Easter parade

An exciting array of seasonal products is helping the candy aisle spring ahead.

By Richard Turcsik

Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail, his work made easy by all the great new candies on display. There are chocolate-covered Peeps and Jelly Bellys too, and enough M&M’S solid chocolate bunnies, Hershey’s chocolate crème eggs and Godiva Limited Edition Dark Raspberry Truffle Gems to make an Easter basket that will be the envy of every kid on the block.

Even Mary Jane, a candy aisle stalwart, is all decked out in a Spring Variety Bag outfit of pastel-colored Easter finery. “What is really cool about this product is that Mary Jane is one of the oldest of candies and has always been about one flavor—peanut butter,” says Aimee Scott, director of marketing, at New England Confectionery Co. (NEECO), based in Revere, Mass. “But for the holiday, we went after a new flavor profile. They still have peanut butter, but now we have Peanut Butter & Jelly, Peanut Butter & Banana and Peanut Butter & Marshmallow S’mores.”

The oldest multi-line candy company in the U.S., NECCO has the license for the PAAS name (synonymous with Easter egg dyes) for candy products. Among its PAAS products are White Splashed Malted Milk Eggs and Splash Assorted Malted Milk Eggs in Ice Crème flavors.

“PAAS has been great for us, giving us an ability to launch new items with a little more excitement. The Ice Crème malts product was purposely launched under the PAAS brand,” Scott says, noting that NECCO also has malted milk eggs under its Might Malts brand.

Finding room
The industry thrives on new products, says Dave Abramson, director of sales and marketing at R.M. Palmer Co. based in Reading, Pa. This makes for a delicate balancing act for retailers with shrinking shelf space.

“R.M. Palmer Co. always comes out with new products. That’s the lifeblood of Palmer,” Abramson says. “You have your standards—your traditional hollow and traditional solid—but Palmer always has to introduce new items. After products have been around for a long time, the sell-throughs start waning and that affects what decisions the buyer makes as to what will appear on the shelves. Buyers are not getting more space, if anything they are getting less space for seasonal, so they are going to start at the bottom of the list and cut items.”

Palmer has been an Easter powerhouse going back to the days when the majority of consumers bought their bunny rabbits at Woolworth’s. “One of the things that has made Palmer successful is that we bring margin and tremendous pricing to the buyers of the department,” Abramson says. “We have the ability to create items that are very, very deep in margin.”

That’s not to say the major brands aren’t stepping up their offerings.

Hershey, Pa.-based Hershey Foods Corp. has several new products debuting for Easter 2011, include Snapsy, a solid chocolate bunny that is designed to easily snap apart for sharing; a carrot-shaped tube of Whoppers Mini Robin Eggs; a dozen-count carton of Reese’s chocolate and peanut butter eggs, and a large Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Egg with Chocolate Crème Center.

Mars is also expanding the Easter presence of its mainstream brands. New for 2011 are M&M’S Brand Milk Chocolate Solid Large and Small Bunnies featuring the iconic M&M’S Brand Characters as adorable bunnies; Minis Mix Variety Bag with Starburst Brand, combining Starburst, Twix and Snickers in one bag in a size that’s perfect for stashing in plastic eggs; 3 Musk­eteers Brand Milk Chocolate Marsh­mallow Minis, featuring a fluffy marshmallow nougat; and Dove Brand Silky Smooth Coconut Crème Milk Chocolate Eggs.

“Consumers are always looking for new seasonally themed candy to add excitement and individuality to home decorating and Easter baskets,” says Timothy LeBel, vice president of sales at Mars Chocolate North America, based in Hackettstown, N.J.

Manufacturers suggest Easter candy displays go up the day after Valentine’s Day. LeBel says to be truly successful they should have a heavy focus on name brands. “Consumers are seeking brands they know and trust at Easter,” he says.

Mars will be supporting its Easter offerings with FSI drops on March 20 and April 10, and LeBel says retailers should plan accordingly by advertising Mars brands around those dates and building secondary displays.

