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    C-store operators are making progress where drug chains have staked a claim

    C-store operators are making progress where drug chains have staked a claim

    While drug chains jumped on theater box candy early, the convenience store industry holds nearly one-third of the growing business.

    Texarkana, Texas-based E-Z Mart Inc., for instance, provides space on a shelf above its stores' pegboard displays for theater boxes, with good results.

    "We re-entered the theater-box candy arena last year after being out of it for about five years," noted Danna Huskey, candy category manager for the 300-store chain, who said the retailer has been "exceptionally smart" about the set, bringing in only the top-selling SKUs that wholesaler Grocery Supply recommended based on movement reports.

    "Like pegged candy, these boxes are seen by consumer as a value buy."

    As the last two price increases bumped up king-size bar retails 22 percent to $1.59 or more, theater box retails have been set at $1.29 to just under $2, according to John Scardina, vice president, merchandising, for wholesaler Eby-Brown Co., Naperville, Ill.

    "Pricing dynamics really pushed the consumer to look at theater as a value," he said, noting SymphonyIRI shows the segment up 11 percent for the 52 weeks ending March 21, 2010. "The consumer who has looked at king-size bars as a one-time consumption, is seeing theater boxes as a multiple serving for the same price."

    Dewitt, N.Y.-based Express Mart stores have seen "increasing returns" from the theater-box segment, as they've given the major-brand packages more space on its own rack near the candy section in the last two years, according to marketing manager Jerry Straub, who sees them appealing to a value customer.

    "You can get some theater boxes for about the same price as a king-size count, but you are getting more product," he said, explaining he believes more kids and younger adults, rather than women, are buying theater boxes which retail from $1.29 to $1.99, though younger kids go for sour gummies and similar products.

    Some 80 percent of the segment's volume is driven by four manufacturers, Scardina noted. Those companies, however, are putting promotional weight behind the product. Jujyfruits, for example, is being featured in the upcoming feature film "Beastly," starring Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer, Mary-Kate Olsen and Neil Patrick Harris, opening July 30, and targeted to a teen audience.

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