Shoppers Snack Smart

Retailers have plenty of opportunities to appeal to consumers’ demand for snacks that meet their high wellness expectations.
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Consumers are demanding healthier snacking options and retailers have heard their cries. In recent years, numerous retailers have restocked their shelves with the cleanest and most transparent snacks on the marketplace, revamped their private label programs to include quality better-for-you snacks and even implemented programs to help make healthy snacks more readily available to their customers.

Transparency has been one of the year’s hottest topics. Andrew Mandzy, director of strategic insights at New York City-based research firm Nielsen, says consumers’ focus on product transparency is not only relevant to manufacturers, but has also become a strategic priority for retailers.

“Many retailers are working with manufacturers to eliminate undesirable ingredients from products on shelf, and meet the health and wellness demands of today’s shoppers,” Mandzy says. “This strategy involves thinking beyond the label claims that are on product packages and instead truly understanding how ingredients are impacting sales performance across the store.”

Mandzy notes that in many cases, brands are not using their labels to promote the health and wellness benefits of their products, given that a mere 7 percent of products that are free from artificial colors actually promote that claim on their packaging.

“Understanding these gaps could help retailers better develop in-store marketing to these healthier products on the shelves,” urges Mandzy, adding that there have been increases in snacks that have more healthful package claims, such as natural and gluten free, which grew dollars by 4 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

Transparency commitments on the rise

On the other hand, stocking snacks and treats that meet consumers’ demand for wholesomeness and transparency is getting easier as manufacturers scramble to keep up. On June 13, 2017, the FDA announced its intention to extend the compliance date for the Nutrition Facts Label final rules, originally set to be implemented July 2018. Despite this delay, The Hershey Company is sticking to its plan to roll out its new nutrition panel. Products displaying this label will start hitting shelves in the fall, starting with Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolates.

The effort is part of the Hershey, Pa.-based company’s commitment to choice and transparency, which includes the development of the SmartLabel, a mobile tool that allows consumers to scan a QR code and instantly get detailed product information, and a commitment to make 50 percent of its standard- and king-sized confections 200 calories or less by 2022.

“Updating our Nutrition Facts panel is just part of Hershey’s broader commitment to transparency and making it easier for people to access more information about their food so they can make informed choices,” officials with the Hershey, Pa.-based company wrote in a blog post. “We know that many people value clean and distinctive food labeling. That’s why we are also creating SmartLabel landing pages linked to detailed product and ingredient information for all products in our U.S. portfolio this year.”

Kroger’s kid-friendly ways

Cincinnati, Ohio-based The Kroger Co. has done a great job in stocking healthier snacks. The grocer’s Michigan division recently started stocking Zollipops, a local Detroit-based company producing good-for-your-teeth lollipops that were created by Alina Morse, who was 9 years old when she invented the product three years ago. Rachel Hurst, public affairs manager with The Kroger Co.’s Michigan division, says the fact that this product was created by a young person is not the only reason she is excited to see its inclusion on Kroger’s shelves.

“In Michigan, this was a big deal for us because they’re a local Michigan business and, with the product being a healthy treat it, is the best case scenario for us,” she says.

Kroger is not only supporting youngsters by carrying their healthy products, the retailer is also helping children learn to love healthy snacking items through its Kroger Kids Fresh Friends Program. As part of the program, kids are given a punch card that allows them to get a free fruit or vegetable that is featured by the store each month.

“Children can go to their local Kroger where they can pick up a free fruit or vegetable and learn about why it’s healthy and maybe try something they’ve never tasted before,” Hurst says. “Kids love it. Let’s just says Gala apples are the fruit of the month. Kids can come in, get their free apple and when they get to the register the back of their cards have a scan bar so we just scan it out and they’re not charged for it. Parents love it too because they are trying to get their kids to try healthy foods, and having them try it without having to buy it is really great.”

Cleaning up private label snacks

The Kroger Co. also carries an extremely successful line of natural and organic private label products marketed under the Simple Truth brand. It includes snack items such as health bars, better-for-you chips, popcorn and trail mixes. All items in the Simple Truth line are free-from 101 undesirable ingredients, such as artificial preservatives, high fructose corn syrup and bleached flour.

Price Rite Supermarkets, a subsidiary of Keasbey, N.J.-based Wakefern Food Corp., just launched its own Wholesome Pantry line, which features free-from and organic items. The Wholesome Pantry line includes food items made with simple, clean ingredients without artificial additives, flavors, colors and preservatives, and is packaged with easy-to-read labels, company officials say. The line includes more than 30 products currently available on shelves.

