At Sweets & Snacks Expo, Hershey is a Snack—and Insights—Powerhouse

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Kate Silver
Contributor

Hershey had a dominant presence at the annual National Confectioners Association Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago in May. As attendees rode the escalators to the show floor, the first signs that came into view revealed that familiar Hershey's Kisses logo. Just beyond, the Reese’s lounge, adorned in bright orange, served as a busy hub for business discussions. And the Hershey booth, itself, was bustling with activity, as attendees surveyed snacks ranging from classics, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Hershey’s Kisses, to newer snack innovations (aka “snackfection”), such as Reese’s and Hershey’s Crunchers Candy, Reese’s and Hershey’s Dipped Pretzels, Hershey’s Popped Snack Mix, Reese’s Popped Snack Mix and KRAVE artisan meat snacks.

In addition to snacks, Hershey brought another valuable tool to the table: knowledge.

“This show has some of the most important customers for the company, and we showcase how our vision of an innovative snack powerhouse comes to life, through our insights, products and strategies,” says Marcel Nahm, Vice President and General Manager of Snacks.

We asked the team at the snack powerhouse about what they most wanted to share at the show. Here’s what they said.

 

Snacking is on the rise. Hershey is responding.

According to “New Retail in a Shopper’s World,” published by Hershey, there’s ample opportunity for growth in the snack category. Over the last two years, the “Better for You” category has risen (in particular, produce has grown 5.9 percent and snack bars have grown 3.9 percent) and so has the “Indulgent Snacking” category (salty snacks have grown the most at 3.3 percent).

“We used to say three square meals a day and a few snacks in between,” says Nahm. “We know that today’s snacks are eaten before meals, with meals, instead of meals, after meals. It’s limitless.” He adds that foods no longer fit into a distinct category of chocolate/salty/sweet/ nuts/popcorn. Consumers want combined flavors for added depth and complexity.

Hershey is responding by offering snacks that appeal to consumers who love sweet, consumers who love salty, and consumers who love a combination of the two. “Snackfection” items such as Hershey’s Dipped Pretzels and Hershey’s Popped Snack Mix fall into the sweet and salty space. “What we’re trying to do is move up on the snacking continuum so we aren’t just living in the indulgent space,” says Chris Ferro, Director of Snacks, CSI. “We talked to consumers within this space about what they’re looking for, and all of them said sweet and salty is the big thing,” says Stephanie Hawkinson, Strategist on Snacks. “We’re bringing Hershey to the forefront and making sure that we’re known beyond confection as someone who can bring snacking throughout the entire day.”

 

Consumers want artisanal meat snacks. Hershey is giving that to them.

As snacking changes and begins to replace meals, consumers are more interested in having protein-rich options. Artisan meat snacks, in particular, are experiencing enormous growth within the overall meat snack category, says Ferro. That’s where KRAVE comes in, with novel flavors such as KRAVE Honey Habanero Chicken jerky and KRAVE Pink Peppercorn Beef jerky. “A lot of people think of beef jerky as tough, dry, salty,” says Nahm. “KRAVE found a way to mix things up and to show that jerky can also be culinary food.”

 

The retail experience is changing. Hershey is helping.

The Hershey team doesn’t just talk to its retail partners about its products. The team also shares insights on how to use shopping spaces differently. One example at the show: an inviting “Sweet & Salty” display concept, which positions the new sweet and savory Hershey’s Popped Snack Mix (with chocolate, pretzels and popcorn) and Reese’s Dipped Pretzels next to items such as Chex Mix and Cheetos Sweetos. By working with retailers to create this kind of display, the Hershey team is helping to train shoppers to know where to go for their favorite snacks—namely, both the salty aisle and the confection aisle. “We’re saying there should be two different spaces where you put the products. And whether you look at it first as a confection item and then as a salty snack, or first as a salty snack and then as a confection item determines which location to put it,” says Hawkinson.

Joey Hendrix, senior manager, insight driven performance, pay point, works to understand how shoppers interact with the front area of the store. “Over time it’s evolved,” he says. “We went from traditional lanes to self-checkout lanes. Now things are moving to online and click-and-collect, so our team is all about understanding shopper behavior,” he says. He works with retail partners to create merchandising assortment solutions—like pairing a variety of better-for-you and indulgent snacks with an array of beverage options—that will allow a shopper to reward himself or herself with a sweet or salty indulgence, regardless of the shopping format. “We’re trying to do a better job of helping shoppers find what they’re looking for, versus trying to be one-size-fits-all at the front of the store,” he says. Hendrix adds that by offering shoppers an enjoyable experience at check-out, odds are they’ll be more satisfied when they leave the store.

 

Hershey is always looking for opportunities to give customers what they want.

Two years ago, Hershey acquired Sonoma, California-based KRAVE after an encounter at the Sweets & Snacks expo, says Mike Mayleben, Director of Large Format Snacks. Mayleben says the company is always on the lookout for new opportunities, and the show is a great place to connect. “There’s a lot of due diligence that happens here, not just on the sales side and the marketing side but the mergers and acquisitions side as well.” He adds that the Hershey team also works to identify trends at the show for future product development. He says that this year, Hershey’s products are on trend, with the sweet-and-salty snackfections and the protein-rich meat snacks.

 

Hershey is much more than a chocolate or snack company. It’s a snack powerhouse.

While it’s true that the Hershey brand has successfully sold chocolate for more than 100 years, every team member interviewed emphasized that today, the business goes far beyond confection.  

“We understand that consumers think about snacking in a very broad way, all the way from treats to meal substitutes, and we need to not only have offers that satisfy all these occasions but also we need to be insightful and have strategies that deal with that,” says Nahm.

Adds Ferro: “The reason we’ve had so much success in recent years is we let our insights lead us. That’s our sweet spot.”

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