Retailers are using candy destination centers to lure customers into Center Store and, by all accounts, the strategy continues to be a winning one.
"We've talked to some retailers about them, and sales are absolutely better with candy destination centers," said Jim Corcoran, director of trade relations for the McLean, Va.-based National Confectioners Association. "There's no question that a number of retailers are doing it. If you look at the great candy retailers in this country, you'll find that not only are Albertson's and Kroger doing it, but also Wegmans, Tops, Schnuck's and Dominick's."
According to Corcoran, consumer research done in the month of April, for the purpose of developing an education program for the All-Candy Expo, showed consumers prefer candy destinations in grocery stores. When asked, they said they would "rather visit a store that had something like a Hershey Village or a Willy Wonka factory inside."
"Consumers have said, 'I'd like to shop there; if it's exciting and fun, I'd go there.' These are actual quotes from people who like the idea of their supermarket having a candy destination center," said Corcoran.
One retailer dedicated to in-store candy destination centers is Certified Grocers of California, Los Angeles. In April 1997, Certified installed a full-service candy program in a three-store independent. Now almost 140 stores have come aboard.
According to Michael G. Ortiz, new business development manager for full-service candy at Certified, stores that enter the program usually come by referral of a retailer that has had success with the new program. The Certified program is meant to provide a candy center in one store, or in an independent, that is comparable to what exists in some of thebig retail chains.
"We work with the manufacturers to get their featured brands to our stores," said Ortiz. "For example, you might see at Wal-Mart a sale of Hershey's single candy bars. We encourage big brands to come in and give us the same price for our smaller operations. We take the same [destination] format and use it to give our stores the same value and [they pay the same] dollar per case."
The candy destination center at a Certified-supplied independent varies in size. A store can have anywhere from 4 to 16 feet of candy space. The center or area consists of a "kiddie novelty" section; a chew, or non-chocolate section; a 4-to 8-foot gourmet set; a chocolate area, and an ethnic area, depending on the neighborhood of the store.
"We order the merchandise and maintain all the schematics," said Ortiz. "An ethnic section depends on the demographics of an area. In northern California, black and red licorice might be very popular, and in the inner cities, we find licorice isn't popular at all."
For the holidays, a custom display is set up in the front of the store that sells both candy and general merchandise. "An example would be Halloween, when we display costumes, makeup and seasonal novelty candy. We like to cross-merchandise the seasonal candy with the general merchandise," added Ortiz.
Supply and demand are also checked in every store that's in the program. Quarterly reviews are done to see which items are not moving, to determine if they should be taken out.
"In July, we have 17 stores looking to come aboard. Nearly every month there is a waiting list. We're averaging an increase of 96% in candy sales through the register," noted Ortiz.
Another chain that is using candy destinations to increase sales is Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa.
"The candy centers and gift centers have helped sales and have increased seasonal numbers. We've been experiencing an excess of a 20% increase two years running, since we started the program -- during Halloween of 1997," said John Paul, category manager at Genuardi's.
According to Paul, 24 of 30 Genuardi's stores have candy centers. A few smaller units do not have the space for candy destinations, but all new and remodeled stores will have them.
Each destination carries seasonal and novelty candy; the reest is displayed on shelves in an aisle.
"Seasonal candy is a major area for us. We increase our display space and tie-in professionally done decorations from a local company. This makes it look professional and allows us to concentrate on our core business, which is selling products and customer service," said Paul.
The candy gift center is set near the floral department, where the boxed chocolate is merchandised. The size of the candy destination can be anywhere from a 4-foot in-line section to an 8-foot in-line fixture. "It could [also] be a walkaround aisle unit that is equivalent to a 4- to 6-foot space or a self-standing unit," added Paul.
Instead of one or two brands of boxed chocolate, Genuardi's carries five or six. Meanwhile, the candy destination is used to sell specialty items.
"We provide a large variety, and we're trying to get the boxed-chocolate sales that the mass merchants have been getting. We want our customers to know that we have the varieties they're looking for," added Paul.
Many candy destinations, especially those that sell bulk, need special fixtures.
Trade Fixtures, a cabinet and acrylic-design and fabrication company, has done work in hundreds of chains and services such retailers as Marsh Supermarkets, Meijer, Kroger, H.E. Butt, Publix and Harris Teeter, according to Doug Holland, vice president of the company.
But some retailers see no benefit in a candy destination, or are trying other strategies to boost sales. Rich Ehrhart, a buyer at Fleming's York division, York, Pa., doesn't think candy centers increase sales much.
"It's a neat idea if the store size permits it. Would it increase sales 10%? I don't know. I think it's more for a specialty or gourmet store," he said.
Randy Slentz, a candy buyer for Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., told SN: "We're taking the opposite approach. Instead of a center, we will give it an entire aisle. That's what we're moving toward."