Wednesday, June 7, 2006
Tonight’s party was a huge bash at the House of Blues. For extra fun I decided to take the bus to the party. It was only about a mile away and it seemed silly to hail a cab but a little far to walk through unknown territory. So I just asked a fellow at the bus stop if he knew how far this bus that said “Broadway” that was approaching went up Dearborn. As long as it didn’t turn before the river, we were golden! Two bucks is way better than the six or so it would have cost for a cab.
At the door I surrendered my ticket and was rewarded with a big smiley faced stamp on the back of my hand.
It was co-hosted by a host of companies and organizations and I’d tell you who they all were, except that they took away my ticket at the door. I do know that Hershey was one of the primaries along with Cadbury Adams & Sunkist, some trade magazines, but many of the big sugar candy manufacturers also had “boxes” up on the opera level of the club where the clients, brokers and companies could hobnob.
I got there just in time to snag some quasi-edible jambalaya. It was an open bar but I opted for a cranerry juice until I met up with some folks. There wasn’t a band on the stage, so people were hanging out on the lower level. (The house of blues is stacked rather high, with a lower level with a bar and lots of tables, an upper level where the stage is and then a series of balconies and boxes on the opera level.) There were young women handing out IceBreakers gum and handfuls of mints. If it were anything other than a candy convention, I’d think they were trying to tell me something about my breath.
Just as a the new band came on stage (a Stones cover band) my buds from CandyWarehouse.com showed up (they got me the ticket). We scouted for some food, which was long gone and ran into a broker (Darryl? it was hard to hear) who fixed us up with some opera level passes where Chris and Dave were able to score not one, but two leftover dinner rolls that hadn’t been cleared from the buffet.
After they quelled their rumbly tumblies, we headed over to one of the private boxes. This one was hosted by Atkinson, who make the super cool Chick-O-Stick. It was basically right over the stage - which was kind of cool to watch, except for my lack of fondness for Rolling Stones cover bands. It was kind of funny because the lead singer, the Mick, was doing all the moves and reminded me of the Simpsons episode where Homer goes to Rock & Roll camp and Mick Jagger tries to teach the guys how to strut and do the school marm finger wag.
The party wasn’t too crowded, so there was room to move around. Unfortunately it was very loud and I think I had a couple of conversations. I’m not sure. I was introduced to some folks, possibly brokers, possibly candy manufacturers. If there’s anyplace that needs name badges, it’s a loud club.
I did have a great talk with Chris in the lobby about all the things he’d seen out on the floor and all the things I’d seen out on the floor. Of course what’s cool to me as a consumer and what’s cool to him as an internet candy store are two different things ... well, not always.
As a parting gift, of course, I got a little bag of candy to take back to the hotel. I walked back to the hotel (having looked at the neighborhood pretty well on the bus and found it acceptable for late evening walking.) I’m actually pretty eager to eat the nut mix on the plane tomorrow.
The Food Network has been here all week, but today the talent arrived.
I saw George Duran of Ham on the Street several times out on the show floor shooting and ended up catching a few photos of him as he appeared to be taping either his teaser or intro.
You can’t tell on TV, but in real life he’s a very blurry man. I took 19 photos of him and only one was in focus!
He was wearing a super-cute tee - it was olive colored and simple and had an orange lolly right in the center.
Later on, as the show floor was closing down for the day, I saw him walking out and I walked up to him and gushed and introduced myself.
I gave him a card and whatnot, but really I was just happy to see that he was there covering the show because he’s one of the best personalities from the Food Network to get the assignment. He’s totally down-to-earth and I feel like he’ll really get into it. So keep your eye on the Food Network schedule!
I felt just like I was in Los Angeles, being stopped in my tracks and waiting while a crew shoots something!
The other crew from the Food Network was working their B-Roll footage for The Secret Life Of .... with Jim O’Connor who is also a natural fit. He’s supposed to be there taping his segments tomorrow. Of course I would love, love, love to be on the show but I’m not sure that I’ve got what it takes to compete with the candy on the show floor.
(What was really funny was that everyone kept asking where Rachael Ray was.)
Today I started out a little later, which is a good thing because I was pretty tired from yesterday but still got up early. My knees and ankles are killing me. It’s not like I don’t walk a lot in my daily life, but there’s something about the shuffling around the convention floor (concrete covered with thin carpet) that really takes its toll.
This morning I started out with an abashed appeal to the powers that be to replace my press badge that I lost yesterday. Because I still had my sample bag (you get issued one to carry for the entire show and cannot carry anything else onto the floor except for business materials) they waived the $25 penalty. The penalty is in place for people that would try to get a new badge each day so that they could get additional bags for filling with candy.
