Fueling up Outdoors Enthusiasts
By Shonda Dudlicek
Sporting goods retailers target shoppers with sweets, snacks, energy bars and jerky, lots of jerky.
Rugged outdoorsy types love their venison jerky and salty pretzels. Health-conscious athletes may shy away from candy for the most part, preferring energy bars for a quick pick-me-up or even meal replacement. But when they all get that sweet-tooth fix, outdoor and sporting goods stores are all too happy to oblige.
Cabela’s offers a private label fudge that employees mix up on-site in its general stores. Snickers — both the candy bar and Marathon Energy Bar — is one of the more popular products sold at outdoor stores. And some stores eschew energy bars in favor of ice cream novelties.
There are some products that just would feel out-of-place anywhere else but the great outdoors — Cabela’s elk jerky, Gander Mountain’s alligator meat jerky, Big League Chew, Kashi chewy granola bars. You wouldn’t chow down on CLIF Shot Bloks while sitting on your couch watching TV. You just couldn’t. You need a campfire with those S’mores bars, just the way you did when you were a kid.
Buyers stock the shelves with “adult” snacks like hard candy that’s easy to slip into a fisherman’s vest pocket and buy “kids” candy intended for the younger set. But most outdoor and sporting goods retailers find that, yes, plenty of adults are buying the candy for themselves. Wonka Everlasting Gobstoppers, Nestlé Goobers Candy, gummy bears and more.
Five outdoor and sporting goods retailers share their candy philosophies:
Geared up for Candy and Snack Lovers
Cabela’s, Sidney, Neb.
Cabela’s — which describes itself as the “world’s foremost outfitter” selling hunting, fishing and outdoor gear — is in serious expansion mode. The chain has 19 stores now open across the country with 14 more opening soon. In addition, the company last month announced plans to acquire S.I.R. Warehouse Sports Store, a leading Canadian outdoor outfitter, based in Winnipeg, and has gone on record with plans to further expand in the Canadian market.
Cabela stores are visually dramatic. They include a climbing mountain, massive wildlife dioramas, aquariums and museum-quality educational displays that make them must-see destinations.
Cabela’s also has a separate department known as the general store, which sells an assortment of “home cooking” comfort foods like soup, salsa, jams and jellies. The biggest seller is jerky; Cabela’s private label jerky products, Jack Link’s and some smaller brands are offered. Cabela’s jerky includes wild game meats and venison; elk and beef are the best sellers.
Cabela’s top three food categories are candy, snacks and jerky. “Our sporting goods consumer can’t get enough jerky. We have more exotic meats and venison. Our consumer enjoys meat-type snacks,” says Deb Severinson, product manager gifts - home decor, food, toys.
General store employees also mix up batches of Cabela’s brand fudge. “Our fudge is made on-site, and we also offer some roasted nuts. Both have the Cabela’s name on them. Fudge and nuts appeal to everyone. A customer comes in the store and can smell the fudge. It entices everyone,” Severinson says.
Because food is an impulse buy in the sporting goods industry, edible offerings are prevalent in many departments at Cabela’s. Dried camping foods and energy bars are offered in the camping department. More impulse-buy-driven items are located near the cash lanes.
Also near the cash register lanes are Russell Stover S’mores Candy Bar and Cabela’s Hunt Bar, a caramel turtle bar that’s co-branded with Russell Stover. Consumers are very loyal to the Cabela’s name, Severinson says.
Peggable items at a lower price point are put near the register and bulk products sit on their own tables in a high-traffic area. Some are located near the cash registers and others are adjacent to the museum or the mountain.
Cabela’s offers candy, milk chocolate and dark chocolate and chocolate with almonds and pecans. Bulk candies are bags with different types of licorice and gummy bears.
“We have lots of candy. Whether you hunt or fish or camp, candy appeals to all people, regardless of their activity,” Severinson says. Cabela’s top sellers are jerky and trail mix, the latter of which includes Cabela’s private label and Sunbird brand with peanuts.
“We have a lot of variety, and we vary from a typical sporting goods and outdoor stores,” Severinson says. “Our philosophy is to try to stay in the nostalgic, comfort food that would appeal to the outdoors person — something you might take on a hunting trip, foods that are easy to take along. We get a lot of the tourists and travelers to our stores.”
Cabela’s food philosophy is simple: offer products based on their sales performance. If the products sell, then Cabela’s will sell the products. “We’re always looking for new types. We mainly think of our sportsman as the consumer, but we’re also trying to look at all customers as they go through our store. We have a museum, so we do get a lot of kids in here.”
Cabela’s seeks out unique products not offered anywhere else, and the same goes for its food. “This speaks to our customer,” Severinson says. “It’s like the Russell Stover S’mores. We work to get a unique s’mores bar that for our customer brings back nostalgic memories of camping.”
