While many consumers frequent the bulk candy section of supermarkets as a planned destination, numerous others can't resist the spontaneous lure of multicolored candies that fill strategically placed bulk bins. Over the past few years, retailers have become increasingly aware of this mixed bag of consumers.
Consequently, they're focusing on making the location of their bulk candy departments more convenient for destination shoppers. They're also making an effort to offer a wider variety of items to appease frequent shoppers, as well as to entice additional impulse buyers.
Like real estate, the success of a bulk candy department relies on location, location, location. As the bulk candy bins are easily moved from one section of a store to another, retailers have begun experimenting with location to understand which areas of their stores are more effective than others.
Through this trial and error, most have found that bulk candy attracts the most shoppers when placed in high traffic areas, such as the produce department or along the perimeter of the store.
"We've found that we have the most success with our bulk candies and bulk foods in general when we place them in the produce section of our stores," said Bob Spengler, vice president of The Food Maxx Stores, a supermarket division of Save Mart Supermarkets, based in Modesto, Calif. "Every consumer who comes into our stores is funneled through produce, which places our bulk items right in their path and encourages spontaneous purchases."
To offer a variety of candies to consumers, The Food Maxx adds seasonal items to its bulk candy department regularly. The number of items -- 100 stockkeeping units -- in the supermarket's bulk candy section remains consistent and seasonal items are merely rotated into the assortment during each specific holiday season.
"We have a major push on seasonal candies during Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas, and promote them in circulars to attract more shoppers," Spengler said. He added that the chain's bulk candy ads typically include a photo of the bulk section with a tag line boasting "an assortment of candy for all your [holiday] needs."
However, he said that individual brand names and prices are not usually mentioned in any promotions.
The bulk candy section at Handy Andy Supermarkets, a grocery chain based in San Antonio, is located near the front of the store where every shopper must pass on their way to checkout. The chain carries only Brach's bulk candy, which comes complete with Brach's-branded bins and an assortment of about 10 different candies.
According to store manager Lupe Anguiano, the decision to use Brach's was based on the concept that "shoppers are very particular about buying candy that isn't just wrapped in a large package, but they also want each piece to be individually wrapped, which Brach's offers."
This demand for individually wrapped candy is being seen throughout the country. Along with bulk bins that enable shoppers to scoop their own candy, Spengler said that The Food Maxx Stores also offer prewrapped bags of candy next to their bulk bins. According to Spengler, the stores began offering prepackaged bulk candy as cleanliness and freshness increasingly became an issue among consumers.
To promote cleanliness, The Food Maxx makes a point to keep bins full at all times. And, according to Spengler, having the bins in the produce department where the produce manager is nearly always present discourages the occasional "candy-snatchers" who tend to reach into the bin for a snack without using the provided utensils.
"Shoppers don't like to see bins that are half empty because they automatically assume that the items aren't fresh. So, we try to keep them full as often as possible by adding new product to the bin often and rotating the candy for freshness," said Spengler, who added that shoppers tend to feel more comfortable when they see store employees constantly refilling the bins. "People are also much more conscious about cleanliness than in the past and they're turned off by things like kids reaching in the bins for candy and sometimes even the thought of numerous shoppers scooping food from the same bin."
Moreover, some retailers are predicting the demise of bulk candy as it exists today. Instead of scoop-it-yourself bins, Spengler expects consumers eventually to demand random-weight, prepackaged candies. This would allow a shopper to still benefit from bulk food prices and a variety of package sizes, while eliminating the possibility of shopper-contaminated food.
Even manufacturers agree that consumers are pushing this distinct trend when it comes to bulk candy. "We've found that we sell more of our product in stores where we are able to combine traditional bulk bins with prepackaged candy because some people don't feel comfortable buying food that others may have touched," said Jim Hanlon, president and CEO of Harmony Foods, a food and candy manufacturer based in Santa Cruz, Calif.
To promote a sense of freshness, Harmony Foods sends its own crew into stores three times each week to clean and replenish the candy bins.
Another concept many manufacturers are pushing for is disposable bins. Most of today's bulk candy bins are made of Plexiglas, which is difficult to clean. Also, to replenish each bin, the existing candy must first be extracted, the bin cleaned, new product added, then the leftover candy placed on top.
"If retailers would use disposable bins, all they'd have to do when product sells down is order a new bin," said Hanlon. "The old bins can be thrown away and they could simply dump the older candy on top. It's much simpler and very sanitary."
Sterk's Super Foods, a supermarket chain based in Hammond, Ind., also carries Brach's bulk candy. According to store manager Kevin Copper, the Brach's candy bins are located in the produce department of their stores because the items are priced based on weight, similar to produce. Without the aid of a merchandising staff like the one Harmony Foods provides, it's Sterk's responsibility to monitor inventory, place orders and replenish the Brach's bins when they are low.
Along with cleanliness and convenience, consumers are becoming more and more health conscious when it comes to choosing bulk candy. As retailers grasp the importance of incorporating healthy choices into their bulk candy sections, the number of naturally made or healthy candies continues to increase.
Wild Oats Markets, a natural food retailer in Boulder, Colo., offers a variety of items in its bulk candy department for health-conscious. Similar to traditional retailers, Wild Oats offers chocolates, gummy candies, caramels and a number of other snack items. However, as a natural food store, it ensures that even these items must be made with natural ingredients.
"A lot of other retailers offer sugar-free, but it's tough for us to offer sugar-free candies because most are made with artificial sweeteners and we won't sell anything made with anything artificial, like artificial vanilla flavoring or hydrogenated oils," said Michelle Walker, new products coordinator for Wild Oats. "We still sell chocolate and a good selection of other candies, but we also offer our shoppers things like dried fruits and trail mix that are both natural and healthy."
Many shoppers read labels on most of their foods as a way of monitoring their diets. While most prepackaged foods boast nutritional labels, bulk foods have rarely carried such information in the past.
To meet this consumer demand for information, retailers like The Food Maxx are now providing nutritional labeling in nearly every department in their stores, even bulk candy. "Even though candy isn't always the healthiest of foods, that doesn't mean that health-conscious shoppers won't eat it. But, they still want to know what's in the candy," said Spengler. "We have nutritional fact sheets on each bin that include information on the ingredients, caloric intake and other pertinent information so our consumers can be more informed about the candies they choose."
Spengler said that as this health-conscious trend continues, he expects more retailers to follow suit and incorporate nutritional fact sheets into their bulk candy departments.