Theater boxes of candy are occupying a sweet spot on supermarket shelves.
At a time when small indulgences reign supreme, consumers are making pre-movie pit stops there for candy priced 75% below what they might pay at the cinema. Movie boxes are also starring in a stand-out role, as their value appeals to consumers making weekly shopping trips. Priced comparably to king-size candy bars, these boxes boast more candy than most single-packs.
“If you look at the non-chocolate sector of candy over the last three years, theater boxes have probably been the fastest growing,” said Jim Corcoran, vice president of trade relations for the National Confectioners Association, Washington.
During the past year, theater box candy sales have increased by 13.8% in food, drug and mass channels vs. a year ago — nearly three times the total candy category growth rate of 4.7%, according to Mike and Ike maker Just Born, citing figures from Information Resources Inc.
“Every retailer we talk to is seeing increases in theater box candy sales,” Corcoran said.
Take, for instance, Food Lion's Bloom, which is reporting a whopping 70% lift in unit sales of candy in this form over the last year.
Spokeswoman Karen Peterson speculated the boost may have been spurred by a category reset in January. Aimed at making its candy section easier to shop, Bloom's movie box selection was segregated from other candy types.
“Some additional varieties were also added,” she said.
LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES
Faced with rising ticket prices, consumers are making the most of their discretionary dollars by shopping grocers' theater box candy section.
• In 2008, the average movie ticket price in the U.S. rose to $7.18, a 4.4% increase over 2007.
SOURCE: Motion Picture Association of America
A similar strategy was employed at Jungle Jim's International Market, Fairfield, Ohio, according to candy buyer Marion Stricker. Two years ago, she created a 16-foot Movie Tyme candy section to accommodate the store's 87-SKU theater box selection. Varieties include Mike and Ike, Whoppers, Bubble Yum bubble gum, Raisinets, Starbursts and Skittles. Twenty flavors of twists (Twizzler-type candies) have since been added.
“It's been a big hit from day one,” she said.
Contributing to its success is a single price point of $1.39, and a movie theater two miles down the road, Stricker said.
“People make a special trip in for theater boxes, the twists and the [25-cent] boxes of Ferrara Pan-type items” such as Jaw Breakers, Lemonheads, Red Hots and Atomic Fireballs, she noted. “People may be giving up their vices, but the sweet tooth is not one of them.”
The trend has become more pronounced at a time when the average price of a movie ticket is rising. Last year, it climbed 4.4% to $7.18, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
Candy sold at the movie theater falls into the pricey $4 to $5 range. So given movie candy's portability, it makes sense that cash-strapped theater-goers would stop at their local food store, rather than go without their favorite snacks.
“I don't think you can get the popcorn under your sweater or a Diet Pepsi, but I've never had the Gestapo stop me to say, ‘You can't bring the theater box in,’” said Richard George, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia.
He said that movie candy also appeals to those for whom the price of admission may be prohibitive. Last year, movie admissions were down 2.6% to $1.36 billion, according to the MPAA.
In preparation for a Blockbuster night, consumers are adding these sweet treats to their cart to recreate a movie experience at home.
Such occasions present secondary placement opportunities that often go neglected by retailers, George said.
“When's the last time you walked into the supermarket and saw a sign that says, ‘You have to [rent] “Marley & Me” and while you're crying your eyes out, eat a Raisinet?’” he said. Positioning theater boxes next to movie gift cards and inexpensive forms of entertainment like computer games also makes sense.
“If there is anything fun going on in the store, candy should be right there next to it,” George noted.
Top 10 movie candy types distributed by Associated Foods Stores:
1. Hot Tamales/Red Vines
Also working in movie boxes' favor is packaging that allows for a billboard effect, Corcoran said.
Traditionally, the candy category has been difficult to shop, since laydown bag brands can be hard to identify.
“But whether [movie] boxes are laying down flat or on their side, they display themselves extremely well,” Corcoran said.
Some of the independent supermarkets that Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City, distributes to merchandise theater box shippers beside their DVD rental machines. More than a quarter (26%) of all AFS movie box sales are attributed to such displays. AFS theater box candy retails for between 99 cents and $1.49.
“The consumer is still looking to treat themselves, and with many retailers utilizing Redbox DVD rental machines, it's a one-stop shop with value,” said Steve Skinner, candy buyer for AFS.
This type of candy is also gaining attention in AFS' candy sections. Overall sales of theater boxes are up 10% in dollar sales there, vs. last year.
“Consumers are looking for a value right now, and you can purchase a theater box in you local grocery store for 75% cheaper than at your local theater,” noted Skinner.
With its eight to 10 SKU selection of movie candies, Highland Park Markets, Farmington, Conn., hasn't noticed a dramatic sales surge, said grocery manager Tim Cummiskey.
“Nothing really crazy is happening,” he said.
He does note that certain varieties have more seasonal appeal. “During little league season, theater boxes of Bazooka Bubble Gum sell well, as do the large Hershey bars in the summer time since people use them to make s'mores,” he said.