Holidays like Halloween, Easter and the winter holiday season drive roughly one-quarter of Hershey’s business. But in order for seasonal candy sales to deliver both top- and bottom-line growth for the company, our strategies have to support the business in a sustainable way.
As the Senior Brand Manager of Easter and Holiday Seasons at Hershey, I help craft the seasonal strategies that support Hershey’s strong share position for two of our major holidays.
Over my nine years at the company (starting as an associate brand manager for the Halloween Season), I’ve seen how our accelerating strengths in consumer insights create benefits for both our business and our retail partners.
By applying data and trend-line information to our strategies in seasonal merchandising, packaging and media buying, we’re staying ahead of consumers to help retailers meet their needs year round.
Understanding our retailers’ markets helps us optimize inventory distribution for impact. Knowing Reese’s eggs and Cadbury eggs sell stronger in different geographic areas of the U.S allows us to craft stronger merchandising units.
Those merchandising solutions are most effective when they debut at the right times. Since some seasons are longer than others, insights into consumer sentiment and demand allow us to put the right products on the floor at the moments shoppers actually want to see them.
Before Halloween, for example, consumers are sensitive about seeing winter-holiday items arrive on floors too early. But Easter eggs in January have a different effect, as signaling Spring at the right time helps retailers move products. Consumers are fairly open to seeing Easter eggs weeks before they’re ready to build Easter baskets (or even pick up Valentine’s Day gifts).
Driving Valentine’s Day sales requires introducing inventory at the right time for impact, as well.
The majority of Valentine’s Day purchases take place in the last few days (or hours) before customers celebrate the holiday, after all. Understanding that gifting behavior allows us to optimize retailers’ product and packaging mix during the overlapping Easter and Valentine’s Day seasons.
Trend insights help us spot opportunities to tailor packaging to consumer behavior in other ways, too. The Seasons team at Hershey (which is embedded in the larger U.S. candy, mint and gum organization) has a tracker that looks at longitudinal trends over months and years to understand how consumers feel about and participate in various holidays. We analyze that information to learn how different demographic groups are embracing the holiday seasons in changing ways.
For example, insights have shown for years that baking with candy around the winter holidays is a growing trend among younger consumers. When that time of year arrives, we use packaging, merchandising and advertising to speak to that trend – using photography to show consumers what the finished baked good looks like.
An increase in entertaining is taking place, as well, with Halloween parties and Easter egg hunts on the rise. Qualitative understanding of what today’s party hosts want, and how retail can support it, will help us deliver new products and packaging types that help them throw great events every year.
Looking out to year-over-year behavior, not just seasonal activity, is key to Hershey’s strategy. We understand that customers who make Easter baskets, host trick-or-treaters, and make Christmas cookies tend to do it as an annual tradition – and we want to stay top-of-mind for them every time their favorite season comes around.
We also want the right retailers to be top-of-mind when shoppers are ready to buy their seasonal candy supplies. That’s why our advertising strategy uses store-level data to invest our media dollars where they’re most needed – not necessarily where we’re selling the most.
This sell-through media buying model helps reduce retailers’ markdown liability by directing ad-driven traffic to the stores with most product. Working closely with our internal media and comms planning team and our sales partners, we can maximize sales with our retailers by taking advantage of our media buys in their markets.
Optimizing both back-room products and on-floor merchandise helps retailers keep their candy momentum moving from season to season. Hershey has had a lot of sell-through success in recent years, and we see growing strength behind our roughly 40% market share in both the Easter and Halloween seasons.
The momentum will continue as we take our future-ready strategies and findable products into 2020 and beyond. For more insights on how we’re helping retailers stay ahead of consumers, download Hershey’s new report on Creating Value in a Shopper’s World.