Hot chicks
Of course no Easter basket is complete without Peeps—the little marshmallow chicks manufactured by Just Born. This year the Beth­lehem, Pa.-based company has hatched up several new offerings, including Peeps Peepsters, which promise a high-quality chocolate experience with luscious layers of quality milk or dark chocolate enveloping a marshmallow-flavored crème center. Bite-sized and individually wrapped, they are available in 11-ounce bags of milk or dark chocolate.

Also new this year are Peeps Chocolate Dipped Chicks, featuring the iconic yellow chicks dipped in milk or dark chocolate.

“We offer a Peeps Chicks counter unit display because consumers will often purchase a couple of packs of Peeps on impulse if they see them at the counter,” says Aubrecia Cooper, assistant brand manager, seasonal brands.
“It is amazing how one little product can do so well and is so important to the overall department at Easter,” says one southwestern grocery buyer about the Peeps line. “Peeps are a must-have in our Easter selection and we do what we can to make them stand out. The key to this department is awareness and cross-promotion.”

Jelly beans are another Easter mainstay. “Obviously Easter is the biggest time of the year for jelly beans, especially those large pectin beans,” says Dennis Spiller, vice president, national sales, Jelly Belly Candy Co., based in Fairfield, Calif. “But since Jelly Belly is the leader in the jelly bean category for the majority of the year, around Easter we do in-store promotions, reduced prices and shippers.”

This year Jelly Belly is putting a new twist on the holiday with an online promotion combining two favorite Easter traditions—baking and eating Easter candy. “With our Cupcake Challenge promotion consumers decorate their cupcakes with Jelly Belly jelly beans, take a picture of it and enter it into our online contest,” Spiller says, adding that the contest launches during the Easter season and runs through July.

In-store, the promotion is being merchandised via tear-pad recipe booklets on Jelly Belly DSD displays. “We are calling it the Sweet Treats Cupcake Idea Book and it has recipe ideas and things of that nature. We’re also going to have a [call-out] on our packaging announcing the contest with the online information, etc.,” Spiller says.

Mark of luxury
In addition to the mainstream and seasonal niche brands, more supermarket retailers are realizing their stores need a luxury component to set themselves apart from the mass market and drugstore competition.

“Because of the recession, consumers are redefining value,” says Rich Keller, business director, marketing at New York-based Godiva Chocolatier. “As a result, the premium chocolate market is fast evolving, highly competitive and more accessible for consumers to enjoy. Consumers today are more discerning about their purchases, seeking quality, value and relevance,” he says.

“Because the majority of our Godiva locations are in shopping malls and department stores, we wanted to make the brand more accessible so consumers can enjoy our high quality Godiva anytime, anywhere,” Keller says. “That’s why we created the Godiva Gems Platform, a line of individually wrapped Truffles, Caramels and Solid Chocolates for savvy shoppers who appreciate the highest quality Godiva chocolate at a more affordable price.”

For Easter 2011, Godiva has launched three new Gems items, including the Limited Edition Dark Raspberry Chocolate Gems. “This new Gem flavor capitalizes on the spring season with a new, rich Raspberry fruit flavor truffle center encased in Godiva Dark Chocolate,” Keller says. They are available in large and small bags retailing at $4.99 and $9.99, respectively, along with a novelty Easter Egg with 10 pieces retailing for $6.99.

Godiva is also introducing a new Core Gems flavor: White Chocolate Truffle, featuring smooth white chocolate truffle encased in Godiva’s White Chocolate. Also new for spring is an assortment bag of Milk, Dark and White Chocolate Truffle Gems wrapped in spring pastel colors in a stand-up bag for $4.99.

Many manufacturers are rolling out other new candy products during the Easter timeframe as well. In March, Mars is kicking off its “Take Your Peanut Butter Pick” promotion, a cross-branded event showcasing new Snickers Brand Peanut Butter Squared Bars, M&M’S Brand Peanut Butter Chocolate Candies, Twix Peanut Butter Cookie Bars and Dove Silky Smooth Chocolate with Peanut Butter.

The promotion includes three display options: a Mixed Singles Peanut Butter Shipper, a Mixed Singles Peanut Butter Counter Unit and an 18-count Mixed Singles Peanut Butter Variety Box Tray.

“Consumers are increasing their peanut butter consumption, making peanut butter the fastest-growing segment within the chocolate category,” says LeBel of Mars.

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