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    Trend-Spotting At the All Candy Expo

    C-store retailers have to stay on top of what's hot and what's not in the confectionary category to meet consumers' changing tastes, says 7-Eleven category manager.

    By Linda Lisanti

    Chicago -- Success in the confectionary category comes from keeping on top of what's new. Retailers must continuously look at their product mix to make sure it's on target with what customers want -- and that's no easy task considering the consumer is always changing.

    At the 2006 National Confectioners Association All Candy Expo in Chicago, which kicked off Monday and runs through today, 7-Eleven confectionary category manager, Julie Whittle, shared with show attendees how the country’s largest c-store chain stocks its candy sets.

    "Our customer is a busy on-the-go customer, so the decision process on confectionary is very quick. It’s all about having the right item at the right locations," Whittle said, adding that choosing the right items is a case of identifying the latest top consumer trends and deciding which new products will lead to incremental sales. Along the same lines, she said retailers have to notice which items are on a decline and react immediately.

    To help make those choices, 7-Eleven looks internally to see what's selling in its stores and also depends on its manufacturers to provide expert advice. When any manufacturer pitches a new product, Whittle said she asks what consumer insights made them develop such a product. She also questions how much they plan to spend around its launch, noting that "a retailer can stock (a product) on the shelf, but if it's not coming across the consumer's path, if they're not hearing about it, it will have a short shelf life."

    The top trend in confectionary right now, according to Whittle, is dark chocolate. This was evident on the show floor as well, with Hershey's announcing the September debut of a new premium dark chocolate line called Cacao Reserve; Nestle introducing Dark Chocolate Raisinets; and Masterfoods USA launching Snickers Dark and Snickers Almond Dark as limited editions in November -- among many others.

    Portion control also continues to be a dominant trend as consumers are becoming more aware of obesity and health issues, Whittle said. But she's concerned that not enough innovation is happening in this segment since confectionary is known for indulgence.

    "Consumers need products when they want to indulge, but also need products that will help them stay the course. We're starting to see efforts there with portion control, but there's a long way to go," she said.

    Other trends driving new product releases, according to the NCA are: dark and delicious, gum goodies, gourmet everyday, fortified sweets, sugar-free sweets and healthy treats, bold flavors, indulgent delights and kiddie creations.

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