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    The Front-Row Ticket

    By focusing on in-store hot spots, c-stores can boost candy sales at the front end and elsewhere

    By Angela Hanson, Convenience Store News
    The front end of a convenience store is exposed to 100 percent of shoppers, making it an ideal place to merchandise candy.

    Although candy may not be classified as health food, data provided by the National Confectioners Association shows the category itself continues to be robustly healthy. 2013 saw a 2.5-percent increase in candy category sales, upholding a multiyear trend of growth.

    Still, category health only goes so far and in a time when other segments are struggling, convenience store retailers must do whatever they can to maximize sales. To accomplish this with candy, the Mars Chocolate/Wrigley C-Store Front End Best Practices Study was conducted in order to determine which categories belong at the front end, establish which merchandising elements are most effective and identify the locations of ?hot spots? inside a convenience store.

    Hot spots are high-priority locations inside a store where it?s possible to use high-visibility secondary displays to interrupt routine shopping behavior and significantly increase chocolate basket penetration to grow category and brand sales.

    ?We learned that in c-stores, only one in three shoppers buy items at the front end, and most of them purchase tobacco and lottery tickets,? Larry Lupo, vice president of sales for the convenience and drug channels, Mars Chocolate North America, told Convenience Store News. ?We wanted to determine which categories ? in addition to these destination categories ? would be the ?power categories? to generate the most sales and profitability.?

    Along with candy, the study showed power categories in the convenience channel include meat snacks, sweet snacks, energy shots, fresh fruit and bakery. The research also found that most consumers? ?gaze time? occurs between the register and the card swipe.

    ?The biggest purchase barrier is that shoppers simply aren?t thinking about confections, and they don?t see it in the store,? Lupo explained. More than 70 percent of consumers don?t walk down the candy aisle, and more than three-quarters of consumer buying decisions are made at the point-of-purchase.

    Additionally, while customers may not go out of their way to buy candy, research shows that confectionery is extremely responsive to quality merchandising efforts, likely because 83 percent of candy category purchases are impulse purchases. Chocolate in particular generates high lift in response to secondary merchandising.

    ?That?s why secondary displays are so important,? Lupo said. ?When consumers see confections, they?re more likely to buy them.?

    This can come in the form of standing displays, racks or other displays as long as they?re positioned to catch a shopper?s eye. When candy is on display, future consumption has a lift of more than 70 percent, according to the study, while immediate consumption builds trial and increases household penetration.

    ?We also found that floor displays by the checkout area encourage shoppers to make a purchase as they wait in line. We call this ?dwell time,? and it?s an easy way for retailers to convert shoppers into buyers,? Lupo explained.

    TURNING UP THE HEAT

    To properly leverage hot spots in different locations of the store, convenience store retailers must understand many different aspects. The front end is exposed to 100 percent of shoppers and offers items that reflect the desire for more immediate consumption, reward or indulgence. It also has a low decision time and is the last chance to make an impulse purchase.

    To drive candy sales in this hot spot, Mars Chocolate suggests a three-step process for c-stores. First, they should build a portfolio of everyday displays, especially for popular brands and items that are on sale year-round. Next, use displays to support promotional moments that leverage media with consumers. This can involve tie-ins to major events such as the Super Bowl or promotions that aren?t connected to a single date. Finally, they should make a point of setting up displays for new items. Strong introductions to shoppers drive trial and awareness, increasing the chances that an unfamiliar product will become a regular purchase in the future.

    Retailers also don?t have to wait for specific supplier-driven campaigns. ?C-store retailers need to create new usage occasions,? Lupo said. ?For example, seasonal candy. C-store seasonal chocolate sales had double-digit growth last year.? In response, candy suppliers are offering more seasonal single items, as well as seasonal displays such as counter units.

    Still, secondary displays in hot spots aren?t the only answer. C-store retailers must make sure their regular candy racks offer the products customers want, which may mean stocking a variety of package sizes as well as brands. Larger sharing-size or king-size candy is popular, especially with shoppers looking to get the most value for their dollar. However, many consumers only want their candy in standard size, so ideally the front end should offer both.

    While the front end is crucial for boosting candy sales, retailers should also be aware of ways they can capitalize on other in-store hot spots for overall optimization.

    The lobby offers exposure to all shoppers, but in the lobby, purchases are more likely to be made for other people. It is also the most responsive to display. Meanwhile, the perimeter features high traffic made of quick-moving shoppers traveling near high-demand categories.

    Placing displays along the flow of consumer traffic increases the odds that customers will make an impulse candy purchase on the way to their destination.

    Retailers should also keep abreast of innovations in displays, as well as products. Although its major push is in the grocery channel, Mars Chocolate is testing LED-lit racks in a few c-stores, which may result in a brand-new way of putting candy in the spotlight.

    By Angela Hanson, Convenience Store News
    • About Angela Hanson Angela Hanson is associate editor for EnsembleIQ's Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner, where she is responsible for primary coverage of the candy, snacks and packaged beverages categories. Since joining CSNews as assistant editor in early 2011, she has played a key role in helping CSNews.com maintain its position as the No. 1 news source for the convenience store industry. Prior to joining CSNews, Hanson served as junior editor at Creative Homeowner book press and as managing editor of Anime Insider magazine. She has degrees in creative writing and visual communication technology from Bowling Green State University.

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