The front end is the front line when it comes to capturing Center Store impulse sales.
While sales of traditional single-serve candy bars, gums and mints remain strong impulse items, retailers have been increasing front-end sales by merchandising salty snacks, cookies, crackers, cold soft drinks and nonfood items in their checkout lanes.
With an eye toward making this prime piece of real estate even more productive, some chains are even instituting category management plans for the front end, or getting help from wholesalers or other retail partners.
"The front end is a tremendous area to get that added sale," said Bob Dykhouse, general manager at Great Day Foods, Grand Rapids, Mich. "The customers are waiting on line -- hopefully they aren't waiting too long -- and it is a great place to pick up that incremental sale."
"Our sales at the front end have been increasing overall," said Susan Mayo, a spokeswoman for Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C.
Mayo credits much of Harris Teeter's front-end sales increases to category management, which has helped the chain broaden its product selection.
"We still merchandise candy/ gum and the like, but we have added some impulse-oriented general merchandise items, such as kids stickers, balloons, best-selling paperbacks and seasonal novelties," she said.
Tom Yarrows, category manager for Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., said his chain is considering category management for the front end.
"We practice category management and are systematically going through all of the categories in the grocery department. At this point we do not have formal plans for front-end candy, but we employ many category management principles there and [will have a plan] in the future," he said.
Yarrows said front-end gum, mint and candy sales remain strong, partly because all the top items and new candy products are merchandised on front-end racks.
"Our most popular items are the candy bars with multiple retails at three for a buck. Other products come into play on the front end, such as soda and salty snacks," he said, noting that most of the registers use a standard candy set.
"We have salty snacks at one register. They are located on the speed register which does not get closed, so we do not lose those sales. We also have Golden Books in a 'No Candy Lane' register in each store," Yarrows said, adding that Big Y's customers like having the option of not subjecting their children to the temptations of the candy racks.
Mayo said Harris Teeter also has candy-free aisles, which have been well received by shoppers. Like Big Y, Harris Teeter displays children's books in those lanes.
Lynett McCoy, candy buyer at Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas, said that while her chain does not have specific candy-free lanes, some stores do merchandise candy on every other aisle.
"[A store] may have cigarettes on one aisle, and the next will have candy; the next will have batteries, film and other nonfood items," she said.
Cub Foods, Eden Prairie, Minn., a division of Supervalu, Minneapolis, has gone a step further by expanding the front-end category to include video rentals. The chain is cross merchandising candy and snack items with video rentals in a newsstand format that has been dubbed "Extra! Extra!"
"Our Extra! Extra! concept has been hugely successful. It has exceeded expectations, and thus we are aggressively rolling it out. It is in about 80% of our 116 Cub Foods stores, and we are working to roll it out to the entire chain," said Rita Simmer, public relations manager at Supervalu.
Extra! Extra! not only sells single-size candy bars and movie rentals, but also stamps, Western Union money orders, soda, film, batteries, lottery tickets, newspapers and cigarettes. In addition, the newsstand is also a utility bill payment center and UPS shipping station.
"Extra! Extra! has controlled access to cigarettes, which has helped us in terms of controlling shrink and adding some service to that area as well," Simmer said.
Not surprisingly, as retailers turn their attention to the front end, getting new fixtures becomes a higher priority. For example, Minyard will be installing new front-end fixtures after the first of the year.
"The new fixtures will give us more variety and probably a better mix so that we are getting the most popular items up at the front end where they need to be," McCoy said.
She noted that in addition to popular candies, HBC items like Rolaids are also merchandised on the front end. "The same merchandising team works on getting both the candy and HBC items in there together," she said.
Magruder, a small chain based in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md., has also installed new fixtures, according to Mark Polsky, senior vice president.
"Since we got the new fixtures, we are selling more items in the same amount of space. The new fixtures have been working out well for us," he said, noting that he has increased the number of candy offerings at the front end.
Polsky has enlisted the help of Magruder's wholesaler, Richfood Holdings, Richmond, Va., to assist him in managing the front-end area.
"We are only 10 stores and it is a little difficult to get funding for that [kind of] space, but the wholesaler is able to do it. They are passing some of that money on to us, which is more than we had before, so everybody is happy."
While the chain is responsible for stocking the fixtures, the wholesaler makes sure that the items are presented attractively and that signage and shelf tags are visible.
Polsky said the addition of coolers stocking single-serve bottles and cans of soft drinks at some registers has also helped spur front-end sales.
"In addition to the sodas, we have snack items at the ends, including the lunch-bag-size potato chips and six-packs of the filled crackers," he said.
Dykhouse of Great Day, a small independent supplied by Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., said he also has increased the number of categories being sold at the front end.
For example, new impulse items include fresh flowers, toys, film and other general merchandise.
But the manager stressed that additional items have not cut into Center Store candy and snack sales.
"We keep adding items, rather than replacing them. We probably put more product around our registers than most retailers, but we don't do it at the expense of the traditional candy and magazine sets," he said.
Dykhouse said all of his stores have coolers at the front end for sodas and other beverages.
"We have an average of two or three coolers per store to stimulate some impulse sales. We have been doing them for the last two or three years and that has been a good fixture that has resulted in some nice impulse sales," Dykhouse said.