CHICAGO —Well-known candy brands are getting a new spin this year.
This past summer, The Hershey Co. released its limited-time only (LTO) Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Emoji Bar, designed to help children make friends as they return to school in the fall. It also added a twist to its Kit Kat brand with Kit Kat Duos Mint Plus Dark Chocolate bars, which will be available in December as a permanent addition to the chocolate and wafer candy bar lineup, said Kaylee Dugan, associate manager of earned media for The Hershey Co., Hershey, Pa.
Mars Wrigley is also playing with the formula of its classic brands. In October 2018, the company announced it would launch a new 3 Musketeers flavor—birthday cake—for the first time in six years.
This wave of new flavors and forms might have some c-store retailers thinking back to the heady days of LTOs several years ago. But while the first LTO wave ended up unintentionally flooding the candy aisle and pressuring core brands, manufacturers have done a better job this time with narrowing the focus of their innovative candy items, said Tim Young, category manager for candy, snacks and edible grocery for Bardstown, Ky.-based FiveStar Food Marts.
While it’s important not to take away old favorite brands, putting a new spin on one can be a good way to expand the customer base, said Kelley Gutierrez, category manager for candy and snacks for Brentwood, Tenn.-based MAPCO.
“The nostalgia of the brand helps to bring in an older customer, and the new flavors and innovation help to bring in a consumer who may not be aware of an iconic brand, so I do welcome those types of changes,” Gutierrez said.
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Emoji Bar, available in standard 1.55-ounce individual bars and 9.45-ounce snack-size bags, represents the first time that Hershey has changed the individual pips, or pieces, of its milk chocolate bars, Dugan said. The manufacturer frequently taps consumer surveys and research to help develop new items.
The idea for Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Emoji Bar developed as part of Hershey’s The Heartwarming Project, which brings together teens to develop strategies to overcome social isolation. In developing the product, executives with Hershey thought of what parents could buy for their children to help ease first-day-of-school nerves. Hershey selected the 25 emoji characters through a survey of parents and children. The idea is for the consumer to share their favorite emoji to help make a new friend or reconnect with an old one, Dugan said.
The concept for Kit Kat Duos Mint Plus Dark Chocolate originated from consumer interest in a new way to enjoy the brand, and mint and dark chocolate is a popular flavor combination, Dugan said. The candy features a mint creme on the top and dark chocolate on the bottom, surrounding wafers. It will be available in a standard 1.5-ounce bar for a suggested retail price (SRP) of 99 cents and in a king-size 3-ounce bar for an SRP of $1.69.
Mars Wrigley believes offering new items is one of the best opportunities for c-store retailers to increase sales, said Rosemary Nocito, 3 Musketeers brand manager. The Chicago-based candy company has been active launching new flavors of its most popular chocolate candy brands, including Creamy Snickers; M&M’s variations such as Hazelnut Spread and Caramel; and 3 Musketeers Birthday Cake, which debuted in 2018. All are permanent additions to Mars Wrigley’s core lineup.
“Sweets and snacks need to be delivered in a variety of flavors and sizing options to continually engage with and excite today’s customers,” Nocito said. New items can provide a 40% lift in sales velocity, according to Nielsen data shared by Mars Wrigley.
For 3 Musketeers Birthday Cake, which is available in a 2.14-ounce share-size bar and an 8.4-ounce miniatures stand-up pouch, the company looked for inspiration from adjacent categories and retail channels—specifically in desserts, coffee shops, bakeries and ice cream shops, Nocito said.
Sales of new items can see a 40% sales lift, according to Nielsen data provided by Mars Wrigley.
FiveStar brought in a shipper of the 3 Musketeers Birthday Cake, Young says. That, along with the Milky Way Fudge bar, which debuted in 2018, sold out fast.
“When you look at the competitive landscape and you’ve got a c-store on every corner, having different things like that provides great opportunity for us—an advantage,” Young said.
Where to Place
When it comes to placement, both Hershey’s and Mars Wrigley suggest c-stores stock the new varieties next to their parent product.
“By creating a more intuitive and visually appealing shelf, search time can be reduced, and shopper satisfaction and sales will increase,” Nocito said. “For example, grouping variations of one brand, like 3 Musketeers Birthday Cake, near the parent brand increases ease and speed of shopping and ultimately incremental purchases of the product.”
Hershey offers its Hershey’s Solutions online category-management tool for retailers. The site offers retail insights, optimized plan-o-grams, new product information and, most recently, it added online ordering capability.
Laura Renaud, manager of corporate communications for Hershey, says placement depends on the retailer’s set size and other factors. “But generally, our approach to new innovation has been put it together with the original or classic favorite,” she said. “So, for example, when we rolled out Reese’s With Pieces, we put that with the regular Reese’s.”
Hershey is also working with c-store category managers to take advantage of secondary merchandising locations, such as putting Reese’s inside the cooler section, because Reese’s are often bought with carbonated soft drinks, Renaud said.
FiveStar has promotional space dedicated for new items such as LTOs in its candy endcap, Young said. It also places new items on the counter by the register and in the queue leading up to the register. Sometimes FiveStar will also do a selling competition among stores.
“When you do that, the numbers are just off the wall,” Young said, pointing out that these competitions can increase item sales by 165%.
Options, Not Replacements
Some retailers, however, prefer to place new products away from their parent product. Kum & Go LC, Des Moines, Iowa, stocked the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Emoji Bar over the summer, as well as Reese’s Lovers Cups, which debuted in the spring as an LTO. It also added the winner of Mars Wrigley’s 2019 M&M’s Flavor Vote campaign, English Toffee Peanut.
To increase sell-through and drive impulse purchase, Kum & Go merchandises these types of products on an endcap or a power wing away from the inline candy section, said Stephanie Poitry, senior category manager of center store for Kum & Go. One advantage to this approach is that Kum & Go can sell the LTOs at full retail instead of at a promotion price, she says.
That said, Kum & Go sees the most success with new items that offer enhanced traditional flavors or fun shapes.
“A limited number of these items can be incremental to the everyday candy selection and create consumer engagement with both the candy brands and the Kum & Go Brand,” Poitry said. “If there are too many, as there were 10 to 12 years ago, it can start impacting the core business and becomes much less incremental to the category.”
What’s key for all candy manufacturers is to give consumers another option—but not to replace old favorites.
“Very rarely do we make changes to a classic candy our consumers already love,” said Rachel Chambers, vice president of marketing for Perfetti Van Melle, Erlanger, Ky. “Consumers buy us with a certain expectation. Too many changes to their classic favorites can lead to disappointment.”
However, adding a new twist to an old favorite—such as Perfetti Van Melle’s Mentos Candy Cane, Airheads Gummies, and Mentos Chewy and Fresh—is different because these varieties offer another option from a brand that consumers are already loyal to and adds the ability to attract new customers to the brand.
“Before launching any new product, we go to great lengths to ensure that we are making things we know our consumers will love,” Chambers said. “These old favorites with a new twist are typically well-received because they are based on an item that is already known and loved. That reduces the risk and increases the excitement factor for the consumer.”