Many retailers are looking to turn their salty snack aisle into a "destination category" by linking it with soft drinks and other beverages.
Among the major retailers testing the cross merchandising concept are ShopRite Supermarkets, Elizabeth, N.J., and Acme Markets, Malvern, Pa. SN has also learned that Safeway plans to integrate snacks and soft drinks in its northern California and Portland, Ore., divisions, creating a one-stop destination center.
"Safeway has identified an integrated snack section as being very important to their consumer needs," said one source close to the chain. "Safeway's goal is to combine their snacks and beverages together." Officials at Safeway's Pleasanton, Calif., headquarters could not be reached for comment.
As reported in SN, in suburban Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, Acme Markets has installed a Pop Shop section in several new or remodeled stores. The departments measure roughly 600 square feet, and are located in high-traffic perimeter areas of the store.
Cans and bottles of soda are displayed on perimeter shelves, while pallet loads of 2-liter bottles are in the center. Snacks are also featured in the center of the department and along two perimeters, one of which is devoted to club packs.
Salty snacks are literally the centerpiece of ShopRite's Clark, N.J., store. The center aisles of the store, which opened last August, have been dubbed "Beverage and Snack Plaza" and are decorated in a Victorian railroad station motif, with signage in the shape of arched exposed steel girders.
Large multicolored skylines featuring logos of Pepsi products line the top of one outer side of the two-aisle department, while those of Frito-Lay snacks line the other. Large G-scale "Chip City" electric toy trains run under the skyline, along the shelf tops of both aisles.
As reported, Wakefern Food Corp., the Elizabeth, N.J.-based cooperative wholesaler that services ShopRite stores, enlisted the help of Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay in designing the department. Officials at both companies declined to comment.
"It makes sense to merchandise salty snacks and beverages together. This way if you are throwing a party you can just go to that one area of the store and get anything," said Ann Wilkes, vice president of communications for the Snack Food Association, the Alexandria, Va.-based trade association representing the snack food industry.
John Carlson, a partner in Cannondale Associates, a sales and marketing consulting firm based in Wilton, Conn., said more than half of the major chains are looking to do more integration of their snacks and beverages this year. Some of the conversions will involve chains that copy retailers who have been successful in this kind of merchandising.
But Carlson said while teaming beverages and salty snacks makes "tremendous" sense from cross purchasing and cross use standpoints, retailers have to look for "snack solutions" to set themselves apart from the crowd.
"When the retailer starts thinking in terms of consumer solutions, then you have more of an opportunity to differentiate yourself," he said, noting that often means a change in corporate culture.
Jonathan Kramer, president of J. Brown/LMC Group, a consulting firm based in Stamford, Conn., said while snack centers are an "OK idea," because all supermarkets basically carry the same brands of salty snacks and beverages at the same price point it becomes hard for stores to differentiate their departments. He suggests salty snacks be linked up to a meal-solution center.
"Retailers can cross merchandise snacks with their deli and prepared foods. They can come up with a theme like 'Sunday is Sandwich Day.' 'Buy a sandwich from our deli and save 50 cents on a bag of chips and a bottle of soda,' " he said.
But some retailers find success in keeping their salty snacks and beverages merchandised separately.
"We tend to keep our salty snacks and beverages separate in the store. We find that works best for us," said Alan Tempest, director of marketing services at Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa. "However, we will merchandise them together occasionally, like on a big holiday like the Fourth of July."