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    Big Boxes Sweeten Checkouts

    Competition for candy customers crosses all retail channels.

    An increasing number of the nation's largest retailers are grabbing impulse buyers by merchandising candy, gum and mints at their cash registers, according to a recent report by Associated Press.

    The nation's largest home-improvement retailer, Home Depot, has just joined those ranks. Nine out of 10 Home Depots now offer candy.

    "You name it, where there's a consumer and there's a chance for a consumer to buy an impulse thing like candy, we want to be there," said Larry Lupo, the vice president of small outlet sales for Masterfoods USA, which is a division of Mars Inc.

    Hershey, Wrigley and Masterfoods all have sales groups devoted to persuading nontraditional retailers to sell candy, the AP report noted. Mostly, they target major retailers, such as Circuit City, AutoZone and Staples, to carry candy bars and snack items.

    While not new, the trend is gaining strength. "A lot of [retail] companies have started to pay attention to it in recent years," Len Teitlebaum, the managing director of the New York-based Roosevelt Investment Group, who formerly tracked candymakers for Merrill Lynch, told AP.

    In Staples stores, bags of miniatures sell best as an office-supply item, say for a waiting room. For the holidays, Staples even adds shelf space for gourmet candy and advertises it on the public address system.

    Not everyone has been receptive. Department stores still have yet to broadly sign on to the concept, the report noted. Home Depot's main competitor, Lowe's, has no plans to offer candy with its cases of bottled Gatorade and water, spokeswoman Chris Ahearn told the news service.

    Teitlebaum estimated that the candy companies' sales through nontraditional outlets have doubled over the last several years, although the relative proportion remains small compared to sales at pharmacies, groceries, convenience stores and mass merchants.

    Average sales of Hershey's candy at Home Depot were comparable to levels at major drugstores and approaching that of major convenience stores, said Hershey's Lenny.

    The spread of candy to more checkout aisles is contagious, people in the industry say. When one major chain does well with candy sales, they say, others can be more easily persuaded to follow suit.

    "It has grown and it continues to grow," said Wrigley spokesman Brian Wright. "There are still spaces out there that are untapped."

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