Starting with the delightfully ghoulish Halloween season, bulk candy sales are going to go bump in the night. And it's a bump that, at its seasonal peaks, can have retailers seeing double, or better, when it comes to sales volume.
By throwing secondary displays, eye-catching decorations and holiday favorites into the merchandising cauldron, retailers can't help but see bulk candy cook, said chain executives.
"Seasonal candy certainly helps bulk sales," said Kim Lanhardt, produce director at Cub Foods Stores' Georgia division, based in Atlanta. "We sell individually wrapped items for Halloween and Christmas candies for $1.58 a pound. Usually that'll double or triple our normal sales."
Likewise, at Randallstown, Md.-based Metro/Basics, seasonal sales double, even triple in volume for bulk candy. According to George Handley, vice president of produce sales, the stores bring in and merchandise twice the amount of bulk candy in the form of extra shippers.
Hugh Williams, vice president of produce and floral at Rice Food Markets, Houston, said that through the holiday corridor, stretching from mid-September through Valentine's Day, he expects overall bulk candy sales to increase about 15%, based on past performances. "Every year during this time, sales increase. Candy sales really go up when the weather cools down."
Jack Lanners, director of produce at Glen's Markets, Gaylord, Mich., concurred, saying that a 15% uptick in bulk candy sales is the seasonal norm for bulk candy volume.
"I see good increases in sales, particularly for Halloween. We see good movement in our Pick-A-Mix candies from Brach's. That's one of the best times of the year for candy," he said.
Halloween candy sales are important, said retailers, because they start the ball rolling, and lead to increased sales for the important Christmas and Valentine's Day seasons.
Glen's Markets, like most retail operators, began displaying the Halloween items in the middle of September to get the most out of the spookiest of holidays at the earliest opportunity.
"You can't sell witches in November. You don't want any carryover," explained Krista Galde, bulk foods coordinator at Thrifty Foods, Burlington, Wash. "So we encourage our
stores to decorate displays in a central location to draw people's attention to the candy."
Galde said her company's seasonal items are usually advertised to generate turns, thanks to incentives from major candy companies. She oversees some 250 to 300 bulk food items, half of which are confections.
Whether using the creativity of store employees or manufacturer-supplied promotional shippers, retailers said decorating the department to get consumers in the holiday shopping mode is a big part of their bulk candy strategies.
"We come out with an additional display for the holidays. We decorate it and advertise the bulk candy as well," said Rice's Williams.
"Where room permits, we try to set up special seasonal displays for those candies," said Glen's Lanners, noting that the extra displays generally are attached to the year-round bulk display or "an alternate, large display somewhere else in the store."
Manufacturers such as Brach's also supply display units, he added. "Some of them look like a haunted house, a goblin or something like that. Generally these will rotate or have something mechanical going on."
Lanners also conducts merchandising contests for his stores to see who can come up with the best holiday displays.
At Metro/Basics, seasonal displays are kept separate from the regular 24-foot wall of bulk candy, said Handley, who uses vendor promotional shippers and modules.
Handley said each store will feature more than one shipper. "Wherever there's an open space, we put in a candy shipper or module."
What work best inside the shippers and bulk bins are perennial holiday, candy favorites, said retailers. The seasons open the merchandising windows wide so that specialty candies can incite greater interest in the bulk section and bump up impulse purchases.
"We pick out certain items like candy corn, individually wrapped pumpkins and, of course, caramels for Halloween," said Williams of Rice Food Markets. "For Christmas we'll bring in items such as Starlight mints, which is the biggest seller. And now they also have spearmint Starlight mints."
Glen's Lanners said, "For this time of year, we bring in what we don't carry on a normal basis in the traditional bulk-type candies. We carry the candy corn, an Indian corn, an autumn mix, the mellowcream pumpkins, in addition to the Pick-A-Mix wrapped varietals. Brach's wraps its toffee roll Royal candy in special, black-and-orange Halloween foil. They call them Fright Bites."
"We always bring in seasonal-type things -- pumpkins, witches and foil-wrapped chocolates from several different manufacturers. They always help sales," said Thrifty's Galde.
James Breen, president and partner of Breen's Bells, a three-store independent based in Palmyra, N.Y., decorates and advertises his bulk seasonal candy, which features candy corn and foil-wrapped products. His efforts increase bulk candy sales noticeably, he said.
Carving any kind of a niche in the playground of Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets is a challenge, Breen added. He said Wegmans has a formidable bulk program that leads the market.
For example, the chain devoted about 35 feet and 40 SKUs to a bulk Halloween candy display in its Eastway Marketplace store, it was noted during a visit earlier this month. There was a European slanted table with bite-size candy bars and holiday wrapped favorites such as Hershey Kisses and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups ($2.99 a pound), while 3-foot bulk bins were used to merchandise candy corn and mellowcreams (99 cents a pound).
Decorated with ghosts, witches and giant candy corn, the department also featured a section of open acrylic bulk bins with items such as caramel creams and Bazooka bubble gum. For those shoppers in a hurry, Wegmans had prepackaged 19-ounce containers of mellocreams and candy corn throughout the department.
In the San Francisco market, Andronico's, based in Albany, Calif., is bringing a new, upscale twist to seasonal bulk candy.
"For Halloween, I ordered chocolate creams from Italy," explained John Schweska, Andronico's wine and specialty food buyer. "They come wrapped in foil the shape of either walnuts or hazelnuts; there are four different foils."
Whether upscale chocolates or staples such as candy corn, retailers said bulk candy sales, on the whole, are trending upward.
"Overall, bulk is increasing," said Cub Foods' Lanhardt. "I think people purchase bulk candy because they want to be able to mix chocolates and nonchocolates and buy the amount they want, whether it's 2 or 3 pounds. It gives them a good variety. With the packaged products, they don't have a choice."
"Packaged candy is [priced] so high now," said Rice's Williams. On the other hand, bulk candy runs around $1.79 and $1.99 a pound, he said.
"People can buy however much they want and they can mix and match items. This way, everybody gets exactly what items they want. You please every member of the family," said Williams. "The other thing is it's individually wrapped. This is better for the customer's safety and sanitation."
Thrifty's Galde said customers aren't the only ones concerned about the sanitation of bulk candy. "Now schools don't allow children to bring unwrapped candy to school, so it's used at home," she explained. "People buy unwrapped candy mainly for at-home use. They put it out in a dish on the coffee table or decorate cupcakes with it."
Of course, there are no sure things -- whether wrapped or unwrapped, seasonal or year-round -- when it comes to consumer tastes.
A buyer at Columbus, Ohio-based Big Bear Stores, said its consumers have tired of bulk candy and sales have been sliding.