Confection Heaven

Similar to a well-planned gourmet meal, upscale supermarkets have made ample room for dessert. Here are a few ways these “foodie” retailers are positioning candy to their “foodie” customers so that many shoppers may even make it their first stop in the store.
At Whole Foods’ recent prototype store in Denver, candy is positioned as an “island” off of the bakery section. The store makes two-thirds of the candy in the case (sold by the pound) on a daily basis; truffles, brought in from outside vendors, sell for $1.79 each. There’s cellophane-bagged specialty (hard, chocolate and seasonal) candy, too, as well as butcher-block tables of specialty (European) chocolate sold in blocks or discs. But perhaps the biggest attraction of this spotlighted confection section is the built-in chocolate fountain.
“We will dip any product within reason in our chocolate fountain (at $14.99 a pound),” states Whitney Lees, the stores’ “candy maker” team leader. She explains that many customers will bring over their favorite box of cookies — which the team leader will open and be happy to dip — even only one or two for the customer — then dip the rest of the box and put them on display in the confection case to be sold. The customer only has to pay for the one or two she wants. If an item is too large to dip, the team leader can pour the chocolate on top of it, or drizzle it to the customer’s liking.
While the store does not rent out chocolate fountains, it does get lots of requests to purchase the chocolate that goes in the fountain or advice on what kind to use from customers who already own fountains. According to Lees, “we are currently working on getting that chocolate for our customers year-round in either liquid form or in chips.”
Lees is also big on store sampling of chocolate (the store’s best seller currently is dark toasted almond bark) and holding truffle tasting events. She is working on putting together a “chocolate class event” sometime in the near future.
At Austin-based Central Market (which touts itself as the second-busiest tourist attraction in the city, behind only the state Capitol) candy is treated as a “specialty food.” In the South Austin store (which caters to a young adult/college demographic) “we carry a large assortment of nostalgic candy, including obscure gums, that our customers remember and love from their childhood,” says Emily Wetzel, specialty foods director for the store.
Candy is not at every register, but front-end displays where it is featured have a lot of “British products and hard-to-find little confections,” according to Wetzel.
Bulk candy displays are big on colorful seasonal items. The chain is also very proud of its cross-merchandised confection efforts, where premium bulk chocolates are sprinkled around the deli and baking sections. “We want to show that we have chocolate to bake with, eat with and coat with,” says Wetzel.
At The Fresh Market, a Greensboro, N.C.-based grocery store with 56 locations in the South and Midwest, candy is also part of an island, but it’s positioned right off the cashier stations, along with fresh ground coffee and bulk foods. The Fresh Market is not designed to be the sole grocery store for a family but rather, the attraction is the “Old World market experience,” complete with “food specialists” that customers can get preparation, presentation and meal ideas from. As for candy, there is a “candy specialist” in each and every store, just waiting to sweeten the lives of its customers.
The Fresh Market stores are wild about gift basket making, and the candy specialist and gift specialist are both on duty from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. to help customers put together the perfect basket.
At Shubies, a specialty food store in Marblehead, Mass., candy plays a big part in its seasonal, colorful fun.
In February, Shubies flocked customer attention to a whimsical Valentine’s Day promotion, complete with “the funkiest, coolest red couch sitting on a table in the store with feather hearts hanging down from the ceiling all around,” according to co-owner Carol Shube, who believes color to be a great merchandising tool.
“I do think the customer is very into experiences at retail right now,” maintains Christian Davies, vice president of Retail Design Strategy and creative director at FRCH Design Worldwide. “Consumers love the social aspect of retail. Give people a great experience when they shop, and they will come back. It's just that simple.”