“Price Rite is committed to providing our customers with outstanding customer service, variety, value and low prices,” said Neil Duffy, president of Price Rite Supermarkets at the time of the line’s launch in June. “With the introduction of Wholesome Pantry to our stores, we are able to give shoppers accessible, convenient products that they can feel good about giving to their families, without breaking the bank.” Wholesome Pantry also debuted at ShopRite Supermarkets, another subsidiary of Wakefern Food Corp., in late 2016.

Last year, H-E-B rolled out its better-for-you private label line, Select Ingredients, which features more than 400 products and includes a variety of snack items and more – all excluding more than 200 synthetic ingredients, high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors.

Clever integration

When better-for-you snacks and other items first started to make their way onto grocery shelves, many retailers created segregated shelf space, or even entire aisles, for these items. Now that the typical shopper is more familiar with better-for-you items, and more likely to see them as a healthier option rather than an alien species, retailers are working to integrate them into the traditional grocery aisles. Hurst says that in Kroger’s Michigan division, the retailer is working towards full integration in all its stores.

“When you’re shopping for say, pasta sauce, you might not know there are healthier choices available unless you’re used to looking for that brand,” Hurst says. “When you’re walking down an aisle looking for something and a healthier option sparks your interest as opposed to it being in a separate department that you’ve never shopped before, you’re more likely to pick it up. People who are making healthier choices might not know the options that are available if they’re not used to shopping in a specific department. As they’re shopping, integrating it will be more seamless for them.”

Elevating secondary placements

Retailers can get creative with integration by moving past simply placing better-for-you items next to conventional brands and creating secondary placements within the store that will help engage shoppers and help get premium better-for-you products noticed.

Andrew Cates, co-founder of Napa, Calif.-based The Wine RayZyn Co., has worked on making creative displays for his dried superfood snacks, dried grapes that contain as many antioxidants as a glass of wine. The Wine RayZyn Co. offers magnetic clip strips, which Cates says can be placed in a variety of strategic locations around the store, such as in the wine aisle, in the salad dressing aisle to be used as a salad topper, or near the yogurt to be used as a mix-in.

The company also created a sophisticated half-barrel display that attracts shoppers to the item and uses a marquee to educate them about the product in under three seconds. He says this display is particularly useful to retailers because it can be moved throughout the store to whichever location that retailer would like to draw attention to.

“This is great for secondary placement and could go in cheese or wine or in the deli section next to the salad bar,” Cates says. “What’s great about this display is that retailers can move it around the store and create a space around it depending where they want it and what they want to promote with it.”

Keeping new items front and center is key to their success in the store. Marc Seguine, CMO of Playa Vista Calif.-based popchips notes that more than 50 percent of snackers find out about new items in-store.

“We’re up against much bigger competitors with much more shelf space, so it’s imperative that we secure secondary locations within retail through displays,” he says.   

David Neuman, CEO of Gaea North America, based in Hollywood, Fla., saw the integration strategy become a success with the company’s liquid-free olive snacks, which Greensboro S.C.-based The Fresh Market recently placed smack in the middle of its traditional olive set.

“They haven’t really sold an item like this and instead of dipping a toe in the space they dove in with a wide assortment, which Gaea will support with monthly promos and some EDLP as well as print ads,” he says.

Craig Spalding, marketing director at Boulder, Colo.-based 1908 Brands and brand manager for both Fruitivity and Thrive Tribe, both owned by 1908, says that more retailers need to be willing to give prominent displays to niche items boasting qualities that cater to the growing consumer base that has moved towards dietary restrictions and healthy lifestyles, such as paleo and vegan.

“These shoppers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and it’s not really a fad,” he says. “Conventional retailers will find more success if they really start giving natural brands as much attention or as big of a display as anything else.”

Michael Watt, CEO of Go Gourmet, which produces the organic superfood snacks Slammers, agrees. “Retailers which have made a statement to their shoppers dedicating prime category shelving [to better-for-you products], often with premium blocking, off-shelf displays, combined with competitive every day and promotional pricing, are winning,” he says.

The strategy of integrating innovative, better-for-you options into conventional store aisles can work both ways, bringing shoppers that would have once only hit the natural section into the conventional aisles of the store. Munk Pack co-owner Michelle Glienke says her company’s on-the-go oatmeal fruit squeezes do just that.

“We are trying to bring innovation into the center of the store,” she affirms. “Typically, the oatmeal sets were kind of boring, but now we’re bringing Millennial-type shoppers and people that have dietary restrictions into that section of the store.”        


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