I started out this morning checking in with Bubble Chocolate, whom I’ve become very fond of because the two partners are so open to talking to me about how the process of building buzz and selling is going for them. Bruce Smith, the innovator trying to bring aerated chocolate back to America has an incredible weath of knowlege not only about chocolate as consumers but also about the chemistry and viscosity and all sorts of other things that I’d never considered. I’ll have more on them when I get back to Los Angeles.
I also checked in with Pop Rocks because they have several new products, including Chocolate Covered Pop Rocks ... I got to taste a sample (they don’t have the packaging ready for sampling though) and they’re really interesting. There’s also another product from them, Pop Rocks on a Roll which is a fruit roll up with Pop Rocks!
I sat in a fun session (they not all graphs and charts about grocery endcaps and interruption marketing) hosted by Beth Kimmerle and Will Noonan of Big Tips Candy. They did candy crafts, which sounds like a great idea for a themed party for children. I’ll have more on that and my own take on ideas for having fun with kids (especially on rainy days) in the weeks to come. They have another session later that I hope to sit in on.
Later today is another session called “Chocolate Industry’s Commitment to Cocoa Farms, Families and the Environment” which I hope goes beyond the discussion of fair trade for niche purchases but makes standards for ethical ingredients purchasing.
Also, as I listed yesterday, I tried out the Au’Some Florida Naturals fruit chews. These really are awesome. Tangy, complex and packed full of natural ingredients and no high fructose corn sweetener. It’s all those things that you want in a little morsel without compromise. But what was the most fun (in addition to the fact that they were so interested in talking to me) was the Bubble Roll Message Maker (Candy Addict had a great post on this) which is like the old Dymo label maker but instead of embossing a piece of tape, you imprint a strip of bubble tape. Not only that, you get the bubble tape with it but it can be refilled with just about any standard bubble tape out on the market! It comes with 6 feet of bubble tape and retails for under $2.
I had a nice chat with the Palmer Candy Co folks, who make the Twin Bing. I grabbed one of those to add to my ever-growing collection.
The other wonderful connection I made was over at Sconza candy, which I’ve loved for a while as a company. They’re still family run in Oakland, CA making panned nuts and candies with a great reputation for quality. They’re moving into organics, which I think is really exciting for things like panned nuts. There’s also talk of making a malted milk ball ... I think I need to do some focus group testing with them! I hope that the next time I go to San Francisco I can meet with them and see the operation up close. The Organic Toffee Cashews and Peanuts were pretty darn tasty and just what I needed to carry me through the morning.
You’re wondering if I’ve tried some bad things, and I actually have. There are plenty of things that I’ve sampled and not finished or diplomatically spit out. I’m planning to post my thoughts on those after I leave Chicago ... lest I get myself run out of town!
Tips and Techniques to Grow Confectionery Sales
The first session of the Expo on Monday afternoon was an intricately researched report on the effective techniques for large stores such as grocers to maximize their sales of candy.
Candy is a $27.9 billion business. Confectionery is third to soda and milk as a category of product sold in stores.
Here are some interesting things I learned:
The gross margin (basically profit) on general groceries is 28%.
The gross margin on confectionery (chocolate, sugar candy & gum) is 30%. So basically, candy is one of the more profitable things that a grocer can sell in their store.
Studies have shown that people 70% of people who visit grocery stores buy candy more than once a month.
The more candy people buy, the more they consume. That sounds like a silly assumption, but when someone buys a lot of toilet paper or paper towels on sale, they don?t use more, they just keep them until they need them. Turns out when people ?stock up? on candy, they eat it just the same. Similar things were found with people who buy ?occasion? candy, such as movie theater boxes but the candy might not actually make it to that movie they?re planning to see.
The candy aisle is not a destination and is usually placed in the worst traveled place in the store ? the center aisle. Studies have shown that people are more likely to buy things that are located earlier in their path through the grocery store and further that most people shop the perimeter of the store.
What really surprised me about the study figures was that 27% of candy buyers will not compromise on what they want. If they don?t see what they want at the store, they?ll either go somewhere else to find it or not buy anything at all. So it?s important for successful grocers to carry the maximum variety.
Within the presentation there were a series of slides that showed ?best practices? from sample stores. These best practices were proven techniques that increased sales. Some of these were colorful and bold headers over the aisle, blocks of colors on the shelves to delineate candy categories and give a sense of organization, using peg bags of candy that span large portions of the aisle to give uniformity to large quantities. And the last thing that I found really surprising was that people were more likely to call a store?s candy aisle well stocked if they saw premium chocolate bars. Even if they don?t like them or don?t want to buy them, it made them think that there was a large variety.
