Emerging categories often benefit from special treatment as they’re introduced to consumers. Segregated merchandising creates a destination that makes it easier for shoppers to find, and for staff to notice and approach anyone lingering at the display. Clustering also helps visibly demonstrate the retailer’s early commitment to the products.
Recent history shows how segregated merchandising helped certified organic get off the ground; sales of ethnic products grouped by country have also benefited from their own section. Separation has also help certain gourmet foods find success.
Yet there comes a time when, as consumers grow more familiar with the products, priorities shift. In organic’s case, growing comfort levels allowed retailers to begin integrating products throughout the store so that shoppers could compare labels and prices.
Has the gluten-free category reached such a tipping point? The numbers would indicate it has: Gluten-free sales are approaching $6.5 billion; nearly a quarter of the shopping public has at least tried gluten-free foods; and the category has grown 30% through 2010.
At Highland Park Market, Glastonbury, Conn., the size of the store dictates how and where gluten-free is shelved. According to Tim Cummiskey, store manager for the upscale chain, integration would be ideal. But it’s not an option for all items.
“It’s a problem of space. We get so many requests for gluten-free products that we couldn’t possibly put each one within its category without having to reset the entire store,” he said. “We can squeeze a few things in here and there, but not enough to fully integrate them everywhere.”
Where there is room, Cummiskey creates miniature sections within each category. These small sets sometimes include two or three items at most. Shelf talkers donated by vendors are used to draw attention to any wheat-free fare.
REFRESH blog: The Evolving Science Behind Gluten-Free
According to Jon Hauptman, a partner at Willard Bishop, the Barrington, Ill.-based retail consulting group, retailers benefit most when integrating within categories.
“This is the option we recommend,” said Hauptman. “By stocking gluten-free products together alongside other standard varieties, supermarkets enhance their variety image, simplify the shopping process and highlight targeted items. Based on our analysis of specialty food merchandising — gourmet, natural, organic and now, gluten-free — having adjacent sections significantly increases sales of the special items as well as total category sales and profits.”
The firm’s studies reveal that integration can increase sales of the targeted items by an average of 40%. Category sales grow by an average of 12% and category profits by an average of 15%.