Though their days are numbered, limited-edition sweets with movie themes are building excitement in the candy aisle.
Some retailers create elaborate displays with a wide array of sweets, candy collectibles and licensed products from other departments. Others simply swap out everyday candies for those touting film-focused wrappers.
Whatever the strategy, industry experts note that supermarkets are in a position to cash in on candy during these short-lived promotional periods. Although these treats are temporary, opportunities abound year-round for blockbuster-based promotions.
Dahl's Food Markets, Des Moines, Iowa, is one supermarket that likes to stick to the basics. According to Mark Brase, vice president of marketing there, Dahl's leaves it up to suppliers to mix in movie-focused candy on occasion.
“They sometimes send us items that promote movies and sporting events, but we don't buy much novelty candy otherwise,” said Brase. “We normally limit our selection to the same brands and package sizes that we already carry at the checkout or in the candy aisle. The only difference is that they might be dressed in different packaging for a while.”
Dahl's carried Bubble Yum's giant green gum balls at the checkout this past summer to help promote “The Incredible Hulk.” Brase didn't special-order them, though. One of the chain's suppliers made the decision to send some to each store, he said.
Dahl's stipulations for substitutes like these include that they not take up too much additional space. On-pack movie messages and even slight flavor changes are fine — like the hint of chai and coconut Mars added to its Snickers bars and its Mint Crisp M&M's, both of which were offered during an “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” summer promotion earlier this year.
While the aforementioned items are acceptable, the retailer steers clear of large-scale licensed promotions, Brase told SN.
“Because the window of time for a movie promotion is so short, it is too much of a risk for us to invest in a lot of different candies,” he said. “We don't want to get stuck with extra inventory after a promotion for a movie ends, even if the manufacturer will pick up some of the tab.”
Novelty candies have not fared well lately. According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, sales of novelty chocolates decreased 22.8% to $5.9 million, and novelty non-chocolate candy dipped 2.7% to $241.1 million, during the 52 weeks ending Aug. 10, 2008, in supermarkets, drug stores and mass retail outlets, excluding Wal-Mart.
Ted Taft, managing director, Meridian Consulting Group, Westport, Conn., believes that one reason sales are so low is because retailers are being too timid. He feels that limited editions not only entice regular sweets eaters to grab a bag or bar based on the latest blockbuster, they also attract candy collectors and movie buffs.
“The biggest benefit comes from these occasional users,” he said. “This is an opportunity for retailers to offer items that shoppers can't always buy, so the candies — especially unique products — are viewed as collectibles, bringing in a whole new crowd of consumers.”
According to James Field, candy buyer for Cleveland-based Heinen's Fine Foods, Halloween is the biggest licensing season of all. This fall, the endcaps, center-aisle bins and candy aisles at Heinen's will be filled with trick-or-treat-sized goodies adorned with High School Musical, Shrek, Batman, Disney Princesses, Madagascar and other brands aimed at kids.
“Our biggest candy season of the year is definitely Halloween, because there are so many tie-ins to movies,” said Field. “The holiday is the perfect time for licensors, since kids are dressing up like their favorite movie characters.”
Exact film release dates are not an issue during this time. Children will look back over several years of films when selecting their Halloween costumes, and they are attracted to candy referencing just about any movie made during their lifetime, noted Field.
Halloween aside, Heinen's also brings in small quantities of movie-themed candy, most of which consists of newly wrapped, single-serving bars sold at the checkout.
“One of the risks with carrying candies like these is the perception shoppers have once the promotion is over,” said Field. “It's a lot like holiday candy. Once the movie is released and the promotion is over, people start to wonder if the candy has passed its sell-by date.”
Some candy makers have found creative ways to curtail this concern. Toblerone, for example, puts holiday-themed overwraps on its chocolate products. These can be easily removed and discarded once the season has passed. If other manufacturers followed suit, retailers might be more apt to take on limited-edition licensed candies, said Field.
For some supermarkets, space and customer base prevent movie promotions from proliferating. D'Agostino Supermarkets, New York, is not able to stock many novelty items for these reasons, said Anderson Chung, spokesman for the retailer.
“We used to carry DVDs, but we don't anymore because of lack of space, and limited-edition candies are kind of in the same boat,” he said. “Both require additional shelf space or room for displays, but we choose to use that space for other products that our shoppers buy year-round.”
Because most of the retailer's shoppers have higher levels of education and higher incomes, most are not interested in candy that promotes movies anyway, he added. Only some simple replacements are allowed, like the Batman-branded Reese's Cups and KitKat bars that replaced the regular versions there in July.
There are a number of factors that retailers should consider before committing to licensed confections, advises Marty Brochstein, senior vice president of industry relations and information, Licensing Industry Merchandiser's Association, New York. He suggests holding out for sequels.
“Often, the first film in a series does not have as much promotional activity,” said Brochstein. “If it does well at the box office and a sequel is made, it is less risky to invest in the license, because it is deemed a proven winner.”
According to Rob Auerbach, president, Candyrific, the Louisville, Ky.-based manufacturer of licensed candy products, whether a movie is gender-specific or gender-neutral also matters. “Kung Fu Panda,” for instance, was more of a boy's movie, so Auerbach opted to pass up the opportunity to make candies boasting licensed characters from the film. It didn't make sense to invest in something that only targeted half of all young consumers, he said.
Certain varieties of candy are higher risk than others and should be considered accordingly, added Auerbach.
“When ‘Shrek the Third’ came out, Mars simply did a wrap with a Shrek label, a change that can only help sales and won't deter anyone from buying the candy,” he noted. “It's also a surer thing when a brand like M&M's is involved, because they do a lot of advertising on their own.”
Auerbach advises supermarkets that want to boost sales to get more creative with displays. Instead of stocking each licensed good in its corresponding category, everything should be together in one location — candy bars, lollipops, cereal bowls, plush toys and anything else bearing the brand.
“Retailers can make increased sales by piggybacking off of other licensed products, too,” he said. “They can put one set of licensed products on an endcap and another set on an adjacent endcap, making licensing the theme that ties it all together.”
Auerbach cited High School Musical and Hannah Montana as a perfect pairing. “High School Musical 3” will be in theaters this October. “Hannah Montana: The Movie” will not be out until May of 2009, but the brand also has a music theme, which connects the two. And, using something like Hannah Montana, which has an ongoing television series on the Disney Channel, creates enough inertia to keep kids interested whether there is a movie out or not, he said.
Beyond plain old candy, confections with a collectible component offer additional sales opportunities. Candyrific makes 3-D movie characters. A battery-operated Shrek fan that sits atop a vial of candy is one item in the company's line.
Brochstein also believes that collectibles can rake in profits.
“Some movie and television characters develop a cult following and will attract high school and college students and adults, as well as kids,” he noted. “There are a lot of opportunities to cash in on licensed candies. It's just a matter of picking the right licenses and the right products.”
Using a little logic, retailers can make a lot of money off this type of promotion with very little effort, he added.