TAMPA, Fla. - Not all supermarket chains are singing the "We're Losing Our Seasonal Candy Business" blues.
Just take a look at Kash n' Karry Food Stores, a 101-unit chain based here that attacks seasonal candy merchandising on an upbeat note.
"The big seasons are Valentine's, Easter, Halloween and Christmas. And a few weeks before each holiday is when we put out a lot of displays," said Joe Bullara, senior vice president of marketing for Kash n' Karry, which operates stores in Florida's central and west coast markets. His company's approach to candy was revealed in interviews and store visits.
The chain adheres to a straightforward philosophy for holding on to its fair share of the category's business. "We look at candy as a highly impulsive category. We view it as a means to increase a customer's purchase when they come into the store, because candy is not necessarily on their shopping list," Bullara explained.
Indeed, the seasonal focus is so sharp that the chain loads up aggressive promotional pushes during the primary candy-eating seasons, keeping promotions low-key during the rest of the year, said Bullara.
To keep the seasonal program strong, Bullara said Kash n' Karry brings candy right to the customers, in mass, up-front displays.
As if on cue, Easter candy merchandising was in full swing during a recent SN visit to the chain's Hyde Park store here.
Upon entering the 46,000-square-foot store, customers were greeted with a colorful, massive display of candy and gift novelties geared to the season.
Two 15-foot tables formed an L-shape with candy on both sides of one and stuffed bunnies and other animals on the other. Yellow crepe-paper bunting adorned the displays with a gigantic, eye-catching Easter basket, and an even larger white rabbit propped up between the two tables as the centerpeice.
"All of the grocery chains feel the heat from the mass merchandisers and drug stores, especially on the seasonal. And I think Kash n' Karry has become aggressive as far as candy goes," observed one industry source in Tampa. "They're willing to try some different items and display them in different ways."
The industry observer, as well as another Tampa retailer, told SN that one weak point for area supermarkets during holidays is that they don't carry as many count goods as the mass merchandisers and drug chains.
Why not? "Unless you have five kids, and not many people do these days, you're not looking to buy a big bag of jelly beans," said the source.
There is a lot more than jelly beans at Kash n' Karry. At the Hyde Park store, about 50 seasonal candy items adorned the display, including: a 14-ounce miniature bag of Reese's Pieces for $3.09; a 14-ounce miniature bag of Millky Ways for $2.99; an 11-ounce bag of Brach's Sour Spots Jelly Bird Eggs for 99 cents; a 14-ounce bag of miniature Nestle Butterfingers for $2.99; and a prepriced 6.5-ounce Easter basket with candy and a stuffed bunny for $7.99.
According to Karl Powell, one of the store's managers, similar promotional displays are constructed for the other big candy holidays as well. For instance, tthis past Valentine's Day, the store built a three-tiered display that was shoppable from all sides, in the same "lobby" area in the front of the store, adjacent to the checkouts.
Powell told SN that this sort of aggressive seasonal merchandising up front is truly effective. "People walk in and impulsively put a bag of candy in their carts," he said, "especially the closer you get to the actual holiday."
Truth is, Kash n' Karry strives to make the biggest deal out of seasonal candy, no matter how little room is available in any given store, said chain officials.
In a cramped 18,000-square-foot West Shore store in Tampa, there was not much room for anything, let alone candy. But Kash n' Karry made the most of its Easter merchandising there as well.
Rather than using a massive lobby display, the chain placed seasonal bagged candy and boxed bunnies along the wall adjacent to the entrance. Indeed, since there was only one way the traffic could flow in this store, the pastel-colored Easter candy packages could not have been missed.
the 20- to 24-foot gondola section had been brought out front, running adjacent to the checkouts, with products facing the endcaps of the regular grocery aisle.
"That was a conscious effort to get candy into a high-visibility area," Bullara explained. "What we have there is a case of a very, very small store, and we try to move some things around to get as much as we possibly can in the store.
"Candy is the kind of flexible item that you can put in different areas of the store, because it doesn't necessarily have to tie in to one aisle," Bullara said. Of course, bringing it out of the traditional aisle configuration also adds to those impulse sales, he added.
Another example of this strategy was noted at a Kissimmee, Fla., Kash n' Karry, visited before St Valentine's Day. At this unit, the company created a shop-within-a-shop atmosphere by featuring a large, four-sided lobby, about 15 feet by 15 feet in size.
The lobby display contained an assortment of shippers from seasonal vendors, and also dump bins of year-round candy favorites (such as 1-pound bags of M&Ms). It grouped candy with greeting cards, wrapping paper, bows, novelty gifts and other appropriate merchandise.
If customers manage to miss such large-scale candy setups in the lobby area, Kash n' Karry makes sure there are other opportunities for exposure. Secondary displays, such as back-to-back shippers of Russell Stover Easter products between the aisles and front checkouts, could be spotted throughout the Hyde Park store, for example.
Another shipper, next to the customer service station and behind the checkouts, featured Kraft Bunny Mallows. The multi-colored, bunny-shaped marshmallows retailed for 89 cents for a 9-ounce bag.
Seasonal emphasis aside, Kash n' Karry also provides an array of candy choices on and off the gondola aisle.
The Hyde Park store featured a 25-foot gondola section of about 250 candy stockkeeping units, ranging from gums and Juicefuls, to Sorbee and Sweet 'n Low suger-free items, to the premium Garotti and Ferrero Rocher products. The section consisted fo four shelves for lay-down bags and three peg rows.
A sampling of gondola itmes included: a whole peg line of Brach's general line candies - all for 98 cents; a 15-ounce fun-size Butterfinger Bites for $2.88; 16-ounce plain M&Ms for $2.58; fun-size Milky Ways for $2.89; Reese's Pieces in a 14-ounce snack size for $2.79; four varieties of Andes' 28-piece boxes for $1.49; 7-ounce bags of Jolly Ranchers for 98 cents; and a peg-gable bag of miniature Snickers for $1.29.
The store devoted a 4-foot section to the upscale brands, which included Perugina chocolate bars at $1.79; Lindt at $1.72 (a savings of 17 cents, according to a shelf tag); Callard & Bowser Coffee Toffees for $1.59; La Vosgienne Bonbon fruits for $1.19 and Droste of Holland for $1.99.
Upscale candy also gained exposure at a strategic off-aisle location in the Hyde Park store. A Daskalides Chocolates display (with little sliding glass doors) was placed in the back of the store at the end of the baby needs aisle, hoping to appeal to those tired mommies who will impulsively treat themselves to a small luxury.
The Daskalides display offered such items as a 7-ounce chocolate bar for $4.29; a canister of cocoa and hazelnut paste for wafer sticks for $5.29, and a 16-ounce box of chocolates for $19.65.
The $19 candy is not something that turns up in every Kash n' Karry unit. The chain positions the category at the store to reflect specific income levels or other demographics, according to Bullara.
"What you see in the Hyde Park store is a program that's only in select stores, based on their location," he said, noting that upscale chocolates are used in the higher-income areas.
Beyond such exceptions, however, the chain tries as much as possible to offer candy for everyone's taste and budget offered in the year-old store.
In fact, Kash n' Karry has a display of 28 facings on an endcap in front of the store that features items three for 99 cents. This included various Jolly Rancher and Rainbow gum products, Heath Sensations, Good & Plenty products, Pay Day and Zero candy bars, and Milk Duds.
And there was more. On another endcap, billowy cotton candy products accompanied an endcap with chips and pretzels. And yet another, at the end of the greeting card aisle near the floral department, featured a three-sided display of Russell Stover boxed candies.