In the fourth of a five-part series, Todd Hale discusses winning the occasion — or season.  


Much has been written about evolving meal occasions, but when it comes to sales impact, snack or treat occasions are the clear winners. Over the past four years, among all Nielsen-measured food and beverage categories (excluding alcoholic beverages), snack and treat occasions were the clear winners. Both salty snacks and candy experienced huge overall growth in absolute dollar sales with gains of $5.1 billion and $4.0 billion, respectively.
As you look at the 20 categories with the biggest sales gains over the past four years, inflationary pressures for categories like candy, coffee, fresh produce, cheese, milk, etc., certainly came into play. But innovation and, in many instances, innovation from more premium offerings drove consumer demand. In the milk category, dollar sales over the past four years grew at a compounded rate of 2.2%, but four-year CAGRs from premium milk segments such as almond milk (+52%) and coconut milk (+82%)  and the much larger organic white milk segment (+7.5%) were substantial. Premium offerings also impacted growth in other top-growth dairy department categories — even in eggs where over the past year or more, my wife and I are nearly 100% loyal to the brown, natural, cage-free, Omega 3-infused eggs from Kroger’s Simple Truth private brand line. These enhanced eggs (scrambled or hard-boiled) are now an integral part of our morning and snack-eating occasions.

hale-06-2015At this year’s National Confectionery Association (NCA) Convention, I helped Larry Wilson from the NCA tell a story about the amazing seasonal drawing power of the candy category. Seasonal candy advertising and in-store merchandising are bigger and earlier every year, but that just goes to show the importance of seasonal periods like Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and the year-end holidays to overall annual candy sales. Since the NCA event, I’ve made it a point to include content on weekly sales skews in most of my client or industry speaking engagements. So here are a few examples from categories in the freezer case:
Frozen entrees deliver fairly consistent weekly sales when we compare weekly sales indices for the category to weekly sales indices across all Nielsen-measured departments. As such, manufacturers and retailers need to ensure that they give sufficient ongoing support to this nearly $10.5 billion category.
Within frozen novelties, however, it is no surprise that sales spike when warm weather hits and remain strong through Labor Day. The challenge is having the right inventories to make the most of real hot weeks and minimizing the effects of colder-than-normal temperatures.
Finally, we see subtle differences in the seasonal drawing power of frozen unbreaded fish versus frozen unbreaded seafood. New Year’s resolutions and Lent drive seasonal sales spikes for fish, but holiday celebrations drive larger spikes (compared to Lent) for shellfish. However, weekly demand is reasonably strong versus all departments for both categories.

Winning or driving growth in dynamic times requires companies to look for opportunities to win main meal or snacking occasions and make the most of seasonal sales opportunities. Winners will be those who have a better understanding of consumer demand (through more granular analytics) to support innovation, advertising and merchandising initiatives.

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