Ace in the Aisles

The lucrative greeting cards category has many new hands to play in the grocery channel.
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Not unlike any other game of cards, taking risks is a savvy way to score a potential payoff in the greeting cards category.

This year, greeting cards manufacturers are innovating with inventive new lines, testing out unique partnerships, getting creative with their in-store placement ideas and even breaking into mobile.

One such partnership involves three companies all based in Grand Rapids, Mich.: SpartanNash, [Has Heart] and Design Design. Grocery chain SpartanNash teamed up with [Has Heart], a non-profit organization focused on uniting U.S. veterans with artists. Together, they created a series of greeting cards co-designed by wounded U.S. veterans and individual artists. Design Design prints the line for SpartanNash on 100 percent recycled paper.

The [Has Heart] line enables consumers “to connect with these ‘hero stories’ through the greeting card captions,” says Phil Cowley, chief marketing officer for Design Design. “These cards share stories of gratitude and cheer while also stories of comfort during hard times, and strength when things are difficult. With captions such as encouragement, comfort and get well, these cards are a great expression of the phrase, ‘you are not alone.’”

With 18 cards in the line containing various messages, the collection is available in 28 of SpartanNash’s West Michigan stores. The packaging tells the inspiration behind each card’s design for the benefit of interested consumers. Additionally, SpartanNash will donate one dollar to [Has Heart] for every card purchased.

“Greeting cards provide a creative medium to connect our country with messages that our wounded vets are looking to express,” says Michael Hyacinthe, president/chairman of [Has Heart]. “Not only do the cards impact the person receiving them, but the sender as well. The words of our heroes can help connect us and inspire us all.”

Content is King

When it comes to greeting cards, no other attribute—whether it be price, brand, environmental concerns or even imagery—matters nearly as much to consumers as its verse and sentiment.

With that in mind, it is not surprising that the number of card-giving occasions seems to be growing, according to industry insiders.

“Consumers, especially Millennials, are finding new opportunities to give cards,” says Stacey Howe, GM of national accounts at Hallmark.  “For example, bridesmaid proposals are becoming a popular occasion to give a card. Additionally, the ‘just because’ category is growing among younger card senders.”

With the important Millennial consumer base invested in the greeting card category, now is the time for grocers to get more involved in diversifying selections, curating collections and ensuring that their offerings make the grade, say observers.

“Consumers see paper cards–whether it is a traditional Mother’s Day greeting, a birthday card featuring exciting innovation, or anything in between–as one of the most deeply meaningful ways of expressing themselves,” says Megan Baucco, associate manager marketing communications at Cleveland-based American Greetings.

Premium for Sentimental Value

The sentimental value placed on greeting cards today make them keepsakes in the mind of many consumers—and Millennials aren’t the only ones that cherish handwritten expression, says Design Design’s Cowley.

“As aging Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers become more reflective on their lives and the emotional bonds they have created between themselves and among their peers, it is now evident that passing down how important traditional written expression through pen and ink is, as it uniquely influenced their lives.” he says. “As technology advances at a fascinating pace we have seen the power in the emotional connection that greeting cards provide combining nostalgic personal messaging and its ability to enhance relationships in a sentimental manner.”

Observers say that premium card brands are growing along with this trend. Unique designs, special papers and a hand-crafted feel all help elevate cards into the premium category that many consumers now seek.

Baucco says that currently consumers are responding to hand lettering, texture, and positive messages. “Hand lettering gives consumers a sense of craftsmanship that conveys the quality of the communication. Texture and dimension fill a need, as well as deliver on the artisanal elements consumers enjoy,” she adds.

After content, visual appeal is what many consumers are looking for in a card. Nicky Burton, owner and managing director of Calypso Cards based in Providence, R.I., says that among the popular trends this year are florals, foil and neutral, muted color tones.

As observers note that the greeting cards category is often impulse-buy dominated, visual appeal is important to grab consumers’ attention as they browse the aisles. Visibility of displays is also key—and manufacturers are working to ensure grocers have new options for showcasing card sets.

Hallmark is currently testing a new grocery checkout program with retailers to positive feedback. The new program includes eye-catching displays at checkout, designed for high pick-up appeal.

Checking Out Convenience

“Convenience is key for today’s shopper,” says Howe. “The check-out line at the grocery store is the one location everyone passes through when they are shopping. We saw this as a fantastic opportunity to engage with a captive audience in an unlikely place that will help drive total department sales by reminding them of an upcoming holiday or birthday and encourage them to pick up a card or visit the card department in the store.”

Officials for the Kansas City, Mo.-based company say that one retail partner has already placed the displays at multiple check stands. These displays include cards from the Hallmark Flagship, Signature seasonal and humorous Shoebox card lines.

Field service representatives from the Hallmark team maintain the stands, eliminating a retailer’s need for one of its employees to do so. These designated service people will work to curate a selection on an individual store basis, targeted to the store’s shoppers and merchandising mix.

“The interest level is high for this program and we are looking forward to working with more of our retail partners to implement it in more stores across the country,” Howe adds.

Most card providers offer similar types of service support to their grocery, mass and drug chain partners. Many tailor a selection regionally or even store-by-store to ensure that the right cards make it into the hands of interested consumers.

Where grocers are able to differentiate themselves, insiders add, is through foot traffic. While mobile shopping and e-tail giants have impacted some of the dollar, mass and drug stores in terms of foot traffic, grocery stores are as of yet the least affected by this disruptive technology. This is important for grocers to consider, especially when they are deciding on the placement of high impulse items like greeting cards.

“If the grocery retailer wants to gain share from some of those other channels, they need to do something different than what they are currently doing,” says Marc Trobman,  VP, business development at Avanti Press. “They need to offer unique brands.”

Avanti Press is a specialty card brand focusing on humor. Humor is important to the majority of greeting cards purchasers, he says. According to Trobman 96 percent of consumers look to purchase funny greeting cards. When you look at just Millennials, he adds, the number jumps to 100 percent.

“Research studies always say the number-one type of greeting cards consumers want to buy is a funny greeting card,” says Trobman. “There is an opportunity there for grocers. It is a white space. In the limited space grocers give the category there is just not enough humor.”

In addition to adding more humor, insiders say that grocers can benefit from many of the new innovations card manufacturers today are pushing out.  Although greeting cards are a classic staple item at most social gatherings, the category itself is anything but staid. Companies are constantly coming up with new and exciting ways to innovate.

Avanti Press recently launched a line called America, featuring nostalgic photos with warm funny verse on the inside. The back of the card tells the story of the image.

Hallmark recently launched a new innovation in gift-wrap, called the card pocket, now on many of the company’s gift bags. Located at the front and center of the bag, the pocket ensures the card doesn’t get lost inside.

Companies like Hallmark are finding ways to integrate digital into their card lines as well. As of this summer, Hallmark will offer four new virtual reality cards, taking consumers on a different adventure with each one.

Hallmark is also taking musical cards to new places. “The all-new Playlist cards take the sound card experience to a whole new level,” says Howe. “Each card comes with access to a specially curated song list available on one of today’s hottest music platforms so the recipient can enjoy their favorite tunes time and time again.”

American Greetings launched multiple new SKUs in the birthday section this spring. Included in the offerings is the Spec-tacular Wishes line, birthday cards that double as gifts, as they are attached to a pair of light-up party glasses in uniquely shaped frames.  Also new from American Greetings is Happy Tails, cards featuring tails that wag from side to side when under a light. 

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