Hopped up on sweets

Retailers are using the elongated selling season to “spring”board Easter candy sales.

Children across the country may be teary-eyed waiting a little longer for Easter treats this year, but retailers could not be happier. After last year’s shortened Easter selling season, this year’s extra three weeks should provide an ample sell-up to the holiday on April 20th. MMs-Bunny-Dispenser

According to the National Confectioners Association (NCA), Easter is the second largest confectionary-selling season behind Halloween. It is responsible for 28% of annual incremental sales, tops among typical seasonal candy selling seasons such as the end of year holidays (24%), Halloween (22%) and Valentine’s Day (16%). The Washington D.C.-based NCA expects 2014 Easter confectionery sales to top the  $2.2 billion generated in 2013, a prediction based on strong sales trends and the impact of the longer merchandising period.

While much of that $2.2 billion in sales is comprised of long-standing favorites, consumers are always looking for something new and tasty. Candy makers are more than happy to meet that need.

“Seasons, like Easter, have proven to be the perfect time to introduce new products and/or lines,” says Jenn Ellek, director of trade and marketing communications for the NCA. “Shoppers are in an explorative mindset during the holidays. This open-minded thinking makes the perfect backdrop for testing new products. Retailers should remember to strike a balance between proven favorites and new introductions, and monitor the sales during the selling season in order to tweak offerings based on shopper’s preferences.”

Perennial Easter favorite PEEPS, made by Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born, is building on its Easter tradition with new PEEPS flavors (Blue Raspberry, Sweet Lemonade, Bubble Gum, Party Cake, Orange Crème, Strawberry Crème and others) as well as widening the distribution of its most recent chocolate item, the PEEPS Hollow Milk Chocolate Egg.

“PEEPS has been the number one non-chocolate candy at Easter for more than 20 years but we have recently incorporated chocolate into some of our marshmallow confections,” says Mark Hoffman, senior brand manager, PEEPS, Just Born.

These items include Peepsters, bite-sized chocolates filled with marshmallow crème; PEEPS that are drizzled, dipped or covered in chocolate; and a Milk Chocolate Egg filled with a PEEPS Marshmallow Chick.

Another Easter favorite is jelly beans. For this season, category leader Jelly Belly, based in Fairfield, Calif., is introducing two Easter-themed Disney bags filled with a colorful Spring mix. The snack bags are sold in mixed cases and each bag features either Mickey Mouse or Minnie Mouse.

“We’ve had similar themed Disney bags for other holidays and the response from consumers has been overwhelming,” says Dennis Spiller, vice president of national sales for Jelly Belly. “We see big things for these bags this Easter.”

Many of the holiday’s biggest sellers are small bite-sized items that fit snuggly into kids’ Easter baskets—and there is always room for more. Officials at Mars Chocolate North America certainly think so.

The company is expanding its line of seasonal shapes with Twix Egg Singles. Mars is also rolling out the 5-ounce Twix brand Centerpiece Egg and M&M’S Milk Chocolate Solid Bunny with Minis, says Timothy LeBel, vice president of sales-grocery/value/military for the Hackettstown, N.J.-based company.

“Two fun novelties from the M&M’S brand are the M&M’S Milk Chocolate Candies Carrot Cane, which is filled with orange candies and the M&M’S Milk Chocolate Candies Twist ‘n Pour Dispenser,” says LeBel.

The Hershey Co., based in Hershey, Pa., is offering an array of new items, in addition to its perennial Easter treats. These include Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Covered Almond Eggs, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Easter Cross, Jolly Rancher Easter Shape Lollipops, Whoppers Robin Eggs Decorate Your Own Eggs Box and Reese’s White Peanut Butter Egg.

While the popular chocolate brands from Mars and Hershey’s, among others, garner much of retailer shelf space, industry observers say Easter provides a perfect opportunity for retailers to stock some more high-end, gourmet-type items.

Sanders Candy’s Easter Mini’s debuted in March last year and barely had time on the shelves before Easter arrived. Even so, Tiffany Van Hemm, account executive for the Clinton, Mich.-based company says they did well and are available for the entire Easter selling season this year. There are six flavors: Peanut Butter, Coconut, Sea Salt Caramel, Caramel, Coconut Nests and Pecan Titan, which come in a 6-ounce box that has a suggested retail price of $5.99. “They have cute packaging, are the perfect size, perfect price-point and still a gourmet item that people are trying to get into Easter baskets,” says Van Hemm.

Sanders also offers a 6-ounce Peanut Butter Bunny and “Freckles” Cookies & Cream Bunny. “Affordable chocolates may still be Easter basket staples, but parents are really looking to add something gourmet,” adds Van Hemm. “For example, the Peanut Butter Bunny has become quite popular and is a gourmet item that they will splurge on and add to convenience chocolates.”

Easter Treats extend beyond the Easter basket. Most people that celebrate Easter do so with a family meal—and no meal is complete without dessert. Kane Candy, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is currently in the process of expanding its line of premium quality chocolates specifically made for the baking and “at-home” entertaining segments.

“Kane Candy is tapping into the ‘at home’ trend by offering quick and easy dessert options,” says Joe Kane, president. “Our products are chef inspired and made for everyday consumers to make amazing desserts at home.”

New this year from Kane is four varieties of its chocolate dessert cups, chocolate party cups and chocolate cordial cups. Kane Candy Mini Choco Blocks and chocolate decorations will also launch this year.

Easter freeze
Frozen treats may not be standard Easter fare but more and more creative parents are working shelf-stable freezer pops into children’s Easter baskets. Industry observers say the tie-in to Easter is more natural than many retailers may think.

“Displays help drive sales for the shelf-stable freezer bar category and they can be easily displayed with Easter items,” says Susie Frausto, vice president of marketing for The Jel Sert Co., based in Chicago. “Consumers like to ‘think Spring’ and they will buy freezer bars if they are available.”

New “better-for-you” shelf stable freezer pops on the market are also providing a healthy alternative to sugary treats. Fun Snacks, manufacturer of fruit flavored freezer pops, recently launched Prebiotic Freeze Pops with Immune Support. These freezer pops combine the immune support with the digestive health benefits of prebiotic dietary fiber.

“It can be hard to get children to eat things that are healthy because often they don’t taste good,” says John Allman, general manager for Cleveland, Tenn.-based Fun Treats. “We are tying to make a product that is really healthy, that has a lot of science behind it, but also tastes good.” The pops are available in packages of eight 3-ounce pops in assorted flavors with a suggested retail price of $2.00 – $2.50.

Allman says the pops are not just for kids either. “They are good for anybody. We have two labels, one designed to attract children and one designed for adults. Prebiotic Freezer Pops with Immune Support are a functional treat that everyone in the family can enjoy,” he adds.

Jel Sert has freezer bars targeting an older set as well. The company is introducing items with flavors, taste and textures designed to appeal to tweens and adults.

Jel Sert’s Margaritaville freezer bars are non-alcoholic products available in Margarita, Strawberry Daiquiri and Pina Colada flavors. Its Sunkist Smoothie Freezer Bars are frozen-smoothie textured bars in Strawberry-Banana, Mango and Berry flavors among others.

“Freezer bars used to be available in a few fruit flavors and did not offer consumers any unique textures,” says Frausto. “Thanks to our category innovations that appeal to tweens and adults, more households are buying freezer bars then they did in the past.”

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