VOLUME IS SWEET

Surf's up in the supermarket candy department.Because summer is when kids are out of school and more inclined to make a candy purchase, many chains have designed campaigns that target the youngster. Manufacturers are assisting by pushing products that can be easily toted to the beach and packed for picnics and vacations.Movie tie-ins, kids'-oriented displays and cyber-promotions are among the special

Surf's up in the supermarket candy department.

Because summer is when kids are out of school and more inclined to make a candy purchase, many chains have designed campaigns that target the youngster. Manufacturers are assisting by pushing products that can be easily toted to the beach and packed for picnics and vacations.

Movie tie-ins, kids'-oriented displays and cyber-promotions are among the special events, ads and prizes aimed at driving sales throughout the warmer months.

Themed displays, such as that for the "Godzilla" movie scheduled to be released over the Memorial Day weekend, are being targeted as a way to win back sales that might have been lost to other retail channels.

"Themed products catch the kids' eyes," said an official for a Northwestern retail chain, who requested anonymity. "Kids see the ads on TV; they hear their friends talk about them, and they look for them in the stores. A bright display, a product they recognize, will draw them to the candy section."

And other retailers are creating promotions to link themselves with classic summer events, like the circus. A circus motif will spark late spring and summer sales at The Mad Butcher, Pine Bluff, Ark. Displays featuring clowns and the Big Top will be supported with newspaper and circular advertisements.

"Each store will have its own displays," said Roger Burks, senior vice president for retail operations. "On big sales days, some stores may have employees dressed as clowns to get the kids' attention."

Gum drops, orange slices and circus peanuts are among the candies that will be used in the promotion. Burks said The Mad Butcher plans to display large-size laydown bags on display tables, rather than in-line. Having them on the tables helps attract more attention. "They go faster," he noted.

Kids spend an estimated $50.7 billion annually, and candy is their No. 1 purchase, according to data from the Willy Wonka Candy Factory, Itasca, Ill., a division of Nestle U.S.A., Glendale, Calif.

And kids' buying power is expected to get much stronger. By the year 2000, it's predicted that the United States will see the biggest kids' generation since the Baby Boom, with the number of kids aged five to nine increasing 14%.

To reach this demographic more effectively, companies are creating interactive and participatory events. This summer, Willy Wonka will promote Nerds, Chewy Runts and Shock Tarts with a six-city tour of its Wonkamobile, a multicolored bus with a 14-foot Wonka hat on top.

The bus will make stops in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and Washington, at town halls, libraries and retail stores. Supermarkets will be included in the tour, though Willy Wonka has not decided which ones. During the stops, kids will be given samples of candy and a copy of the book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Willy Wonka will also use the Internet as a source of advertising for kids. "Wonka is focused on reinforcing the bond between the consumer and the brand through more exposure on the Internet and with contests and giveaways," said Diane Walla, a marketing assistant.

Historically, sales of chocolate tend to slow down in the summer. The reason: "Imagine a hot July day and a couple of kids in the back seat of your car eating chocolates," said Gary Evey, a spokesman for Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich. The company, which supplies 450 stores in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, experiences a shift in sales from chocolate to nonchocolate each summer, according to Evey.

Because of this, Spartan and other retailers focus on nonchocolate confections, like Gummy Bears, Swedish fish and licorice whips, which consumers can more easily transport to the beach and take on picnics and long drives to the country.

M&M/Mars, Hackettstown, N.J., will promote its two leading nonchocolate brands -- Starburst Fruit Chews and Skittles -- during the late spring and summer.

Starburst Fruit Chews will have a new mystery fruit flavor, which consumers will be invited to name by calling a toll-free phone number. Prizes for winning callers range from beach towels to a trip to Hawaii.

Promotions for Skittles include TV and newspaper ads. Kids will be eligible for prizes like a Daytona Arcade unit, home computers and Sega CD-ROMs.

"Our promotions add value to the consumer and are fun and exciting to take part in," John Tuffin, trade communications manager, said. "And for retailers, this consumer excitement translates into more sales of a high-margin item."

At Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., hard candy, jellies, gummy candy, cotton candy, licorice, sour candy, lollipops and marshmallows are in high demand during the warmer months, said Tom Yarrow, category manager.

"We display nonchocolate candy during spring and early summer," said Yarrow.

While off-shelf displays help attract consumers to these selections, so does Big Y's brightly colored bulk display. Big Y has a 12-foot custom bulk fixture that's enhanced with an overhead picture of an animated candy factory.

"We've found that consumers prefer a customized assortment of candy," said Yarrow. And while nonchocolates are the candy of choice on hot days, many retailers and manufacturers are launching campaigns aimed at building the chocolate business.

"People still eat chocolate," Burks of The Mad Butcher said. "We sell bar candies like Butterfingers and Milky Ways all summer long. But we stay away from the softer chocolates, like chocolate-covered cherries."

To boost summer sales, Hershey Chocolate U.S.A., Hershey, Pa., is involved in its largest promotion ever with the movie "Godzilla." A gigantic "Godzilla" consumer contest with a grand prize, "Movie Tickets for Life," will be featured on the packaging of its best-selling products.

In addition, Hershey's "1998 Great Outdoors Salute to Summer Fun" will kick off in June with freestanding inserts in Sunday papers, and large in-store displays at retailers announcing tie-ins to amusement parks across the country. Among the prizes is a trip for a family of four to Yellowstone National Park.

Some retailers believe that the change in seasons has little or no effect on chocolate sales.

"We're no longer living in the dark ages," said the official of the Northwestern chain. "We have air conditioning. Chocoholics can eat chocolate all year long in cool comfort and with clean hands."