Slideshow: Inside Hershey's seasonal strategy

by Monica Watrous
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HERSHEY, PA. — Approximately one-third of The Hershey Co.’s total sales come from its seasonal business — the candy sold at holidays, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween. The maker of Reese’s and Kit Kat taps into consumer insights and trends to drive innovation and maintain its leading position in the seasonal confectionery category, said Alex Corcoran, Hershey’s senior director of seasons.

“Within Halloween alone, we have three of the top five brands,” Mr. Corcoran told Food Business News, citing Hershey’s Assortments, Reese’s and Kit Kat. “A lot of times, Halloween is when people at a very young age start to connect with brands and develop a lifelong affinity for flavor profiles and brands.”

Hershey begins planning Halloween production a year ahead of the occasion, finishing all production in September each year. In the week before Oct. 31, the company delivers approximately 6,500 trucks filled with product from 17 facilities across the country.

 

This year, new seasonal products from Hershey include Reese’s White Pumpkin, featuring a pumpkin-shaped peanut butter cup enrobed in white creme, and Kit Kat Pumpkin Pie snack-size wafers in pumpkin pie-flavored creme. Another limited-edition offering is Cadbury Harvest Mix, featuring solid milk chocolates with a colorful crisp sugar shell. Also new from Hershey is Reese’s Spooky Eyeballs, combining milk chocolate and peanut butter in a creepy eyeball wrap.  

Each of these products and others serve various consumption occasions during the season, from trick-or-treat to baking projects to party decor, Mr. Corcoran said.

“We do a lot of research in understanding the different occasions that occur throughout the season and how specifically candy connects with those occasions,” Mr. Corcoran said. “For us, we think about the seasons in three different parts — early, mid and late. We think about how our brands connect to those usage occasions that are really important in the season that all lead up to the final celebration.”

In an interview, Mr. Corcoran shared an in-depth look at Hershey’s seasonal strategy.

 

Food Business News: How are Hershey’s brands consumed during Halloween season?

Alex Corcoran: In the early season it starts with the “treat for me” or the instant consumable and getting to connect with those brands you love — for instance, Reese’s Pumpkins — in a way that delivers the experience and starts to connect you with the season that’s coming.

The mid-season, the next two or two and a half weeks before the end of the season, consumers start to switch into that planning mode, and there’s a lot of pre-planning for Halloween parties and a lot of occasions that start to get consumers in the mood for the upcoming Halloween night. That starts with decorating, crafting, baking components, party planning, and ultimately the Halloween party, and trick-or-treating.

The season has many usage occasions, and we’re focused on how we connect our brands and make them highly relevant to the different ways consumers are looking to interact with candy.

How does that play out with new products launched this year for Halloween?

Mr. Corcoran: As you move further into season and start thinking about parties and trick or treat, we have been expanding pretty heavily what we call our “party platform.” That is driven by the fact that the biggest expanding usage occasion over the last five years has been parties. About 35% of consumers attend or throw parties or are involved in parties… It’s a really important expanding part of the category, and we continue to drive innovation in this area.

We added Reese’s Spooky Eyeballs … where consumers have that party table that has all the great treats and sweets and things that show a lot of creativity, and we continue to innovate around ideas that would drive relevancy and fun to Halloween parties.

We’ve also added glow-in-the-dark packaging. Packaging is a really easy and effective way of driving relevancy for brands.

The last part of the season that we continue to spend a lot of time on is assortments around our top brands, Reese’s and Kit Kat and Hershey’s ... so we have focused on driving some new assortments around spooky shapes. We have a peanut lover’s assortment that brings together some of our favorite peanut type brands. We look at every aspect from a usage occasion perspective and think about how we can create news and excitement for that seasonal shopper.

 

What goes into Halloween planning at Hershey?

Mr. Corcoran: We step back at the end of every season and do a very thorough analysis of what happened in the marketplace, competitive trends, working with flavor houses to see what is trending both in the U.S. and globally, but we also take a look and do a data scrub of social media and other areas to see trends we’ve been watching for a couple years, whether they’re growing in importance.

We use all of that data to think about new ways to bring news and excitement to our top brands through flavor. There’s not one place where we get those ideas, but it’s really from a broad-based understanding of what’s happening in the environment, both here in the U.S. and globally, that influences some of the choices we make on innovation.

Why not offer some of these products year-round?

Mr. Corcoran: There is this idea of creating seasonal exclusivity that has an anticipation component to it. What we found is when you lean into an item like that and bring it every day, it loses a lot of the luster it has by just being available season to season.

 

We try to take a platform approach, so if there’s a broad-based insight around Reese’s, say a certain percentage of the population really likes an extra peanut butter hit, and that peanut butter hit really works at Easter, then how does that play out in the rest of the portfolio? Reese’s Big Cup came out of that insight, and all of the seasonal shapes and flavors came out of the core insight that we knew from understanding our Reese consumer base.

Why are seasons so important to Hershey and the confectionery category?

Mr. Corcoran: One thing that is really important to us as a seasonal business and a company is we happen to have some of the top brands and leadership share, and as a result we take it upon ourselves and see it as our responsibility to do things that help us drive the category. We are constantly looking at ways that we can find new demand through new and emerging occasions, and also looking at driving seasonal participation and engagement. That’s a lot of what our team is focused on doing because seasons are so important to the overall category, and a healthy seasonal business leads to a healthy category. 
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