By Mary Ellen Kuhn
Chocolate retailing pros talk tips and tactics.
chocolate most effectively, take a multi-sensory approach, recommends
chocolate maker, author and pastry chef Jacques Torres, who operates two
highly regarded chocolate retail shops in New York City.
“People approach the counter with their taste
buds, their eyes, their cognitive processes and their
emotions/memories,” says Torres. “It’s important to keep
that in mind when presenting the product so you capture a little of each
one of those areas.
“Taste rules over everything,” Torres
continues, “but since most places require a purchase before a taste,
the initial purchase is made with senses other than taste.”
Thus, “Names of products are just as important
as tastes of products during the selling process,” he points out.
Store configuration and product positioning within it
also play key roles in retailing chocolate. It’s important for
shoppers to be able to navigate a store quickly and to easily find their
chocolate of choice.
So when Fannie May Confections set out to remodel and
expand its flagship store in downtown Chicago, the design team devoted
considerable attention to improving “in-store navigation” and
making it easy to locate favorite confections in the store, reports Jan
Waanders, director of marketing for Fannie May, which currently operates 52
stores in four Midwestern states.
“The 80/20 rule always applies,” continues
Waanders. “So we’ve especially highlighted that 20 percent of
the SKUs (stock keeping units) that account for 80 percent of the
Now top-selling Fannie May lines are merchandised in
single destinations within the store with eye-catching signage to direct
shoppers to that location. “If we have Pixies or Trinidads in a
certain aisle,” says Waanders, “we have a shingle above that,
depicting the product.”
The virtues of simplicity
The keep-it-simple rule applies to more mainstream
retail channels as well. Premium chocolate bars can present a particular
challenge, notes Laurie Roberts, who as director of sales and marketing for
Boulder, Colo.-based Chocolove, has spent considerable time analyzing
chocolate bar sets at retail.
Keeping a set both well organized and visually
appealing is a challenge, she notes. For one thing, some bars are packaged
to sit vertically on the shelf, while others sit horizontally. Then
there’s the fact that shoppers tend to browse the section and often
change purchase plans midstream, plunking down the bar they’ve opted
not to buy without bothering to ensure that it’s put back in the
“I like the idea of keeping one brand straight
across,” says Roberts. “If you keep a brand line going straight
across, it’s easier to keep the set clean.” And, because we
read left to right, such a merchandising approach makes sense for the
consumer, she continues.
Gravity-feed displays are also helpful for keeping a
chocolate set organized, she adds.
While merchandising pros note that organization and
simplicity definitely count in the store, adding a bit of drama to the
retail experience doesn’t hurt either.
Torres’ decision to give store visitors a view
of the chocolate-making process via large plate glass windows that open
onto the candy-making area of his operation was a smart move, says Beth
Kimmerle, author of “Chocolate: The Sweet History” (Collectors
“I think retailers are realizing that you need a
little more entertainment [in the store],” says Kimmerle, an
entrepreneur, who also developed the Big Tips Candy Collection of nostalgia
candies. “Some sort of entertainment is going to be the wave of the
future — whether it’s demos, tastings or classes,” she
At the flagship Fannie May store, both store patrons
and passers-by can observe store staffers hand dipping fruit, cookies and
ice cream in chocolate thanks to an attractive demonstration area adjacent
to a window on Chicago’s busy Michigan Avenue. The shop also serves
coffee and hot chocolate.
Raising the bar
Chocolate lovers these days have a growing assortment
of options ranging from upscale supermarkets to specialty retailers.
But if the choices have expanded for consumers, that
doesn’t worry the chocolate retailers Confectioner interviewed.
“We used to be the only game in town 20 or 30 years ago,”
says Waanders of Fannie May. “Now there is much more competition out
there in chocolate land. If the trend is positive, we will all pick up.
And, for that matter,” he adds, “we do see an uptick in
“We believe ‘the more, the merrier’
when it comes to the chocolate retail industry,” says Torres, who
adds that the growing number of chocolate retailers means that there is
something for every taste.
