Snacks: Distributor's Notebook 2014

Kelly Kurt, Freelance writer

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While the convenience store industry’s snack base may continue to rest on indulgent sweet and salty snacks, the channel is working to meet consumers’ growing demand for healthful offers.

Case in point: a new multivendor endcap that distributor Harold Levinson Associates has designed, featuring two rows of pegs and six shelves of healthful, organic and gluten-free snacks.

“We’ve been very successful with the gluten-free and organic snacks,” says Marty Glick, vice president of sales for the Farmingdale, N.Y.-based distributor. “It gets the mommies in the store and the more health-conscious people in the store.”

The fact that there’s nothing but better-for-you options on the new endcap speaks to a growing trend in the c-store snack offering: People are trying to eat smarter on the go, and there are lots of new products that appeal to them.

The “mommies” represent a big opportunity for the 15,000 independent retailers served by HLA in six Northeastern states, Glick says. They’re looking for healthful options, and the c-stores that upgrade their mix to attract them are likely to find “they actually spend more than men do and buy multiple items.”

The selection of perceived-healthy snacks is getting broader and spanning the entire snack category. There are gluten-free Kind bars, low-calorie Special K Cracker Chips, even oatmeal cups that are organic, vegan, kosher and halal, Glick says. Trail mixes, once limited to chocolate candies and peanuts, are now packed with dried fruit such as cranberries and mangoes. Even in meat snacks, customers see turkey jerky as a healthier source of protein, he says.

Gluten-free snacks are popular not only with customers who have a gluten intolerance or allergies, Glick says, but also with snackers who consider gluten-free products more digestible. Last year, Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group reported that a third of U.S. adults wanted to cut down or eliminate gluten in their diets.

“We see that trend continuing,” he says. “We probably could do an 8- to 12-foot section of all gluten-free snacks, but the way to start off is with a multivendor endcap. If that program does well, you obviously expand to other products or programs.”

Blurring Day-Parts

All-day snacking is also changing the category. Glick points to what has become known as the “fourth meal,” a post-dinner snack usually purchased between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“A customer might be coming in to buy a hot dog or a hamburger,” he says. “They’re also buying a snack bar as well. They need that shot of adrenaline and energy.”

Across day-parts, HLA encourages convenience stores to make combination deals a regular part of their offer.

“We’re a big believer of offering a combo deal every 30 days,” he says. “A cup of coffee and a roll, a cup of coffee and a Kind bar—whatever it might be. You could offer a breakfast combo, and then during lunch you could offer a bottle of water or an iced tea with a hot dog or a sandwich.

“You’re making less margin, but margin doesn’t go into the bank. Sales go into the bank,” he continues. “If you’re not bringing more people into your store, you’re not making sales.”

When it comes to merchandising snacks, retailers need to consider breaking up long aisles. Endcaps are critical in the snack category, Glick says.

“I call them interruption points,” he says. “An endcap stops the consumer’s vision. If he or she is going to buy a soda and then there’s this interruption point in the system, they’re going to stop.”

Covering the core bases is also critical, he says. Success comes with stores that are clean, consistent and organized in their offering.

“If I wouldn’t shop in it, why would you? Stores need to be well-lit, clean, with modern fixtures,” he says. “And you shouldn’t have a Snickers bar and a Reese’s Cup next to a Kind bar. It doesn’t belong anywhere in that area.”

He encourages category managers to have a vision and a plan for “not just today or tomorrow but beyond that.”

“You can’t strive for the roof if you’ve not built the foundation yet,” Glick says. “You’ve got to keep it simple to start.”

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