Gaining Insights into Convenience Store Customers

MSA and Paradigm Sample, in partnership with Convenience Store Decisions, delve into c-store shoppers’ attitudes about buying seasonal and holiday candy.

By Trish Temmerman, Contributing Editor.

With Halloween and Christmas just around the corner, we are approaching that time of year when some of the most widely recognized seasonal confectionery items are purchased and consumed: candy corns, Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins and Bells, striped candy canes and Green and Red M&Ms.

According to the National Confectioners Association, seasonal sales in 2010 accounted for $6.6 billion, and they are projected to increase to $6.7 billion in 2011. Halloween is expected to continue the trend of being the top season, with 34% of the seasonal market, followed by Easter (31%), Christmas (22%) and Valentine’s Day (14%).

Despite this favorable outlook, the role of seasonal confectionery items in convenience stores has long been debated, with retailers’ levels of support ranging from none at all to establishing “seasonal” destination displays. The popular debate revolves around the question of incrementality. Do seasonal items drive incremental volume for the category? Or do they simply cannibalize straight-stock volume?
MSA and Paradigm Sample, through the Convenience Consumer Insights Panel (cciPanel), posed questions to convenience store shoppers regarding their purchase decisions related to seasonal/holiday confectionery items, timed with the Easter season still fresh in their minds.
More than 50% of shoppers indicated that seasonal/holiday candy purchases would likely be an impulse decision or an incremental purchase. Indeed, the presence of seasonal items, located in the main candy aisle or near or at the register, priced at par or even higher than similar like-sized candy bar items, would drive these incremental confectionery purchases. The following are some highlights from this custom study.

Awareness: “Thinking about your recent convenience store visits in the past two months, did you notice the presence of any seasonal/holiday candy items?” Approximately 71% of panelists noticed the presence of seasonal/holiday candy items in the past two months and 85% indicated some willingness to buy seasonal candy if available.
• Among those who noticed seasonal items, 68% would definitely/probably buy if available
• Among those who did not notice, 27% would definitely/probably buy if available, while an additional 38% were undecided.
The following charts explore the attitudes among these respondents indicating some willingness to buy (definitely would, probably would, might or might not buy) seasonal/holiday candy within c-stores.

Attitude about seasonal candy availability in convenience stores: “Which statement best represents your attitude about seasonal/holiday candy availability in the c-store you most frequently visit?” Only a handful of shoppers expressed the sentiment that “c-stores don’t belong in the seasonal/holiday business.” Forty-four percent of shoppers wished their preferred convenience store carried any seasonal candy items or a wider assortment of items. These findings point to the potential for retailers to increase sales by satisfying customers’ seasonal candy purchase needs with the long-term goal of getting customers to think of their c-stores as destination outlets for these purchases, and ultimately to increase customer loyalty.

Price sensitivity: “Think about how price would impact your decision to purchase a seasonal/holiday candy item?” Approximately 47% of shoppers are willing to pay prices that would be least on par with the other like-size candy items. Even more favorable news for retailers is that 38% of shoppers would purchase seasonal items regardless of price. For these shoppers, the convenience of buying seasonal candy is more important than how much they spend on them.

Planned or impulse purchases: “If you purchased a seasonal/holiday candy item, would this purchase likely be planned or impulse?” To address the question of whether seasonal buying represents incremental or substitution purchases, 34% of shoppers stated that it would likely be an impulse decision (saying, for example, “I came into the store without a purchase decision made and bought a seasonal/holiday candy item”) and an additional 19% indicated it would be an incremental purchase (“I came into store to buy a different item and bought a seasonal/holiday candy item in addition to that item.”)These findings confirm that in-store stimuli could entice shoppers, particularly last-minute procrastinators, to make seasonal purchases they did not plan on making prior to entering the store, and which could ultimately result in higher rings at the register.

Location: “In which of the following locations would you most likely notice and buy a seasonal/holiday candy item?” The main candy aisle (37%) and from a display on or at the register (27%) were the locations where shoppers were most likely to notice and buy seasonal candy items. A planned strategy for merchandising seasonal items with special holiday-themed signage and displays, combined with eye-catching packaging, increases the potential for these impulse and incremental purchases.

Serving size: “Which type/size of a seasonal/holiday candy item would you most likely buy?” Almost 60% of shoppers would likely buy single-serve items, but offering an assortment of multi-serve or family bags would appeal to certain groups, particularly among buyers planning to distribute to Halloween trick-or-treaters or to fill kids’ eggs for Easter egg hunts.

Demographics: Respondents to this study who indicated some degree of willingness to buy seasonal candy were younger (25-34 years), tended to be married and have kids, and possessed college degrees or higher. These shoppers, with kids in the household, are prime buyers of seasonal confections during the upcoming Halloween and holiday seasons.

Implications and Potential
These insights reveal opportunities for manufacturers of leading seasonal items—many of whom today do not offer convenience-friendly SKUs—to reach a targeted audience; for distributors to more aggressively embrace shippers and counter units of top seasonal sellers; and for retailers to take full advantage of this incremental sales-generating opportunity.

For more information about this seasonal candy custom study or to explore other cciPanel offerings, contact Trish Temmerman at

Panel Methodology

The cciPanel conducted exclusive research between May 11 and May 25, 2011, to explore the awareness and attitudes toward purchasing seasonal and holiday candy among convenience store shoppers throughout the U.S. Results include responses from 488 adults (18 years and older) who shopped at a convenience store within the past 60 days.

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