Kelley Gutierrez, category manager, candy and snacks, for Franklin, Tenn.-based MAPCO Express Inc., put an emphasis on in-store promotions in 2020 with the overarching goal to win over customers at a time when many were scouting for safe stores. Key to that success was creative in-store promotions to drive the chain’s strategy.

What’s new and exciting in your category?
The expansion of beef jerky lines and bringing in varieties that offer specific nutritional values to guests: no sugar, grass-fed, ingredient transparency and cleaner ingredient, organic options. These values have all helped expand the customer base. The expansion of hot and spicy, as well, helped, as more creative flavor profiles brought a younger audience to the segment.
On the confection side, the expansion of larger package sizes, seen with our bagged candy portfolio, and the ability to adjust promotional strategies allowed me to fill gaps when segments like gum and mints severely declined during COVID-19.

What product during the pandemic proved to be a game-changer for MAPCO Express stores?
During the pandemic, guests relied on convenience to skip visiting grocery stores, and also they found that some grocery stores faced out-of-stocks. Our grocery sets saw massive growth in sales for both consumables and non-consumables. Emergency purchases of the past became part of the core, staples such as bread, cooking oil and soups. This allowed us to serve communities in a time of need. These products are not center-store blockbusters by any means. But they drove traffic and continue to fill the basket as affinity purchases.

Any recent changes to how you’re displaying products in your stores?
We executed our new queue line where top sellers are within arm’s length of the cash wrap, which has sparked impulse purchases. This allows fast-paced shoppers to get in and out with what they need.

What do you love about your category?
That it’s fun. In a time when spirits are low, that’s where candy always offers a special treat for a guest of any age. Suppliers are always releasing new items that surprise and delight, that can brighten someone’s day at a value-driven cost.

What is the biggest frustration?
Still left over from 2020 are supply chain delays or disruptions; trying to keep up with inventory and having to identify substitute SKUs on the fly. Solid relationships with suppliers and brokers can help be a firewall to prevent disruptions. Being a category manager in 2020 meant being aware, reactive and quick-moving with supply-chain changes. Solid warehouse- supplier relationships allowed us prior knowledge of any future disruption and then allowed us to react and plan ahead.

How did the pandemic change your category?
Outside of twice-annual resets, I was tasked with using in-store space in a creative manner—to allow for expansion of growing segments without a need to physically expand the center store space.

What trends are you watching for 2021?
I will continue to watch nutrition trends as it relates to keto and paleo eating patterns, and I am intrigued to watch the continued evolution of hot and spicy flavors, which has exploded. Within confection I am excited to see more innovation within nonchocolates, particularly as it relates to peg bags.