How retailers can spring into action and seize early season opportunities

1. Impulse is a big opportunity

2. Get the timing right

3. There’s lots of love for new and novel seasonal offers

4. Cost of living could drive at-home occasions

5. Say it with flowers

6. Don’t fall foul of HFSS regs

Co-op Welcome Sholing-71

1. Impulse is a big opportunity

No sooner have the Christmas decs gone up than canny retailers are looking to the next big sales season: Spring. And it’s not just about Easter. Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day both offer the chance to bump up basket spend if you get them right.

“Confectionery plays a key role in all the major Spring events and so stocking products early and having a good choice, at an affordable price for most budgets, should be the aim for our independent retailers as we go into next year,” says Jayne Brown, trade and seasonal planning manager at Nisa.

According to Lumina Intelligence, the average c-store Easter confectionery shopper is “more family-led, female and less affluent” than the average convenience consumer. They’re probably on a planned treat or top up mission too – which both over-index around Easter compared to the average.

So, the big opportunity for c-stores is to disrupt their missions and persuade early shoppers to spend more on impulse. And that’s why those cheeky chocolate bunnies and foil-wrapped eggs seem to appear earlier every year: people buy them.

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Mini Egg blocks at Lawrence Garages

2. Get the timing right

Getting Spring right is all about planning. But once you’ve ordered for Easter how early can you get seasonal confectionery out on the shelves? After all, nothing winds up some shoppers like seeing a choccie egg in January – or even before.

“It’s a juggling act really,” explains Ben Lawrence from Welcome Sholing in Southampton.

“But for me Easter starts when Christmas is fully over. That’s when people will start to look for new products on the market. They’re basically saying: ‘so that’s Christmas over – what’s new?’”

“However, a couple of years ago we had the new Mini Egg Block Bars (pictured), which we actually sold before Christmas and did really well. I think after Christmas is a great time for independents to push anything new before it gets saturated in the market.”

Elsewhere, Southampton retailer Richard Inglis starts strategically putting out some of his Spring range in December.

“About December we start putting out what I call my ‘pound ranges’ – so the Mini Eggs and the Crème Eggs and the Mars Bunnies and that sort of stuff. Honestly, I don’t think the fact that they’re Easter branded really causes any problems at all. People just pick them up and buy them like any other sweet.”

“These products are all ordered ages in advance and you have to make a call early on them. But I’d rather have too many than not enough and miss out on sales.”

Mondelez’s advice is to get off to a ‘fast start’, displaying small Easter treats, such as Cadbury Creme Egg and Cadbury Mini Eggs from January.

This year c-stores are set to be dominated by the new Cadbury White Crème Egg, as well as new 1kg Cadbury Mini Egg packs. Cadbury Dairy Milk Orange Filled mini egg bags are also available across the market for the first time.

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3. There’s lots of love for new and novel seasonal offers

Come Spring it’s essential to have customer favourites and key brands available. Yet Ben also says that it’s important to have something which shoppers can’t get anywhere else.

“There’s no point offering the same as everywhere else,” he says.

“We know that customers will often be visiting the supermarkets for eggs. We can’t always compete on price – but we can give customers something new that they haven’t seen before, and that’s where the sales come from.”

Hancocks is bringing the novelty factor through its Spring confectionery range. These include Kingsway Happy Flowers, Fried Eggs, Pink and White Mini Heart Mallows, Bunnies and Yellow and Pink Chick Mallows. Plus its popular BUBs Egg Skulls (featuring sweets emerging from an egg) are back by popular demand.

Chris Smith, marketing communications manager at Hancocks, says that it’s essential to stock fun items that help your store stand out.

“Fun novelty additions from Crazy Candy Factory are making a return for 2023, including their Cupcake Dip N Lick and Dancing Duck – a tube filled with yummy sweets and topped with a dancing duck figure which is sure to gain attention from customers of all ages,” he says.

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4. Cost of living could drive at-home occasions

“The big difference we are preparing for [for Spring Occasions] is the expected increase of in-home entertaining,” says Ben Mckechnie, managing director at Epicurium.

Take Valentine’s day, for example. “The industry view is that more customers will be choosing to stay at home, rather than book a romantic restaurant and they’ll be looking for premium options to make the night a little special,” says Mckechnie.

“Mother’s Day may be a little different as customers will still be looking for Mum’s favourite chocolates or sweets. However, there is the suggestion that consumers may downgrade on certain items such as choosing a slightly cheaper bunch of flowers, or favouring a cheaper bottle of fizz.”

As a retailer, Ben Lawrence believes that customers probably won’t cut back too much on gifting spend. Yet the cost-of-living crisis could make the ‘dead’ time between occasions that bit more barren.

“I think the cost of living crisis might really bite that first quarter before Easter after people get their Christmas credit card bills,” he says.

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Lawrence Garages_Mothers Day flowers

5. Say it with flowers

Flowers can work as a canny cross-occasion solution for time-poor gifters. They’re perfect for Valentine’s Day and a shoo-in for up-to-the-wire Easter and Mother’s Day gifts too.

“Traditionally for us, Mother’s Day is all about flowers,” says Ben. “You need them out early enough to make a splash and build that awareness, but they still have to be looking good when customers come in to buy them.”

For Valentine’s Day, Richard says that he focuses on flowers and chocolates.

“Again, a bit like the shell eggs before Easter, we bring them in just before Valentine’s Day because they always seem to do well last minute as well,” he says. “I think we must deal with desperate men looking to buy presents!”

 Unlike other Spring Occasions, Richard believes that Valentine’s Day has the potential to retain customer spend. “I think most people will spend to keep their partner happy for Valentine’s Day,” he says.

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Lawrence Garages_Easter impulse

6. Don’t fall foul of HFSS regs

In springs of yesteryear, retailers had the freedom to locate seasonal treats wherever they deem fit. But this year, some c-store retailers will have to contend with HFSS regulations meaning that certain prime locations are out of bounds.

Ironically for the government, the regs have inspired Richard to revisit the confectionery category and make it more even efficient at selling sugary treats.

“The long and the short of it is the regulations have allowed us to revisit what we do at Easter,” he says.

“Ultimately, we’ve ended up grouping some of these products together better and making nice displays of them. And we’ve made our stores look a bit cleaner. We follow the law. However, what worries me slightly is what would happen if a member of staff accidently put Easter confectionery out near the tills. Obviously, our guys know the rules – but people aren’t necessarily thinking about that when it’s six in the morning.”

So far, Mckechnie says that its team has seen “very little impact on sales of HFSS products”. They credit this to a “very sensible” low key and collaborative enforcement policy that has also allowed retailers to adjust gradually to the changes.

However, retailers still need to get creative to snag early Spring sales. “With the reduction of gondola displays and impulse opportunities, creativity with on – shelf messaging will be key,” he says.

“Retailers should view the HFSS rules as an opportunity to level the playing field and balance the opportunity for the smaller brands that will add real differentiation to confectionery bays, with the big brands less able to dominate customers eye-time.”

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