As Christmas candy ordering gets under way, retailers are craving for new products to drive sales this year.
Most supermarket candy buyers contacted by SN planned to start ordering their Christmas candy this month or next month and to make it available in stores Nov. 1. They said they anticipate few drastic changes in assortment and amounts, but are counting on new candies, gift and novelty items, and yuletide displays for an extra lift in profits and traffic.
"When I start looking at the holidays, I ask my reps to bring me anything new that they think will work at our stores," said Verdie Henderson, a grocery and candy buyer at Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas, which began reviewing products in June.
"Last year, M&Ms came out with M&Ms Lights. We bought those, and then we bought the desk dispensers for candy, like M&Ms peanut and plain. For the Skittles, they had [a dispenser] with a push-down top like a bubble-gum machine but was shaped actually like the candy. We [bought] those last year."
Steve Reynolds, director of purchasing at Lem Markets, South Boston, Va., said the chain is looking to add something fresh to lure customers to the holiday candy area. "We're probably not going to do anything different this year other than trying a few [new] novelty items," he said. "Every year they come out with some oddball-type item or novelty for Christmas. We'll be looking at those, but we don't know what they are yet.
"[Manufacturers] are always coming out with some different shaped-type things. Last year we had some novelties that went along with candies. For example, you buy some candy and there was a little stuffed animal with it."
Tidyman's Inc., Greenacres, Wash., finds gift candy to be a traffic builder, according to Rhonda Ketron, HBC and candy buyer/merchandiser. "We buy a lot of gift items, like the cane items that have different heads on them, like a Santa head, and the different M&M/Mars canes. We buy a lot of the stocking-stuffer items," she said.
When contacted by SN, Ketron was in the process of reviewing new products. "I haven't seen a whole lot of different items this year, to tell you the truth," she said. "Allen Wertz, though, does have some different [items]. It's a bagged taffy with different flavors like hot-buttered rum and egg nog."
"There's a lot of new novelty items," Ketron added, citing products with Santa faces and a new Batman novelty. A number of suppliers are offering holiday candy in tins. "I've seen more candy tins than I have in the past, and I'm kind of partial to candy tins. But I don't know if those are going to be that hot. It just seems like every company, whatever they have, they're putting it in a tin," she said, naming Hershey and Go Lightly.
"We have some of the pick-a-mix, but I would say we focus on the holiday bagged candy," said Nelson Rodenmayer, director of marketing at Winn-Dixie's Midwest division, Louisville, Ky., which also includes Thriftway Food & Drug stores. "Typically, we'll have the holiday-colored M&Ms, the holiday-package candies, the fruit cakes, the pecan logs -- all of the normal holiday stuff you're used to seeing."
Boxed candies and chocolates also will be a key item, Rodenmayer said. "In Winn-Dixies, we have the Russell Stover's candies, which are real popular during the holiday season. Thriftway also has a boxed candy similar to that. They sell those year-round."
Likewise, chocolate will get plenty of attention at Acme Markets of Virginia, North Tazewell, Va., according to Kent Carlston, vice president of marketing. "Chocolate will be very strong and, dollarwise, should receive 60% of our Christmas sales. It's very big," he said.
"We'll probably run with the Hershey, Nestle and M&M/Mars novelty items and some Whitman's chocolates. We've done that in the past and have been successful. Big end displays of the chocolate-covered cherries should be strong for us."
That's not the case at Minyard. "The nonchocolate has been growing more than the chocolate items," Henderson said, naming price as a possible reason. "I don't know if it's a national trend, but in our stores the chocolate is declining a little."
The 14-ounce bags of brand-name chocolate miniatures generally are the best-selling Christmas items, as are the various candy canes, which come in several sizes, Acme's Carlston said. Starlight mints are the best-selling bulk candy. "Most of our attention will focus on gifts and bags. Bulk sells, but we don't see as strong a lift in that as we do the others," he said.
