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                                                                        Mid-October 2016
Hershey Leverages Shopper Insights to Reinvent the Candy Aisle

By Pat Lenius


Executives at The Hershey Company wondered if there was more room for growth in the candy aisle in supermarkets. Were they maximizing every opportunity? Were the SKUs placed properly on the shelves? Was the signage appropriate?

Upon reflection, they realized that the remedy was more than just changing the planogram and adding more signs. They had to talk to the shoppers. What did they think?    

It’s important to understand the shopper mindset in this category, according to Shelley Christianson, Senior Manager, Shopper Insights, at The Hershey Co. “Understand the impact of emotions on the shopper process and the barrier to purchase. This results in shaping behavior.”

Hershey partnered with Explorer Research, a behavioral research firm, to better understand the shoppers’ thinking while in the candy category. Researchers observed 1,500 shoppers and tracked 25 key measures of their behavior. They conducted eye tracking studies and consumer intercepts to learn the attributes around engagement.

Explorer studied “stopping” power and “closing” power and helped identify which sections within the candy aisle needed to be fixed. Researchers conducted 525 follow-up interviews in which they asked shoppers – after they bought candy – if it was a planned or an impulse purchase, and if impulse, what drove them to buy.

What was the result? What changes were made?  

After the first phase of research ended, a partnering retailer made significant changes to the candy aisle, Christianson said. These included:

  • Installing sign blades in the shoppers’ sight line
  • Deploying brand blocking
  • Adding new colors for the signs
  • Displaying sugar candy on one side and chocolate candy on the other side of the aisle. Each section was color coded. For example, gold shelf strips were used for the premium chocolate section. One section displayed product on pegs; another section used pusher racks.

The results were positive in terms of more candy sales for the retailer, according to Christianson, who did not provide specific dollar amounts or percentages. Also improved were the shopper experience in the aisle, impulse behavior and conversion.

“We affected behavior,” she said. “We decreased the time the shopper spent in the candy aisle, but the size of the basket increased.”

Anne Stephenson, Partner, Explorer Research, said, “By improving the merchandising, we improved the visibility of new products. We saw improved shoppability from 61 to 72 aisle conversions. Also, we saw improved aisle visibility and appetite appeal.”

Christianson and Stephenson talked about their candy aisle research and reinvention in a recent presentation in Rosemont, Ill. at the Path to Purchase Expo, hosted by the Path to Purchase Institute.

They explained that the environment in a typical supermarket or mass merchandiser has a lot of stimuli. The average grocery store has about 60,000 SKUs, but the typical shopper will only buy 20 to 30 products. Shoppers focus on only about two percent of the shelf; from 65 to 80 percent of any shelf in the store is not viewed.

“When there is too much stimuli and cognitive load, the shopper can only attend to a few products at a time. We needed to simplify the layout of product on the shelf for more effective results,” Stephenson said.

The main research goal was to improve the customer experience in the candy aisle, Christianson said. Research revealed that 79 percent of shoppers scan or glance at the candy aisle; 21 percent just use the aisle as a conduit to other parts of the store; 75 percent stop and shop; and 62 percent select an item or items to buy. “We want to disrupt, make them pause and shop,” she said.

Explorer showed shoppers images to see what emotionally triggered them while they were in the candy aisle. Shoppers were shown a variety of images and asked which image was most appealing. This exercise was done for each section within the candy aisle.

From the research and observations, Hershey learned that shoppers behaved differently in the various sections of the candy aisle, such as candy bars versus theatre box candy versus premium chocolates.  Research showed that shoppers spent some time searching for products when in the bagged candy section. Explorer determined this was because that section lacked clear brand blocking, so the shopper had to really look for a particular item. This was very different from the gum and mint section, which was more of a grab-and-go experience for shoppers.

Also, the research found that the signage in the candy aisle was being viewed by only 15 percent of shoppers. Hershey suggested it be removed and replaced. There was also an issue with the color and font used in the signage.

“Looking pretty doesn’t always work for the customer,” she noted. “Black on white contrast works better.”

Other lessons learned from the research: use individual words on the signs to increase engagement; put the signs in the shoppers’ sight line; incorporate imagery.

Hershey worked with the retailer to improve the signage in the candy aisle, explaining that marketing material has multiple benefits to the shopper experience. The signage helps them navigate their way through the aisle and the section, but also helps to engage them. The new signage contained images that increased the time spent by shoppers in the aisle and improved their shopping experience.

Bringing the overhead signs down to eye level for the shopper improved their effectiveness three-fold, according to Stephenson.

The signs were tested both before and after changes were made. The changes significantly improved viewing time of the signs, she reported. Often when asked, shoppers said they had not seen the signage, but eye tracking told a different story.

Explorer did 25 in-depth eye tracking interviews. The procedure calibrates to the retina of the eye.  The eye moves three times per second. Sampling different items in the candy aisle with eye tracking research identified the landmark brand within a four-foot section. This helped determine what items should be adjacent to each other for increased viewing of new products. Eye tracking also proved that brand is important when choosing a candy bar; ingredients are more important for shoppers interested in premium chocolate.

“We approached this from a category perspective,” Christianson noted. “The changes that were made benefitted the entire category. Many other brands were also part of the research.”

The cost of the research was nominal compared to the changes Hershey saw after implementation, according to Christianson. Sales and other metrics had long-running ramifications.