“It’s a journey of exploration,” he
observes. “Some stores are dedicated to tradition. Some stores are on
the untraveled road. People may ultimately end up with a favorite, but they
are willing to taste all of the chocolates on the market to do their
homework. That’s good for all of us.”
Kimmerle draws a parallel to Starbucks and the coffee
category. “If chocolate moves the way that coffee did, I think
there’s a good chance that it will be like Paris, where there’s
a little chocolate shop on every corner,” she says hopefully. n
Chocolate Merchandising Do’s and Don’ts
Do encourage shoppers to treat themselves. “Sometimes just asking the question, ‘And what
did you get for yourself?’ gives the person the permission they need
to allow themselves a treat,” says New York City-based chocolate
retailer Jacques Torres.
“Otherwise,” he continues, “asking
‘Did you need to get something for your mom, daughter,
babysitter?’ helps extend the pleasure to someone else in their
Don’t let things get stale. And we’re not just talking about the product itself
“We try to keep the experience fresh every time
people come into a Fannie May store,” says Jan Waanders, director of
marketing for the Chicago-based company. Simple merchandising tools like a
special promotion, new ceiling dangler, poster or window sign can do the
Do get creative at the front end. Laurie Roberts, director of sales and marketing for Boulder,
Colo.-based Chocolove, is a fan of what she terms the “chocolate
island” located at the front of the Whole Foods Columbus Circle store
in New York City. It’s a low fixture positioned perpendicular to the
checkouts that features an appetizing assortment of chocolate items, as
well as some non-chocolate SKUS, she reports. “It’s definitely
a more elegant approach to having chocolate at the registers,” says
“I think retailers are understanding that if
they put more higher-end products at the front end, then they can get into
the $2 or $3 range [in product price points],” says Beth Kimmerle,
author of “Chocolate: A Sweet History.”
Don’t overlook the basics. At Fannie May, the goal is to keep the shops, “clean and
organized, making sure we’ve got a complete size and weight range and
the shelves are fully stocked,” says Kate Campbell, retail
merchandising manager for the company.
Dark and Decadent vs. Milky and Mainstream
Dark chocolate is getting most of the buzz of late, no
doubt about it. And as the winter holidays approached this year, even
mainstream retailers were featuring more of it in their assortments as a
trip to the local Walgreens store will quickly demonstrate.
A look at dark chocolate product introductions tracked
by research firm Mintel International over the past three years helps to
tell the story. As of mid-November 2006, 325 new dark chocolate SKUs had
been unveiled in the United States vs. 304 for the full year in 2005 and
242 in 2004.
Milk chocolate rollouts outpaced dark, but the gap is
closing. (See chart.)
How milk vs. dark sales shake out depends on a
brand’s target audience.
“We’ve always sold a considerable amount
of dark chocolate,” says Jan Waanders, director of marketing for
Chicago-based Fannie May Confections. Traditionally, about 40 percent of
the Fannie May assortment is dark chocolate, 50 percent is milk chocolate,
and 10 percent is not enrobed in chocolate, says Wannders.
Recently, he notes, sales of dark chocolate have been
climbing. And, in fact, the chain’s new 70 percent cocoa dark
chocolate bar has become its best-selling bar.
The emphasis on cocoa content in dark chocolate may
even be translating to the milk chocolate segment of the market.
Laurie Roberts, director of sales and marketing for
Boulder, Colo.-based Chocolove, notes that the company flags the cocoa
content on a plain milk chocolate bar and a milk chocolate bar made with
toffee and almonds. Both boast a 33 percent cocoa content, and both have
been well received, she reports. It’s a slightly less sweet version
of milk chocolate, she says.
The company’s assortment of premium chocolate
bars includes 14 dark SKUs and four milk chocolate SKUs.
At Madelaine Chocolate Novelties, Rockaway Beach,
N.Y., milk chocolate products account for about 85 percent of sales,
although the company is adding dark SKUS on an ongoing basis, says Joan
Sweeting, national sales manager.
Sweeting points out that many of Madelaine’s
popular foil-wrapped items such as Santas and Easter bunnies are purchased
for children, who haven’t yet cultivated a taste for dark chocolate.
“It’s the flavor everybody loves,” she notes.