MONTVALE, N.J. -- A&P's new America's Choice hard candy line is an example of how private-label nonchocolate confections are beginning to fatten up some candy departments.
The A&P line, introduced in November 1996, is available in assorted 10-ounce bags -- starlight mints, butterscotch, sour lemon, hostess mix, root beer barrels and sour balls. The majority of the flavors sell for 99 cents each. A&P officials did not respond to phone calls seeking comment on how many stores are merchandising the line.
SN has seen the mix merchandised in several New York and New Jersey stores, including A&P's Waldbaum's division. In a New Jersey-area A&P that SN visited, signs compared America's Choice hostess mix, which retailed for 99 cents, with Brach's party mix, which sold for $2.99. "Save $2," a sign read.
Private-label chocolate is also on the market. A&P, for instance, has introduced a private-label chocolate bar under its upscale Master Choice label. The 3.5-ounce bar comes in three flavors: milk chocolate; milk chocolate with raisins and almonds; and dark bittersweet. A store-level source told SN the bars sell for 99 cents each. One Long Island, N.Y., store is merchandising them near the customer-service desk.
The chocolates are featured on A&P's Master Choice web site (www.masterchoice.com) under the new products section. "We are pleased to announce the entry of Master Choice into the chocolate bar category with three flavors," reads text from the web site, which describes the line as having an authentic European flavor.
But nonchocolate confections are more popular in the private-label industry, because the segment is not dominated by big brands.
"No one company has a strong brand identity, unlike the chocolate business," said David Hess, vice president of operations at Joel Inc., the Elizabethtown, Pa.-based company that manufactures the A&P line. Along with A&P, other chains are using private label to their advantage in the candy aisle. Hy-Vee Food Stores, West Des Moines, Iowa; Weis Markets, Sunbury, Pa.; and Acme Markets, Malvern, Pa., are among the chains promoting store-brand candy. None of the three chains returned calls from SN.
Acme, for instance, this month featured its private-label line in its circular. "Save over National Brands," read the ad, which promoted Acme-brand candy jellies at 99 cents for a 20-ounce package. The store brand was placed higher in the ad than other branded candies, such as Starburst Fruit Twists.
Among the chains that are new to the private-label candy arena, Martin's Super Markets, South Bend, Ind., told SN it plans to add private-label candy to all its stores to "show more value" to its customers. Martin's candy sections range from 16 to 24 feet. Further, some chains that have had private-label lines for years are beginning to make packaging improvements. Several of Joel Inc.'s customers -- including Foodtown, ShopRite and Weis Markets -- have repackaged their private-label lines, said Hess.
Weis Markets was the most recent upgrade. Though it has had store-brand laydown bags for about 11 years, in August 1996 it repackaged the line in pegboard bags. ShopRite and Foodtown, meanwhile, both rebagged their store-brand lines over the last two years.
Like Joel Inc., other private-label manufacturers are working to increase their supermarket accounts.
"We are actively pursuing private label with grocery," said Buck Mansson, president of Family Sweets Candy, Winston-Salem, N.C.