Bulk, though, is the staple holiday candy at John C. Groub Co., Seymour, Ind., said Bob Lamb, grocery buyer. "I think it's because of price. We have a lot of packaged and boxed candies available, but most of the volume we have is on bulk.
"The stores rebag it, and then it's sold by the package, random weight. So it's really not sold out of the bulk [bins]," he explained. "We have window bags available, and I think most of the stores use that. It's a white paper bag with a cellophane window in it."
Chocolate drops are Groub's best-selling bulk candy, Lamb said. "We have most of the varieties of strictly Christmas candy and the chocolate drops, orange slices, chocolate-covered peanuts and clusters, and the peanut brittles."
At Lem, packaged candy surpasses bulk in sales, but bulk still moves well, Reynolds said. Popular holiday bulk candy includes creme-filled chocolates, orange slices, Starlight mints, and flavored and mixed hard candies. "Most of it is packaged up," he said. "It comes in bulk, and we package it and put ingredient lists in it."
Minyard offers bulk candy just for Halloween and Easter, not for Christmas, according to Henderson. "Our biggest [Christmas candy] business is the bagged candies, the 9-ounce mostly and then the 14-ounce," she said, citing Snickers, Reese's and Hershey miniatures plus M&Ms and Kisses as the leading sellers.
"We carry a lot of Christmas stockings also," Henderson said, adding that some contain both candy and toys. "And then we have all the Brachs staples like the Arabian Nights, the peanuts, the mellow cremes, the Christmas candy mixes and that sort of thing. We do a lot of that."
Most chains told SN that laydown bags prevail over hanging varieties. "As far as some of the Brachs hanging bags, we don't do a lot with those," Acme's Carlston said. "Most of our lift is off our displays with the laydown bags."
No matter what the package, variety is important, Lem's Reynolds noted. "In our ads, we'll always say, 'A variety of Christmas candy, nuts, gifts available,' that type of thing," he said. He estimated his stores will carry 100 stockkeeping units of holiday sweets. Tidyman's plans to boost its sugarless candy variety, Ketron said. "We'll probably carry more sugar-free items than we had in the past. That's what people want. There's a few more companies providing that now," she said, naming Allen Wertz and Go Lightly.
"The flavored candy canes -- what they call the gourmet candy canes -- are something that's really popular," Ketron added.
More so than with other Christmas candy, consumers demand low prices on candy canes, retailers said. But low prices don't guarantee windfall sales. "You don't sell as much of it as you would think," Lem's Reynolds said. "That's because some of the big discounters like Wal-Mart sell those things so cheap. We sell quite a few of them, but it's not our biggest seller."
Price ranges for holiday candy overall can't be too broad, some retailers noted. "Too often, it's confusing for the customer -- and too confusing on the signage -- to get too varied price points," Acme's Carlston said. "We can get most of our national brands to the same price point and then have some of the novelties at different price points. It works easier for building a display."
An impulse and a destination item, Christmas candy sells best in a themed display with seasonal decorations, signs and tie-in items like chocolate chips and colored sprinkles for baking, gift wrap, tree lights and greeting cards, retailers told SN.
"We normally have it at the front of the store so when the customer first comes in, there's this huge display for the holiday," Minyard's Henderson said. But Winn-Dixie's Rodenmayer said seasonal aisle location depends on the store layout. "Most of the promotional aisles are either where you enter the store or down some of the first few aisles," he explained.
Acme plans a larger Christmas candy display, Carlston said. "We'll probably come out with a three-tier display and do it as a freestanding island. Last year, because of differences in store layouts, it varied from store to store. This year, we're going to try to get three-tier in all of the stores."
Tidyman's puts Christmas candy on shelves, in baskets and in some cardboard displays, Ketron said. "We don't have a lot of shippers because we always feel like it clutters up the store. We use power panels a lot or just in-line displays," she explained. "We've got endcaps usually filled, and throughout the store there may be a bunker here and there."
Shippers aren't effective for all items, Minyard's Henderson noted. "There are certain things that shippers do better than just putting them on a table display," she said, citing Andes mints and Pez candy.