Sweet (and Salty) Bait
Gander Mountain Co., St. Paul, Minn.
Gander Mountain’s key consumer is the outdoor enthusiast, someone who’s serious about his sport and is visiting the stores for bait and ammunition.
“We target him to get the most,” says Allison Offerman, product manager, food and outdoor cooking. That means stocking a variety of bulk candy, gummy worms, snacks, gum, mints, cheese balls and pretzels.
Because the outdoors enthusiast may have a wife and kids who like to shop with him, Gander Mountain offers fun candy that’s more tailored for them, such as Jelly Belly products, lollipop rings and gummy snacks. “We cater to those who come every day, to the fishing and camping enthusiast, but also to the families and the mothers who take their children,” Offerman says.
Gander Mountain also carries ice cream novelties. “It depends on the store and the market. In ice cream, in our Texas stores, we sell Blue Bell because they’re from Texas and are bigger than Ben & Jerry’s in that market,” Offerman says.
“Candy is such a convenience category, and our philosophy is convenience,” Offerman continues. Gander Mountain has 108 stores in the Midwest, Southwest, South and East Coast and plans to open seven more stores by year’s end. The chain carries hunting, fishing, camping, boating, marine and outdoor lifestyle products and services.
“Candy and all food in general are a big growth area for us. This just comes from store growth, and we focus on a satisfied customer,” Offerman says. “That’s been our biggest strategy, to continue to grow with convenience products. The challenge is it’s a really fun category for stores, and there are so many things out there, so it’s a matter of selecting those products.”
Candy is sold near the cash registers, and other snacks, like jerky, are cross merchandised by the hunting, fishing and camping equipment to help the consumer find them. Gander Mountain’s big seller is jerky, and stores carry its private label, Bunkhouse, plus Jack Link’s and Trail’s Best brands. Jerky varieties are store-specific, and some stores carry more exotic kinds like alligator and ostrich meat, Offerman says.
Unlike other outdoors chains, Gander Mountain doesn’t carry a plethora of energy bars.
Sales of Performance Products Climb
Erehwon Mountain Outfitter, Arlington Heights, Ill.
The energy bar offerings at Erehwon Mountain Outfitter have grown each year since they were first offered in 2004.
The chain has three stores in the Chicago area, and the stores offers energy bars like CLIF Bar, CLIF Luna Bar, Z Bars, Nectar and Pro Bar, with about 60 to 70 SKUs, including GU Energy Gel.
Erehwon also offers some powdered mixes like Electrolyte. “The Chicago store is near the marathon, and that brings a lot of people in for that product,” says buyer Dennis Stogsdill. “The new favorite is the chocolate-coated cookie style or gel. Our top sellers are the ProBars, banana and regular. A couple we brought in are brand new, the Wild Berry, Nutty Banana and Cranberry Lemon, which is the new one.”
The CLIF Bar is popular, as is the Luna Bar. “They’re targeted to women, but men like them, too. Our bicyclists like the CLIF Shot or GU.”
The energy drinks fill a niche for Erehwon consumers, who are evenly split, women and men.
“We stock what we do because these types of drinks are not bottoms up. We talk about mainlining energy levels and using human power for backpacking, hiking and the need to continually sustain themselves during activities,” Stogsdill says. “Energy bars are better than sugar, but Snickers Marathon Energy Bar is a great product.”
Shelves filled with energy bars are right by the register. “They’re an impulse buy. We get people who know they’re not going to get lunch today so they grab these, or they’re taking a trip and will use it as a snack on their break. And some come in and buy it on a break or as a last reminder,” Stogsdill says.
Stogsdill says energy bar manufacturers are supportive of outdoor and sporting goods stores, and often give out samples that store employees can pass out to consumers. “We do a lot of outdoor events, and the companies give us handouts that we can give to people. The companies are real supportive of us.”
Stogsdill says Erehwon has plans to list and rate energy bars and drinks on its Web site so customers have another way to shop and compare.
Keeping a Finger on the Pulse of Shoppers
Academy Sports & Outdoors, Katy, Texas
With stores in 10 southern and southwestern states, Academy Sports & Outdoors carries a full line that runs the gamut of hard candies, chocolate, GU packs, beef jerky snacks and energy bars.
“It’s a pretty competitive market, and there are regional tastes from Florida to Texas,” says Mike Nelson, buyer, front-end merchandise and licensed merchandise.
“The challenge is to try to keep up and please as many of the people all at once. Our market is pretty diverse and regional. They regionally merchandise our stores, for example, with the beef jerky. It’s a challenge to keep up with all that. We carry national brands, and the more stores we have, it becomes more difficult to keep up in that area.”
