To boost snack sales, Albertson's stores in Houston and Austin, Texas, are using a variety of strategies -- like creating a one-stop shop in some units or merchandising snacks in secondary or high-traffic locations.
nt destination center, according to a recent annual report. (Officials at Albertson's could not be reached for comment.)
As the definition of "snack" broadens, retailers like Albertson's no doubt will continue to experiment with merchandising techniques and category configuration, in an effort to make shopping the snack section that much easier for consumers.
And paying attention to the snack category will pay off, since it has been a steady source of revenue for supermarket chains. In 1997 sales of snack foods totaled almost $16.44 billion, up a little more than 6.8% from 1996's figure of $15.32 billion, according to the 1998 State of The Snack Food Industry Report, published by the Snack Food Association, Alexandria, Va.
The majority of snack foods are purchased in supermarkets, according to the report, with the exception of meat snacks and pork rinds. For example, almost 47% of potato chips and 46% of tortilla chips were purchased in grocery stores in 1997.
Albertson's innovative snack merchandising strategies are most apparent at the chain's new store in The Woodlands, an upscale Houston suburb.
At the 68,000-square-foot unit, which opened May 6, customers don't have to go to different aisles to find candy, nuts, popcorn, cookies, crackers, peanuts, chips or other snacks. Instead, Albertson's has put them all together in an easily identifiable area called Snack Central.
Snack Central is configured as a square. Shoppers can peruse the entire section with a quick glance, since the center of Snack Central is filled with four free-standing aisles, 4-feet high and 20-feet long, while the taller shelves, each 6-feet high and 32- feet long, are set on the periphery. Snack Central is located near the main entrance, on the opposite side of the store from where the grocery aisles are situated.
Snack foods also are located in other areas of the Woodlands store. Although Snack Central has a good selection of chips, a much larger section of chips can be found near the beverages in another part of the store.
Likewise, there is some candy in Snack Central, but most of it is located in Candy City, a bulk-candy section. Both Snack Central and Candy City are considered one-stop destinations centers.
Candy City is also a destination stop in the 65,000-square-foot West Lake Hills unit in Austin. The 700-square-foot bulk section, located in the back of the store, merchandises candy, grains, nuts and assorted snacks in plexiglass bins. The section has more than 500 items, including a few bulk grocery stock-keeping units, like rice and flour; dried fruits, sesame sticks and trail mixes; and numerous selections of wrapped and unwrapped candies.
This unit, one of Albertson's newest in Austin, also gives snacks top billing, since they are situated in a wide aisle in the middle of the store, right before the checkout lanes. The aisle is made up of two 40-foot long gondolas, on which chips, pretzels, snack mix, popcorn and nuts are merchandised. Free-standing racks in the middle of the snack aisle are used to stock Cracker Jacks, peanuts and snack-sized cookies.
The majority of chips are on one side of the aisle, including products by Frito-Lay and Albertson's. During SN's visit, Dorito's (two for $3) and Tostito's (99 cents) were on Bonus Buy. On the other side of the aisle are better-for-you products, like pretzels and specialty Terra Chips.
Cookies and crackers and candy are located on different aisles in this store.
Albertson's emphasis on snacks was evident in June's newspaper circular, which advertised specials on a range of cookies and crackers in Austin stores. A shopper's guide for the same period had two pages dedicated to snacks, including a large selection of candy, sunflower seeds, Rice Krispies treats, Planters peanuts, pretzels and Fiddle Faddle.
In other Albertson's units that SN visited in Austin, snack merchandising strategies vary. In some stores, chips are on the same aisle as candy, while in others, chips are merchandised with nuts and popcorn.
Candy and chips are merchandised together on 45-foot-long gondolas in the unit on Pleasant Valley Road in East Austin. Moreover, at the end of the candy aisle are 4 feet of seeds, corn nuts and Cracker Jacks.
Most of the popcorn and nut products can be found in the next aisle, with the salad dressings, pickles and olives. The snack section itself is placed toward the middle of the store, next to the frozen-food section.
The chip gondola is dominated by Frito-Lay products. There are seven flavors of Frito's, seven flavors of Tostito's and four flavors of Dorito's.
In the middle of the aisle is a 5-foot section that displays Albertson's private-label brand of pretzels, cheese puffs, potato chips and corn chips. The products are priced slightly lower than Frito-Lay.
For example, a bag of Albertson's brand corn chips is priced at $1.59, compared to $1.99 for Tostito's. A Frito-Lay representative said Albertson's used to integrate its private label snacks with national brands, but recently has begun segregating them.
Although the Wow! brand of chips made with substitute fat is in the chip aisle, a separate "better-for-you" selection, is placed up against a wall and several aisles away, near the produce and bakery departments.
This better-for-you set is 12-feet long and includes Rold Gold pretzels and Frito-Lay's full line of baked products. It also includes baked tortilla chips by Guiltless Gourmet and products from The New Organics Co.
Chips are also located elsewhere in the store. A row of Albertson's brand corn chips lines the top of a refrigerator coffin full of salads, cheeses and prepared meals in the Quick Fixin' section. Snack-sized bags are for sale near the checkout line.
Other snack items are promoted in several areas of this store. An endcap in the middle of the store advertises $1.99 Lay's chips and dips.
Snacks are also cross merchandised with other products. For example, one endcap has cases of Shiner Beer and Planter's peanuts. Another has a $1.99 special on Tostito's and IBC soft drinks.
At the Albertson's at Anderson Mill and U.S. Highway 183 in North Austin, one of the chain's older units, chips, nuts and popcorn are found together in aisle, but candy, cookies and crackers are in a separate locations.
While the chips are on aisle 16, nuts are on aisle 9 and cookies and crackers are on aisle 12. Chips are located in the back of the store on two 45-foot-long gondolas. This location is down from the soft drink section, also in aisle 16, and one aisle over from the cold beer case.
As in the Pleasant Valley store, the emphasis is on Frito-Lay products. In this store, chips occupy one gondola and the back half of the second gondola. Albertson's pretzels, tortilla chips, cheese puffs and potato chips are grouped together in a three-foot section.
On the front half of the second gondola are 8 feet of popcorn products. Albertson's Janet Lee brand is prominently placed, with a sign that compared its $1.69 price to $2.29 for Orville Redenbacher. During SN's visit, Pop-Secret was on Bonus Buy for $1.69.
Popcorn is followed by 9 feet of canned chips and snacks. Rice cakes follow the canned snacks, also in 9 feet of space.
Following the rice cakes are the better-for-you and substitute-fat products. Also here are pretzels and fat-free popcorn.
SN saw low-fat or no-fat snack alternatives in all the Albertson's units visited. Through 1996, these categories grew rapidly, according to Snack Food Association's 1997 annual state of the industry report. Sales were $5.3 billion in 1996, up 9.2%. But this year's report noted that in 1997 sales leveled off for lower-fat products, and dollar sales for low-fat, reduced-fat and no-fat potato chips were almost identical to the previous year.