As brick-and-mortar shopping trips decline, manufacturers and retailers alike are renewing their focus on innovating the shopping experience. When a consumer is in store, brands have an opportunity to create an immersive experience that builds the emotional relationship people have with the brands they love.
Rick Price, Senior Manager in Hershey's Merchandising Center of Excellence, sat down with us and a retail partner, Patty Fishman, Vice President, Health & Wellness/General Merchandise at SuperValu, to talk about our candy experience work, why it matters, and the impact it's having on the marketplace.
RP: The idea for the Candy Experience "store within a store" concept was born out of a desire to solve a problem from both the shopper and retailer's perspective. We know that 76 percent of shoppers aren't happy with clutter in the candy aisle, and as a result were walking away with no candy in their cart.
This shopping experience disconnect makes it more difficult for shoppers to find what they need and for retailers to strengthen confection sales. We serve as an unbiased category advisor at most major U.S. retailers, and so we looked for a way that we could use our insight driven performance (IDP) approach to improve shopper experience and in-store customer conversion to grow overall confection category for our retail partners. We wanted to help our retail partners create in-store experiences that not only draw people in, but also reward them with a more satisfying shopping experience that is engaging and easy to maneuver.
PF: We've embarked on a number of initiatives across our stores to greatly improve the experience for our shoppers, including complete store remodels and the addition of Kitchen Shops at many locations. The decision to move forward with the Candy Experience program came as a result of strategic meetings with Hershey around the attributes of the confection category and the potential growth to be unlocked through this project. The Candy Experience was one of a number of category initiatives undertaken by SuperValu over the past two years, including the addition of best-in-class front-end fixtures and dedicated seasonal space in all of our stores. We felt it was critical to improve upon the fundamentals of the confection category within our stores first before moving forward with the Candy Experience initiative, but have now built a strong and sustained business model we're continuing to implement through our partnership with the team at Hershey.
PF: The Candy Experience project has delivered an entirely new level of engagement for our shoppers in those particular stores. It really has provided a more immersive retail experience, and gives them a new way to interact with the category. The "Big Brand" elements in the form of the Hershey's Kisses, Reese's and M&Ms fixtures have shown how strongly those brands resonate with shoppers in the category. Sales of products on those particular fixtures have delivered sustained, triple digit lifts since the installation in addition to double digit, sustained category growth overall.
RP: We work with each of our retail partners individually to design custom Candy Experiences that will yield the best results based on our insights and their customer data. With SuperValu for example, we developed unique Candy Experience elements for three of their stores. Each store had a different layout that we needed to customize in-store designs for, although the brand elements and overall design are consistent across all three stores. There is no universal way to design an in-store candy experience, so there's freedom to create while still adhering to some core design principles.
RP: It was imperative that we aligned on joint goals at the beginning of the process and shared insights and data on a quarterly basis to continue to track and measure success. The three key success metrics we tracked were:
In addition to an increase in confection category sales at the Candy Experience installations, we benchmark ourselves against other major CPG's in the annual customer surveys, Advantage Ranking and Kantar Retail Power Rankings. We also track when customers recognize us with Vendor Awards as another success metric.
PF: We did. Although there is continuity across the design and brand elements at all three stores we've implemented, each of those stores involved unique layouts which presented different opportunities to showcase the Candy Experience elements. So, although there are some differences between the final executions of the three stores, the results have been highly consistent in terms of the category sales improvement as well as the sales lifts from the branded fixtures. That in itself is a testament to the potential that exists for this type of in store experience, as we look forward this year to the next round of installations. As with any project of this type, we will continue to partner with Hershey to evolve the experience and provide the best solution for each additional store.
PF: Bringing this added element to our stores has been an important step for us in understanding the role of shopper engagement at retail. As the retail landscape continues to evolve, challenges will always exist to deliver continual improvement and the best possible shopper experience. Leveraging our partnership with Hershey and their insights-driven performance strategy will play an important role in solving those challenges now and in the future.