Academy Sports & Outdoors sells sporting goods and outdoor products, with a wide range of baseball hats and gloves and guns and fishing rods. Typical customers are men up to age 50.
“Women are big customers because they’re coming in to buy more of the apparel and team sports equipment,” Nelson says. “Usually it’s the mom coming in to pick up the stuff for the team, and they range from their late 20s to early 40s. In kids we see a big increase.” Kids’ demographics are around 12 and up, and they’re buying candy.
And Academy Sports & Outdoors is ready for those kid customers, both young and old. The candy mix includes Hershey’s brands, hard candy, licorice, gummy bears, Wonka Everlasting Gobstopper, Nestle Goobers Candy, Lone Star Nut and Candy, Farley’s & Sathers items and Jelly Belly Sport Beans.
Chocolate is a small segment and the stores’ mix is about 30 percent chocolate, 50 percent hard candy and 20 percent energy bars.
“We’re backward from a grocer in that they would carry more chocolate than we do,” Nelson says. “Our philosophy is that we sell hard candy over chocolate, although Snickers is our No. 1 seller by far. It’s just a candy bar that everyone likes because it’s got everything. 3 Musketeers is the No. 2 seller, but it’s not even close to Snickers.”
Adults are buying the gum and chocolate and the more healthy energy bars. Popular gum includes Quench, Winterfresh and big-seller Big League Chew.
Academy Sports & Outdoors sells all its energy bars in the fitness area, alongside accessories for weight training like gloves, yoga and Pilates equipment. Varieties include Accel Gel and POWERBAR Performance Bars. CLIF energy supplements include energy bars and protein bars like Luna, energy gels and drinks, and CLIF Shot Bloks energy chews.
Brands such as CLIF, GU and Kashi are rotated on end-caps near the front registers. “We spice it up for our customers,” Nelson says. “GU is by far the best seller, and the chocolate flavors do the best in that class. Energy bars are the only one that keeps up with the hard candy.”
Nelson says that the stores’ chocolate assortment is growing, even though it’s a small segment of the total mix. “We’ve seen consumers shift around from energy bars to hard candy or chocolate.”
The food assortment is reviewed monthly, and items are added or dropped on a monthly basis. “Like, for instance, we’ll get some new pork rind flavors to try and we’ll go in and change them out,” Nelson says. “Or maybe our Mars and 3 Musketeers bars will change. Distributors have a better pulse on the candy industry than we do. A good distributor would tell me what we have and what they have and why we should sell it. We try to partner with those people.”
Keeping Pace with Active Consumers
Lombardi Sports, San Francisco
A mom-and-pop store that’s big on shoes, outdoor bikes and camping, Lombardi Sports, caters to “athletes, largely yuppies with expendable cash” in the Russian Hill/Pacific Heights area of San Francisco, says Lily Yue, store manager/buyer.
And she stocks areas near the registers with what she calls impulse buys: energy bars and candy. “These are an impulse buy for them. My thing is that these are an afterthought, an ‘Oh God, I need one of these.’ That’s why we put them near the register. Customers have to funnel through this area to get to the registers. They can’t miss it,” Yue says.
Lombardi Sports sells CLIF Bar, CLIF Bar Luna, CLIF Shots energy gels, GU Energy Gels, GU Hydration Solution, MET-Rx Big 100, POWERBAR Performance Bars and POWERBAR Power Gels as well as Jelly Belly Sport Beans.
“The Sport Beans are geared toward athletes, but we have some Jelly Belly jelly beans, too. The CLIF Bar we offer full lines, which is pretty much what customers want. Ninety-eight percent of our selection is energy bars. It’s a growth area for me,” Yue says. “Our customers see these products out at events. They get introduced to it and feel they need it.”
Lombardi Sports offers a reward card and puts energy bars on the cards for members, plus they’ll match competitors’ prices.
“You have to stay competitive and know what’s out there. I can take requests from customers because they’ll want what they’ll see at events. I have reps who come in and say, ‘Let’s try this,’ and that might be the only item I carry. I carry the Jelly Belly Sport Beans because I saw them out at an event,” Yue says.
Yue wishes that energy bar companies would do more marketing for the general population because she feels unprepared when companies release new products all at once. “Like POWERBARS, they didn’t need to market as much because they were the first energy bar, but now they have 10 to 15 SKUs. And you’re saying, ‘When did this come out?’… The biggest challenge is keeping up with the industry.”
Yue has been in the business for 15 years and has witnessed many changes in the energy bar arena. “The packaging is up-to-date and changed with the times. Packaging is more colorful. People are more knowledgeable about trans fats and sugar-free.”
But customers do love their candy, she says. “We have more than 100 snack SKUs. Two percent are the Jelly Belly gummy worms and the cola bottles. You’d think it’s for the kids, but the adults are buying them for themselves.”