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Balancing innovation and dependability


Successful snack merchandising includes a mix of new items and proven winners.

Vendor collaboration and strong customer insights are among the keys to achieving the right balance of new branded snack items and familiar favorites in noncommercial foodservice venues.

Operators walk a tightrope between offering snacks that tout trendy flavors and formulations and those items that are time-tested winners.

“There is a lot of talk about what is on-trend and what is hot right now, but a balance is essential because the familiar snacks/brands are in the market for the long run, and the trendy/new items are things which help to grab attention and bring in traffic/people,” says Chris Baldner, senior vice president, noncommercial, in the foodservice division of Acosta Sales & Marketing, a sales and marketing services company based in Jacksonville, Florida. “This combination will help both to drive traffic and increase sales.”

Operators and vendors should have an ongoing relationship with both retail sales and the prepared foods menu when new snack items are introduced, he says. “Innovation is critical to the success of both the foodservice venue and the snack industry,” says Baldner. “It should be a continuous process that is utilized to capture the attention of patrons.”

Ryan Meczyk, founder and chief executive of Norman Distribution, a full-service distributor of better-for-you snacks, beverages and grocery products to multiple channels throughout the Midwest, says new items often can drive impulse sales, even among those loyal to familiar items.

“For the most part, consumers have brand loyalty, but we know that they are willing to try new things,” he says. “In many cases, the new offerings can lead to incremental sales for the operator because the consumer will purchase a new product out of curiosity in addition to their standard snack of choice. In my opinion, operators should allocate a mix between familiar branded snack offerings and new products so they can stay relevant and capture incremental revenue.”

LTOs

Limited-time offers, or LTOs, provide an ideal vehicle for introducing new items and driving awareness, says Baldner of Acosta.

“LTOs are a great strategy to find out if a new item will work before you fully commit to it, so use them, especially during high traffic times/seasons,” he says.

Joie Schoonover, principal, management consulting at Rippe Associates, Minneapolis, agrees that vendor collaboration is key to keeping up with branded snack trends.

“You have to listen to your vendors,” she says. “They are out in the marketplace, and they are seeing multiple things. They can tell you, ‘This is a hot seller, and this is an up-and-coming trend.’”

Schoonover, who held foodservice management positions at several universities, says college and university foodservice operators might want to review their snack assortments every semester in order to keep their offerings fresh and up to date. In venues such as hospitals or business and industry foodservice accounts, product reviews could take place at regular intervals, such as quarterly or semi-annually.

Vendor trade shows present opportunities to learn about new product display opportunities, such as freestanding cardboard shippers, she notes.

At the University of Wisconsin, Schoonover sometimes displayed new products in highly visible locations with point-of-purchase signage indicating that the products were new. She suggests operators also indicate new products on promotional display signage where customers will be able to find them on an ongoing basis.

For new items that are extensions of existing brands and product lines, Schoonover also suggests merchandising them alongside their more familiar counterparts, and/or in highly visible areas such as the checkout lanes.

Meczyk of Norman Distribution cites visibility as “probably the most important factor” when introducing new products.

“In my opinion, the best way to introduce new branded snack items in a foodservice setting would be utilizing stand-alone racks either at checkout or high traffic areas within the operator's footprint,” he says.

In-store sampling is another tried-and-true — and highly visible — method of introducing new snack items to customers. Snack brand suppliers will often support these types of promotions as well.

Cross-promotion opportunities

Operators who manage both dining and retail venues can also seek out opportunities to cross-promote using new snack items.

“Sometimes you might use promotions from a vendor to do a special event, such as if there are some new flavors of a product out for spring,” says Schoonover. “You can tell customers that the items are also available in your convenience store, so you can tag team those together.”

Baldner of Acosta says operators also should consider promotions which incorporate new snack items both on prepared foods menus and in retail displays.

Other factors to consider when merchandising new snack items, according to Baldner:

• Know your market. “If you have candied jalapeños, market them in the South versus the Pacific Northwest,” he says.

• Understand the venue. Make sure the snacks are appropriate for the menu and the other products offered.

• Use point-of-sale and promotional materials.

• Develop a strategy for incremental sales.



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