How Convenient, Episode 13: The Sweet Spot

A special treat for any sweet-tooth subscriber, this week's episode of How Convenient continues the conversation of changing consumer trends and advancements in the candy category. Koupon's Client Success Manager Mary Trinko joins Greg Crow to reveal the sweetest secrets candy companies can use to differentiate themselves in this saturated market. 
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Greg Crow: In this episode, we discuss a candy brand that's up 53% in sales dollars in 2020.
Welcome to How Convenient, A new podcast about the essential role community source play in the busy lives of consumers. Our hope is to equip innovative C-store store leaders, as they seek to earn lasting shopper loyalty. In each weekly episode, we'll briefly share an update on c-store sales trends and what we're learning from billions of in-store purchase transactions.
Today's episode was recorded on March 4th, 2021. I'm Greg Crow of Koupon, I'm thrilled that with me today is Mary Trinko. Mary, tell us about yourself.

Mary Trinko: Firstly, thanks for having me here today, Greg. I work here at Koupon and I manage our brand client success team and have been lucky enough to work with major CPGs the last four years. Really an exciting time.

Personally, I'm really excited for today's episode because I am addicted to candy. And I'm always curious if what I like matches what is going on in the industry.

Greg Crow: Fantastic. So tell me, what is your go-to candy brand Mary?

Mary Trinko: It's like picking your favorite child, it's impossible to do. Lately I've been really into M&Ms. I've been loving just trying new ones. And the caramel ones that came out, I think about two years ago or so, have been really hitting the spot.

Greg Crow: Fantastic. I'm a sucker for Reese's cups.

All right, so for the week ending, February 21st, our in-store sales are flat versus a year ago. Alcohol is up 12%, candy 3%, tobacco 2%, beverage is 1% and snacks are down 2%, and food down 6%. Total in-store trips are down 16% and basket dollars are up 18%. This week, cheeses are up 6%.

In episode three, it was near Halloween, which is hard to believe that's been six months ago, we talked about candy and we thought this is an eternity in the candy world and so it'd be good for us to revisit the category. We'll start with just a quick update on overall stats from a category perspective. Looking at it on a dollar growth basis. Overall categories up 3% versus 2019, the non-chocolate bars and packs, lead that with 11% growth, chocolate 6% growth, candy, drops, mints and rolls down 9% and gum minus 20%. Throughout the crisis, non-chocolate has led growth and we'll speak more about that in a second.

In terms of regional trends, we've seen candy demand has grown at the highest rate in the Southeast and at the lowest rate in the West. And we think this is nearing just a broader trend that reflects the depth of impacts from the shutdown, resulting from COVID.

So, Mary, you mentioned that you work with a lot of manufacturers, I'd love to just get your perspective on what are some of the trends that are really taking hold with candy consumers, that manufacturers are building into their plans for 2021.

Mary Trinko: Yeah, I think it's really interesting to see how they've really adapted. I think when we think about candy, it's a really saturated market. A lot of brands have really differentiated themselves by changing their skews. Whether that be new flavors, new textures, new sizes, just making it relevant to consumers and really listening to feedback.

And I think another really interesting thing is folks are also thinking about, “how can we adapt to the trends.” And one of the big trends we've been seeing is consumers are looking for more healthy options. Beyond just that classic intake of calories, folks are also looking for things like immune health and bone strength and whatnot. I think we're going to start seeing more of those trends come out as well as brands look to differentiate themselves in this really quite saturated market.

Greg Crow: Yeah, absolutely. So you hit on two, I think important trends that we try to watch. One is innovation. One of the products we've been watching is Trolley Crunchy Crawlers—say that five times fast! It's the usual gummy, and then it's got a crunchy texture. And so over the last six months, the product has gone from a zero to hundreds of units per month on a per store basis. So that speaks to that innovation piece that you mentioned.

I think we've also talked about in earlier episodes, episode seven comes to mind, we talked about some of the megatrends. And your comment around indulgent versus better-for-you. And I think we're all trying to navigate that as individuals and that's certainly driving a lot of interests with the CPGs.

To illustrate maybe some broader trends, it's interesting to look at brands that span categories. So we'll highlight an iconic brand, Lifesavers. Did you eat lifesavers when you were growing up Mary?

Mary Trinko: Yeah, that was actually my candy of choice when I was seven. It was a very solid phase in my life.

Greg Crow: Absolutely me too. That was a big one for me. The brand grew sales 13% in 2020, but their gummies products screen 19% and the hard candy that you and I grew up with declined 6%. We are seeing some of the brands that are really doing well, Sour Patch, Haribo, Albany's and Black Forest Trolley. These gummy-centric brands are really growing sales, but the more I think we sit back and think about it Mary, everybody's got a gummies offering nowadays. Every brand has a gummies offer of some type. What's going on with this trend? And generally, where are brands being successful in putting the focus on the consumer to earn their role?

