CHICAGO — Meat snacks and jerky saved retailers’ bacon in 2020 across packaged-snack sets. The segment was a category outlier, growing 5.3% for the full year in the convenience channel.
Across the wider packaged-snack index, it was a free fall: Cookies were off 24%, snack/granola bars almost 20%, nuts/seeds 14%, crackers 11% and “other” snacks 10.5%, according to 2020 year-end data from Chicago-based IRI.
Seeing an opportunity to ride a winning horse, Kelley Gutierrez, category manager of candy and snacks for Franklin, Tenn.-based MAPCO Express Inc., leveraged meat snacks to her advantage across the chain’s 345 stores in 2020. And will continue doing so this year.
“Convenience, on the whole, does a better job offering a wide meat-snack assortment compared to grocery, where you’ll see a 4-foot meat-snack section top to bottom. We offer far more compelling assortments and have a chance to be more reactive to consumer demands,” says Gutierrez, a former executive with Dollar General who’s been with MAPCO since 2017.
Under Gutierrez’s guidance, the chain expanded its meat snack/jerky set via several key strategies. Within meat snacks, an emphasis was on 8-ounce packages or larger, with the incentive of a $1 per unit discount to stimulate value, says Gutierrez. “We saw significant growth, too, with meat sticks, emphasizing multiples within our peg-bag sets, where an 18-stick package really drove value.”
Salty snacks stands as the No. 6 largest category within the convenience channel’s top 10 product hierarchy, just behind “mega” categories cigarettes, energy drinks, carbonated soft drinks, beer and other tobacco products. It lost 6.1% in dollar sales and 10.5% for units in convenience during 2020, according to IRI.
MAPCO beat the averages, generating growth across the category, according to Gutierrez, CSP’s 2021 Category Manager of the Year (CMOY) for center store. “Given the challenges we faced, we registered a great year within snacks overall,” she says.
Larger package sizes were instrumental for c-store retailers in cultivating growth in 2020, and many expect that will continue in 2021.
“Nutrition bars got hit hard. … We think this segment will take a long time to come back.”
For this year’s Super Bowl, retailer United Pacific priced take-home-size salty snacks that rivaled prices offered by local grocery stores, says Robyn Gettleson, category manager of snacks and candy for the Long Beach, Calif.-based chain of 451 stores in five Western states.
That was just one of the changes she made to United Pacific’s plan-o-gram, which required an “adjustment of space to sales.”
“Nutrition bars got hit hard. Because we think this segment will take a long time to come back, we reduced nutrition bar space and devoted it to other segments—but also allocated space to larger packages,” says Gettleson, a 2021 CMOY finalist.
Similarly, Tim Young, category manager center store for Bardstown, Ky.-based FiveStar Food Marts., saw the need to rethink merchandisers and store sets. Floor space was condensed to adhere to social distancing protocols. “Higher, more vertically configured gondolas with extenders is what we’ve begun to think about more. It’s an easier decision when compared to knocking down walls.”
Young, a 2021 CMOY finalist, says the salty-snack category grew double digits in dollars while remaining flat for units in his stores. And while some suppliers scaled back on new-product introductions, he says it was those that maintained their innovation pipeline that made a difference. SkinnyPop from Amplify Snack Brands, for example, debuted Sweet and Salty Kettle and Sweet Vanilla Kettle corn that resonated with his consumer base.
Gutierrez singled out Frito-Lay’s new hot and spicy salty snack releases, as well as better-for-you baked snack offerings, as traffic drivers in MAPCO stores.
In 2021, Gutierrez is looking forward to growth within packaged sweet snacks and plans to facilitate that by connecting packaged snacks with MAPCO’s food fare.
“We are looking at using loyalty rewards to bundle foodservice with packaged sweet snacks,” she says, “and plan to tailor our queue line to spotlight current new consumer demands.”
Three noteworthy challenges retailers faced in 2020.
- Suppliers back off innovation to cultivate core items. “You saw suppliers backing off this cycle, including larger brand names,” says Tim Young of FiveStar Food Marts.
- COVID production protocols create meat-snack supply disruptions. The issues struck just as high demand hit, and MAPCO found itself enacting a “contingency plan to integrate new brand SKUs” into the mix that were outside the chain’s existing core, says MAPCO’s Kelley Gutierrez.
- Merchandising campaigns take a back seat. “Two-for-one deals were reduced as we simply sought the most dollars from the core items,” says Robyn Gettleson of United Pacific.