13-ounce bags of national-brand candy like Hershey's and Nestle, and is currently receiving soft drink display material for Christmas.

In conjunction with its seasonal spread, Certified is featuring heavy display sets in its stores. Ortiz said an average set has a base 4-foot by 4-foot custom rack that stands 5 feet tall with seasonal novelty merchandise hanging off it. The displays will also be tied in with national-brand candy (Nestle, Hershey's) and plush animals along with other items. "Display size really depends on the space at store level because the square footage varies greatly," said Ortiz. "It could range from a 4-foot dump-in fixture to a 10- to 12-linear-foot space that we run themes around and have merchandise hang off the sides."

Certified builds the displays and ships them out quickly to retailers. This holiday season, Certified will be getting retailers involved by running local promotions. "We will be running a coloring contest during this holiday season in which children can draw and color a picture based on a holiday theme and the winners can receive a 5-pound Hershey bar, gift certificates and movie passes," Ortiz said. "We plan to do this every holiday after this. Because candy consumption during the holiday is growing, it's an untapped area in some other chains. We feel that other stores could be missing out on huge potential sales," he added.

Another chain that is benefiting from seasonal candy sales is Brown & Cole, Bellingham, Wash. David Cook, category manager at Brown & Cole, is seeing a change in the seasonal selection. "In the past we would promote 13- and 16-ounce bags of candy for $1.99," said Cook. "We are now promoting the larger 25- and 30-ounce bags of brands like M&M Mars."

The 36-store Brown & Cole chain has been gearing up for the holiday season with new marketing strategies for its stores. According to Cook, there are three areas within the store that merchandise seasonal candy. For example, this year when consumers walk in the main entrance at a Brown & Cole store, they will see a large Halloween display ranging in size from 16 to 28 feet. The displays hold a variety of bags and buckets of candy, costumes and novelty items. Spiders, goblins and ghost decorations hang off the walls and ceilings.

Brown & Cole also features displays at the checkout stands. Seasonal candy in the 1.2-ounce package is placed there, and Cook admits a big sales impact happens at the checkout. At the newly developed secondary location, seasonal candy is cross merchandised in front of a carbonated beverage display near the end wall of the store and is arranged in a waterfall set. Items such as 4-pound bags of Tootsie Roll candies that contain 15 different items are present in this location. Waterfall displays are usually 4 feet wide, 3 feet high and 12 to 16 inches deep.

"Chocolate sells well with pop," said Cook. "We are seeing a lot more sales with this secondary location. Seasonal candy is such an impulse item that the more places you put it, usually in high-traffic areas, the more chances you have for purchases."

According to Cook, Brown & Cole will do similar displays for Christmas. "We will set up a seasonal table that will feature giant-size candy bars like the large Hershey bars for baking at 99 cents at retail," added Cook. "We'll put them out in November and then in December we'll take one of the brands and put them in the main holiday display.

"For seasonal candy to be successful, you must do two things," Cook noted. " You must first have the right mix of items and do a good job decorating. Secondly, secondary locations help by creating any other displays in high-traffic locations away from other seasonal displays."

Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., does a lot of seasonal promotions. According to Randy Slentz, candy buyer, the Save Mart coupon book for October contains one full page devoted entirely to candy. During the last three weeks in October, seasonal candy is abundant in every circular. "We also have massive displays in all of our stores. Pallet modules and hand-stacked store-built displays are also present," said Slentz. "Sales are increasing and displays help a lot.

"Stores that get it out quickly and keep it full will see an increase in their sales," added Slentz. "Stores that get it in August and sit on it until October will see problems."

One chain has not seen any growth with seasonal candy. B & B Cash Grocery Stores in Tampa, Fla., an 18-store chain, has never devoted any additional space to seasonal candy and other items. "We simply just carry normal box-type displays and we're not doing anything special," said Bob Edenfield, candy buyer at B & B. "If we were a bigger chain we'd have more to offer. We're not experiencing any sales increases due to displays.

"Basically, we're just trying to hang on to our market share and we're not building any new stores, so we're really flat from year to year," added Edenfield.