Mary Trinko: Yeah. When I started to look at this data and saw that gummies were growing by such an exponential amount, the candy recently had an article that mentioned that 85% of millennials who are eating candy are turning towards gummies as part of that habit. And my first thought was, “Oh, interesting. CBD has been incorporating gummies as part of that portfolio for a while. So, I wonder if we're hearing the word gummies, if we're having it or seeing something on our Instagram feed and whatnot, and that might be having folks turn even just as more innocent model of gummies.” Which is, of course, translating into brands, having to meet with that demand. On a more practical level, I also wonder if folks who are grabbing candy to-go are turning to gummies because it's not going to melt in your purse or in your car. And if your kid has it, it's not going to damage their clothing. And there's just a lot of use cases about why gummies are easier to have around.

And I also think it really turns it to brands turning to social media. Mars used to do limited edition all-pink in the summer for I think, three or four years. And then in 2020, they actually announced, "Hey, this is going to be a permanent part of our portfolio," which has really answering to consumers asks. And I think that is really insightful to think about how they listened to it, they tested it and then they did a full launch. Which to go back to our earlier point, is that the real importance of reinvention and that listening and keeping that feedback loop real tight.

Greg Crow: No, that's great. As you talked about, certainly there are hundreds of candy brands and yeah, it can be difficult to reach consumers. I think that's a great example of a brand really starting with cause-base as a strategy of “how do we make sure that women feel included in this” and really it turned it into a very successful program. As we discussed in the past, we continue to see growth in larger pack sizes as consumers have fewer trips. So, products that fit the profile of eat some now, and eat some later as Mary mentioned, those are resonating, not just in candy, but across categories. So, we're seeing a lot of sharing sizes and resealable pouches, ready packs are increasingly common in the C-store space.

Shifting to chocolate, we've discussed in earlier episodes, the growth of premium brands. And that continues, but the growth has really been broad based. And so the market leader Reese's grew share from 11% of the category to 12% in our panel, which is amazing in a market that was just a 3% across the board. And it's interesting to compare packaging. So the king size Reese's product grew sales 11%, whereas regular sized products growth was flat. And interesting to see that Mary. Kinder has also been an interesting story, on fire the last couple of years. Overall growth in 2020 on our panel was 53%. And while it's been a leading brand internationally, it's just now become a top 10 chocolate brand in our panel with recent growth. And first started out with the Joy Eggs in early 2018, and that product line is still growing at 86% in 2020 which is amazing. And then we saw the launch of a Kinder Bueno in ‘19 and ‘20. And unit growth rates last year were 210%. It is incredible.

Mary, you talked about promotion and I think, we've seen Kinder has done a lot of promotion around the Oscars each year. And we saw actually a bump in the network this year in February of 2020. The unit volume was four times the January numbers. Mary, we've talked about the need to reach consumers and how important it is to innovate and be sensitive to the things that are important to the consumers—they make the purchase decision. There's a lot of launches certainly, and extensions in this category and at Koupon, we're fortunate to be part of that. You're in the center of a lot of that activity. I'm curious, what are some lessons learned that we can take from Kinder and others as we think about 2021.

Mary Trinko: I think there's a lot we can learn. I think they did a lot of things really right here. Predominantly being different. They didn't just come in and say, "This is the handbook. I'm going to follow the handbook." They were really different. They included a toy, so it was a double value. You not only get the joy of chocolate, but then the joy of a toy, which I think is really something that resonates with folks, that whole entire two-in-one special without even asking for it.

I think another really important thing is that they listened. Which is, again, what we talked about earlier. But the importance of really anchoring products and looking at what the trends are. In this case, I'm really looking at novelty and experienced snacking, and combining it to really make it an impactful experience. It's not just eating it, it's an experience which is brought about because it's a toy. I think that was a lot of fun and had differentiation that we can learn from.

Another thing I think they did really was thought about the launch really strategically in terms of not just trying to get it on shelf, but partnering with retailers, providing offers, giving them reasons to get shelf space—where we want it, right? At eye level, not necessarily on the floor. Looking at, “how can I educate them on what this product is? How can I get folks involved and make it not only the valuable to the end consumer, but to that retailer partner?” You're getting what you need to be supported. I think all those are things we can learn from and definitely are achievable.

Greg Crow: Absolutely. This has been a lot of fun, Mary. Thanks for joining me today. I hope we will do this again soon. And maybe like last week, and thank you to Allison for hosting last week, so maybe you can host a future episode. We learned earlier in this process, Brad and I, that the average podcast has 14 episodes. This is the 13th, so we're hoping to make it above average. And that's it for candies. Our next episode, we will talk about how retailers are growing promotions in food. Thank you for listening to How Convenient.
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