Impulse Snacks Sales Might Be On A Downtrend

by Paul Schlossberg
Posted On: 7/15/2019

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Paul Schlossberg

What is happening with impulse snack sales? Obviously an impulse purchase, whether for a snack or something else, is unplanned. We all do it. Walking past some products on a shelf, we get an idea, an impulse, to buy it. Maybe we were hungry and decided to grab a snack or candy product. Those impulse snack sales generate a big dollar impact for retail brands in the U.S.

The NACS (National Association of Convenience Stores) Media Daily headline was - " Consumers Curb Impulse Snack Purchases ." It's not good news for supermarkets, mass merchandisers, convenience stores, chain drugstores and lots of other retailers.

Some people are probably buying fewer snacks during the day because they're trying to eat healthier. Others might be switching from their favorite candy or snack to a healthier or better-for-you (BFY) snack or even a good-for-you (GFY) snack. Lots of people are seeking a product with a "clean" ingredient list (no additives, etc.). Is that why impulse snack sales are decreasing?

Our industry has a serious challenge dealing with all of these product demands given our limited shelf space. For retail checkout lanes, the space available makes it very tough for retail stores to offer a diverse product assortment in the new snack universe.

Think about your own impulse snack shopping experience. Suppose you are in a micromarket or convenience store. You select a sandwich and a beverage. Then at the checkout, you see snacks displayed in countertop boxes and below the counter on a low merchandising rack. Bingo! In just a few seconds you took the bait and made an impulse purchase.

There are lots of snacks on display in the checkout aisles at supermarkets, chain drug stores and mass merchandisers like Target and Walmart. When you shop at department stores, there are countertop displays of candy -- as observed by me on a recent shopping trip to one of the leading national department stores.

Have you ever noticed the new signs above some of the checkout lanes where you shop? What's happened lately is that parents are putting pressure on retail brands to create snack-free checkout lanes. In an increasing number of stores, you'll find new "snack-free" checkout lanes. You're probably thinking that it cannot be too big a deterrent to impulse snack sales in retail stores.

All of those appealing snacks on the checkout aisle make it tough on the willpower of those of us who are constantly struggling to eat a healthier diet. We (that includes me) are not alone in dealing with the challenge of literally being surrounded by a never-ending snack aisle. Parents with young children have a significant challenge when their kids are turned on to ask (and ask and then pester) their parents for a candy or snack while idling away the time in the checkout aisle.

Add the impact of "snack-free" checkouts to the healthier snacking trend. Maybe the dent in impulse snacking got a little bigger -- because most of the snacks at checkout lanes are the leading brands -- whether it's salty or savory, sweet or sour, gums or mints. Are these the reasons why impulse snack sales are trending down?

Let's go back to the NACS article. What else could be causing the impulse snack sales to decrease? A report from Euromonitor International addressed the issue. "E-commerce is really a threat to these unplanned store purchases because of declining trip frequency," said Jared Koerten, industry manager of food and nutrition at Euromonitor International.

The decrease in (store) trip frequency is a byproduct of all of the e-commerce deliveries. There is no need to go to the store as often. By the way, the impact on instore impulse shopping applies to the whole store -- the center-store aisles and the perimeter departments, not just the checkout lanes.

It might be that our industry has an escape clause from this challenging and negative (sales) trend. We know very well that snacking is changing. As an industry we are adapting our product offerings because we must satisfy the new and healthier expectations of the shoppers we serve. Our stores do not have the traditional checkout lanes you'll find in our (much larger) retail competitors' stores. Maybe we can continue to merchandise and display our products to maximize impulse purchase activity.

Be very careful when you consider that impulse purchases might be negatively impacted by the increasing incidence of e-commerce grocery shopping. The data, the numbers, that's real. But the underlying impulse to make an unplanned purchase is still there. When people are in the store, that impulse can be triggered and that unplanned sale can be realized by store.

In our industry it's really difficult to know whether a specific purchase was planned by a shopper or if it was an impulse buy. It's unlikely that our product suppliers will share the data comparing year-to-year unit sales in retail channels -- to see if single-serve unit sales (usually sold in checkout lanes) are trending up or trending down.

Focus on merchandising and displays. If you want to sell more stuff, make the products easily visible and make the eye-appeal easy to notice.

Paul Schlossberg is president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX, area, he can be reached by emailing to Paul@DFWConsulting.net, calling him at (972) 877-2972. The company is online at www.DFWConsulting.net.