Last year there were 2,767 new consumer candy product introductions and what?s interesting about that is that 1/3 of all sales were for these new items. This means that consumers are interested in incorporating new products into their lives and are pretty much willing to give things at least a try.
The industry as a whole recognizes that there are some trends and concerns.
One of those is diabetes. The curious part about that is that the candy industry invested quite a bit over the past ten years introducing a huge variety of sugar-free candies. But sugar free sales are struggling. The research into why this is turns out that even diabetics don?t buy the candy for themselves ? it?s usually bought for diabetics as a sign that they care about them but want them to have something good. There’s still either a stigma of buying diabetic candy for yourself, or perhaps no one really likes sugar free candy.
On the whole it was a highly technical seminar, but I was able to hold my own. There were a few times where there?s some jargon that I didn?t understand, but I?m getting the hang of it.
It?s interesting to see what grocers or stores might think about our behavior as consumers. And then it?s interesting to see where they?re right and wrong.
One of the things that was stressed (and I didn?t write down the figures) was that a successful candy aisle will be supported by other candy displays elsewhere in the store. They call it interruption marketing. You?re over in the cheese area and you stumble across a floor display of M&Ms and guess what? You?re 200% (or so) more likely to buy some candy, even if they?re not on sale.
It?s good to know how you?re being marketed to. It might not change your behavior, because the marketing plan may actually support what you want to accomplish ? like remember that you wanted to pick up a bag of Hershey Kisses.
One of the great things about my trip to New York, long before the All Candy Expo was that I got to visit Economy Candy, which was great prep. It gave me a chance to look at the huge array of candy, including may European ones that just don’t get distributed here in the states.
There’s quite a difference in candies here and there. But part of the charm of the imported ones is that they’re so different from what we have here.
I thought these would be tiny Altoids, but aside from the appearance of looking like inconsistent pieces of chalk, they’re quite the opposite of Altoids.
One of the main ingredients besides sugar are the gums and thickening agents. One of these is called Tragacanth (which, I found out is not at all related to the living fossil fish the coelocanth). Besides having a cool sounding name, it seems to be add a rather interesting texture to the mints. They’re not chalky but very smooth when they dissolve. They have an almost gooey consistency as they dissintigrate that feels like a glycerine syrup or gelatin.
The fruit ones are pretty and look kind of like little, lumpy conversation hearts discards. They’re about the size of an eraser you’d find on the end of a pencil. The Green Tea ones, not pictured, are a bland brownish-red but have a radically charged bitter tea taste to them. They don’t taste anything like green tea in my mind. More like black tea, but without the wonderful complex aromas. There’s also a strong component of mint at work here. They’re not terribly sweet, more flavorful and long after the bitter taste on the front of the tongue is gone, there’s a pleasant, refreshing taste left in the mouth. (Not at all like lingering tea breath.)
The other interesting thing about these pastilles is that the boxes are identical. There’s a paper overwrap (as shown on the Green Tea one) but once you take it off it looks like the one on its side, you don’t know what’s in there if you have more than one box!
The mixed flavors one went something like this:
Lavender - Violet. It reminded me of flowers, of course, it’s sweet without being sticky. There’s an American version of this from C. Howard which is very similar.
Yellow - Lemon. Very pleasant. An equal mix of the essence of lemon but with a slight tart bite to it that reminded me of a conversation heart, only about 10 times the price.
Green - Lime. Sweet and also with a slight tangy edge to it. It didn’t have any of the associations with disinfectants, which is good!
Pink - Strawberry. Beautifully fragrant, with nice floral overtones, like standing at the edge of a strawberry field, but with fewer bees. Only a slight tangy element here and it didn’t feel artificial at all.
White - Vanilla? I’m not quite sure on the flavor on this one. It was pleasant and bland, but no real flavor. I couldn’t tell if I’d burned out my tongue with the other flavors.
Pastiglie Leone has a beautiful, if strangely programmed website. The products flash by or you scroll horizontally (one of my least favorite directions to scroll) but there are so many different varieties.
Overall, I loved the texture and the way that the pastilles dissolved. But I never really loved any of the flavors. The tartness or tang to some of them was refreshing, but I found the flavor overall to be a little washed out like the colors. Not something I’d buy again unless one of the flavors really caught my eye. (I’m a sucker for a classic package like this.) In a world where everything has become blisteringly strong, it’s kind of nice for a little mellow.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.