Sizing up Sweets

Staying on top of candy trends proves successful for 7-Eleven

CHICAGO -- Identifying trends is important when stocking shelves. But knowing when a trend has run its course may be more important. That's one of the conclusions reached during a workshop at the 2006 All Candy Expo, which wraps up today in Chicago.

It's about identifying the trends and finding the right product mix, said Julie Whittle, who is in charge of the candy shelves at 7-Eleven Inc. stores, during a Confectionary Insights workshop. At the point consumers are no longer interested [in a trend]. it's about looking at the flavors and really pulling [image-nocss] outthe ones that aren't paying their rent.

Whittle joined Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert and Rich Libonate of Cadbury Adams USA to discuss trends and challenges in the candy industry during the workshop. The retailer has to be able to maximize the space [they have], said Libonate. And that comes down to research.

Both Libonate and Whittle agreed forging strong relationships between vendors and retailers goes a long way to making sure the product set is right. We look at what's selling at our own stores, said Whittle, and then to get ahead of the trends, we look to the expertsthe supplierswho know the customer andwhat the next trend will be.

And from the vendor's point of view, Libonate said he only gets a couple chances to prove his information is on the money, or he risks losing space in a store and the trust of a retailer. No one likes to lose space, he said. We have to look at ourselves before we go to Julie, and we have to be able to anticipate what she's going to ask us.

With any suggested new product or trend, Whittle said she would ask about the data that shows the product could be a winner and then consider the brand-spend. How much are they going to spend to promote the item? she said.

[You can't] just throw things up against the wall, said Libonate. It's the research and the support those new products get that makes a difference. We need her store sales to grow in order for us to grow.

As to candy trends in 2006 that are making a difference, Libonate and Whittle each had their own favorites. For Whittle, dark chocolate has been a winner. Libonate offered a vote for exotic gum flavors, such as pomegranate and other fruit flavors.