The supermarket candy battle in central New Jersey can be likened to a dramatic play, with each retailer taking on a different role.
In this high-growth market, the presentation of the candy category is an important scene and offers a preview of whether a store's overall presentation will be a "must see."
After SN's visit last month to Monmouth County, ShopRite clearly came away as being the lead performer, with Pathmark appearing as a solid supporting actor. The cast was rounded out by Foodtown, Grand Union, A&P and Acme stores.
ShopRite and Pathmark take center stage in this area, in part because of their size. They are the top two chains in terms of both number of stores and average size of stores, according to local observers.
The larger stores give ShopRite and Pathmark a clear edge when it comes to merchandising and generally allow them to offer more of a selection than their smaller counterparts.
Those with smaller roles -- and smaller stores -- tend to specialize in a specific candy segment, like pegged candy, upscale chocolates, kids' novelties, gummy confections or low-fat varieties.
They are also likely to use creative methods of cross-merchandising with other departments in an effort to drive candy sales. Grand Union uses cross-merchandising clip strips, while Foodtown stocks cough drops and vitamin C tablets with its traditional candy mix.
In-store signs and attention to candy in circulars and newspaper advertising was comparable across the board.
Following is a review of the candy presentations offered by the central New Jersey market's major players.
ShopRite: Big on Tie-Ins
The ShopRite stores visited by SN were operated by Foodarama Supermarkets, Freehold, a member of Wakefern Food Corp., the cooperative wholesaler headquartered in Elizabeth.
ShopRite has the resources to perform well in the candy category. It has the space, inventory and merchandising savvy to entertain a larger share of the central New Jersey market than the other chains, as evidenced by its showcase store in Neptune. This store outshines the others because of its extensive variety, made possible by its 113,000 square feet of selling area. Though no other stores in the chain are quite that large, all are large enough to offer more stockkeeping units than the company's competitors, as well as cross-merchandise in several departments and effectively promote seasonal items in an aisle separate from the traditional mix.
ShopRite's cross-merchandising strategy reaches impulse buyers whether they're in the produce section near the 50 bins of bulk candy at the Freehold location, coming out of the meat department straight into a table display of new licorice products at the Neptune location, or walking down the seasonal aisle in the Middletown store.
When it comes to display fixtures, all of the ShopRite stores visited by SN had wire racks that slant toward the customer, making it easy to see the products.
When displaying larger chocolate bars, ShopRite, like some others in the market, achieves increased visibility through the use of plastic, transparent fixtures that allow shoppers to see the whole face of the item. The fixtures are spring-loaded, so when one bar is removed, the next is pushed to the front.
Pathmark: Display's the Thing
Every production needs a strong No. 2 player. Pathmark Stores fills that role in central New Jersey.
Like ShopRite, Pathmark, Woodbridge, tries to market to all types of consumers. Although Pathmark doesn't have any 113,000-square-foot stores, its stores are generally comparable in size to most ShopRites.
During SN's visit, Pathmark employees at the Marlboro location were setting up their Valentine's Day displays. Shoppers there were greeted as they entered the store by a 12-foot pink, red and white display with about 10 SKUs of upscale boxed chocolates.
Out of the five or so groups of shoppers who walked in while SN was observing the display, three commented about the upcoming holiday.
Though all the Pathmark locations visited by SN included shippers and racks of candy in other departments, they were not as plentiful as in ShopRite stores. The Freehold store included a display, separate from its seasonal one, of upscale boxed chocolates and hard candies. On the display was a sign that read: "Do you need a card to go with your purchase? Our greeting card department is located in aisle 5."
Foodtown: Warehouse Style
Foodtown stores visited by SN were owned and operated by Food Circus Supermarkets, Middletown, and Norkus Enterprises, Point Pleasant Beach. Foodtown stores can best be described as understudies trying to make the most of every chance to show they're as good as the "star" performers.
The Norkus-owned locations were generally newer and offered a better presentation. Both Norkus stores visited by SN had a warehouse-style atmosphere. Along the top of the warehouse-style metal unit were kids' toys. Seven shelves were dedicated to candy at these stores, with additional products warehoused on top of the unit. The length of each department was not as long as those at ShopRite and Pathmark.
In addition to trying to corner those consumers interested in traditional bagged candy, Foodtown also strives for those customers who want sugar-free and fat-free products. It had one of the largest selections of those items, about 24 SKUs.
A&P: Getting Particular
Though a powerhouse in several areas of the country -- and the state -- A&P makes no more than a cameo appearance in Monmouth County.
Like Foodtown, A&P, Montvale, N.J., is another one of the players targeting a particular type of consumer. In A&P's case, it's the upscale chocolate bar buyer. The stores SN visited, one in Marlboro and one in Holmdel, stocked about 50 upscale chocolate bar SKUs. Most other retailers only carried about 20.
Additionally, both stores strive to please the customer who is looking for gummy confections, upscale boxed chocolates, low-fat and sugar-free products, and pegged items.
Grand Union: Pegging Order
Like A&P, Grand Union's role in this area is short and sweet.
The Wayne, N.J.-based chain is very heavy in pegged candy, merchandising about 80 SKUs.
Both Grand Union stores visited by SN used some cross-merchandising strips and worked in a few shippers in other parts of the store.
Acme: Extra Credit
Acme Markets, Malvern, Pa., is another powerhouse that plays not much more than the role of an extra in this market.
The company's Elberon, N.J., location, however, offers a similar format to those in Acme's back yard, Philadelphia.
In Elberon, the candy aisle is early in the shopping pattern, near the produce and bakery departments. A Brach's Pick-A-Mix display offers shoppers the choice of bulk vs. packaged candy.