Brad Connell, senior category manager of center store for Chicago-based bp America Inc., sees opportunity in learning how to adapt swiftly to change and trends. His strength in adaptation suits his love for the complexity of the category, though sometimes it means things can get hectic: “It’s always moving within the different, exciting parts of the business through different seasons,” Connell said. As bp brands such as Thorntons and ampm recover from the pandemic, Connell said “shopability” is a key factor in customer experience, and the company has made some changes to the plan-o-gram.

What sparks your devotion for center store?
One of my biggest passions is the motto that we have here at Thornton’s, something that we continue each and every day: serve the guests or serve someone who does. We’re in an industry where the guests could be the operator at the store, the team member that’s working with the guests or the guests coming in for their favorite snack. To me, it’s very important that we work as a team and to ultimately serve the guests at the end of the road.

“This year, I really feel like [innovation is] exploding.”

What are the biggest challenges you have faced this year?
We’re still getting unsteady supply. I think it’s still an opportunity for us as an industry to continue to be nimble, whether it be in replacing items or just changing with the trends, understanding the guests. We went through COVID, and now guests are back. The morning and afternoon drive times are picking up. One thing that we’re trying to do in '23 is trying to work on that bundle offer and making sure that we’re merchandising the right locations for those interactions.

What is intriguing and refreshing in the snacks and candy category?
Our innovation launches have been smaller over the last couple of years with COVID, and this year, I really feel like it’s exploding. I’m really excited about innovation that Hershey’s has brought this year with Reese’s Animal Crackers. It’s phenomenal, it’s one of those things that I think that will sneak up on some people.

I’m really focused on meat snacks—going back to inflation and the big bag offerings as guests’ dollars continue to get pressure and the bigger bags continue to go up in cost—how do we adapt? Is the guest going to adapt back to the smaller packages or go to the sticks? I’ve been hearing from different manufacturers that they’re expecting double-digit growth in '23, so we’ve adapted our sets to be ready for that growth.

Have you made any recent changes in your plan-o-gram or the way that you merchandise products?
One focus that we’re working on with the ampm brand is trying to lower the sight line to ensure the overall guest experience and “shopability” as well as the organizational ease of the operator.