Fueling sales

Consumers are attracted to scents that evoke relaxation. Green and natural are also major draws.

By Nora Caley

The light at the end of the tunnel might be a candle.

Candle sales suffered last year as consumers decreased their home décor and gift spending, but industry experts say they are seeing signs that consumers might start buying candles again soon. People are finding more uses for candles and they’re seeing the value in buying them in the grocery channel instead of in specialty stores.

“Last year was a tough year for all concerned,” says Nancy Byrne, director of marketing and creative services for Bright of America/Greenbrier-Scentex, based in Summersville, W. Va. Last year’s seasonal spending was down, and candle sales suffered. “A significant candle volume is done during the holiday season.”

According to New York-based The Nielsen Co., for the 52 weeks ended March 20, sales of candles and accessories in food, drug and mass, including Wal-Mart, totaled $1.096 billion, which was flat compared to $1.095 billion in sales for the same period the previous year. Sales of branded candles were down 2.8%, from $825 million to $802 million, but sales of private label candles were up 9%, from $269.6 million to $294 million.

Mark Cunningham, vice president of sales and marketing for Cincinnati-based Candle-Lite, says the economy actually helped candle sales in the grocery channel. “A lot of it has to do with foot traffic the channel is getting now,” he says. “People are spending more time at home, and what that has done is stimulated spending on household products that enhance the environment at home.”

He adds that the quality of candles in the grocery channel is comparable to what consumers can buy at department stores, but the price point is better in the grocery channel. “Most of what we sell at the grocery level retails under $12.99,” he says.

A. J. Aumock, director of marketing for Soy Basics, based in New Hampton, Iowa, says consumers are migrating to different types of retailers for their candle purchases. “A lot of the highest quality candles are available now at different retailers, so that eliminates a trip to a specialty store.”

Also, Aumock says, candles are not always impulse purchases. “It’s not milk, bread, candles, but they know they’re having a party Saturday so they want a new fragrance,” he says.

Bright spots

Byrne says there have been some bright spots in candle sales lately. There has been growth in the baking and birthday candle category while container candles still hold the majority of the category sales.

She points to other promising areas. “Our growth was in private label partnerships and new seasonal programs,” she says.

Byrne says there are also opportunities for new product innovation. “For some time now manufacturers have held back on new launches and new product technologies with a wait-and-see attitude with a heightened control on inventories,” she says. “I think the waiting is over and now new is desperately needed.”

Some of the trends she’s noticing in the marketplace are candles with themes such as retreat, escape, pampering and serenity. “Especially with ‘staycations’ a part of consumer mentality now, we are all desperate for escape and change,” she says. Also popular are candles with high décor value that can change the look of a room and value-based candles, she says.

Annett Davidson, director of marketing, product development, and licensing for Hanna’s Candle Co/HCC Brands, based in Fayetteville, Ark., says people associate certain scents with good feelings and positive memories. Among the most popular fragrances are the ones that remind people of beach vacations or expensive spa treatments.

“You can have a candle that smells like sand and suntan lotion or margaritas,” she says. “It’s the whole idea of people being able to escape through candles.”

She adds that lotion candles are also popular now. The user blows out the candle after it has burned for a while, then rubs the warm wax on hands and feet for an at-home spa treatment.

Licensed products such as Hershey’s, Jolly Rancher, and Cinnabon candles are also selling well, Davidson says.
Davidson says fragrances that smell like edible items are also popular. “The consumer is looking for comfort wherever they can get it.”

Cunningham agrees that food fragrances are big sellers. “Always your standard vanillas, cinnamon apples and also citrus dominate the food/drug/mass channel,” he says. “Some up-and-coming fragrances have been more related to fresh, outdoor, ozonic-type fragrances which really tie in to the popular theme of odor neutralizing, the fresh air aspect of neutralizing malodors.”

Another trend is the desire for natural and green products. Consumers are interested in soy and soy blends as a replacement for paraffin wax. Paraffin is a byproduct of petroleum refining. “The awareness of soy and the benefits of soy have gone from niche to mainstream,” Aumock says. “If you’re not shelving those you are missing an opportunity. Many consumers are soy loyalists and I see that group growing.”

He adds that the quality of the soy product has improved. Soy candles used to be limited to white, but now Soy Basics candles use the Tempacure process to make candles with vibrant colors.

Drawn to the flame

Byrne notes that consumers purchase candles for many reasons, including home odor control, home décor, relaxing, entertaining, celebration and romance. She thinks retailers can benefit from these consumer trends and can boost sales by building an in-store destination for the category.

Cunningham says 98% of Candle-Lite’s customers are female, and since they are shopping in the grocery channel, those retailers should try to attract her by setting up a candle section. “It’s important to dedicate permanent space to the category, at least four feet to eight feet of space to really do justice to home décor and fragrance,” he says.

Candle-Lite works with retailers to develop a space to effectively showcase candles. “We know how to manage the category and help direct grocery retailers to drive the candle business through the season with promotions that help draw consumer to the shelf and obviously increase their business, ” Cunningham says.

Davidson says Hanna’s offers floor displays. “They love the seasonal things, such as ‘Boo Avenue’ for Halloween or a great eye-catching Christmas display that they can move around the store.”

She adds that it’s important to have candle displays the rest of the year, too. “People really like candles year round,” she says.

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