A Better-for-You Bet

With proper care and adjustments, ‘healthy’ sections can succeed

By  Steve Dwyer, CSP Reporter

The Good for You section in Huck’s stores focuses on healthy bars, along with pita chips, popcorn, nuts and seeds.
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If convenience-store healthy-snacking programs are still in an incubation stage—as many retail participants believe—imagine how fallow the selling opportunity for these varieties was in 2002.

Randy Adams remembers all too well. Adams, center-store category manager for Carmi, Ill.-based Huck’s Convenience Stores, says the chain 12 years ago aggressively pushed an energy-bar merchandising program in conjunction with a major supplier-partner.

It failed to resonate with customers. Hit the fast-forward button to present day. The chain of 113 stores has found new life in healthy snacking in the form of “Good For You,” a standalone merchandising program featuring healthy bars as its nucleus. Separately and positioned in-line are a growing number of better-for-you (BFY) products, including pita chips, healthy popcorn, breakfast, cluster and yogurt bars, as well as nuts and seeds.

But at Huck’s, it’s the snack-bar department that holds sway. In a blending of both high-brand equity varieties with those Adams calls “under the radar,” the selection in Good For You range from Clif Bar and MET-Rx to Athena Greek yogurt bars and Robert Irvine’s Fit Crunch bars, two SKUs of which are ensconced in Huck’s top 10 bar sales.

So what’s the recipe for success today, as opposed to previously? More healthful eating is one, but segment innovation can’t be denied.

“There was a seven-year period where consumer product goods (CPG) companies slimmed down on innovation, but the last one or two years they’re ramping that up again,” says Kit Dietz, principal with Dietz Consulting LLC, a Huron, Ohio-based retail consulting firm.

“I’ve asked a number of CPG companies about what BFY means to them: Is it fresh, heart-healthy, no- or low-fat, less processing, made with whole grains, high fiber and protein? The definitions vary,” Dietz continues. “And as a retailer, you have to proceed prudently because innovation can actually hurt a category, as ‘new’ sometimes doesn’t mean better.

“It’s a recalibration of the category for a lot of retailers. What I would be wary about is people overemphasizing BFY to the extent that it’s taking profitability down in the store.”

At Huck’s, innovation plus a newfound appreciation for healthy eating is fueling a conversion of sorts. “Three years ago, we took some bottled water located in-line and launched Good For You,” says Adams, pointing out that the section now outsells Huck’s automotive products.

Better-for-you snacks in the c-store are rising each year. According to McLane Mpulse numbers, the healthy-bar segment has grown 37% in average dollars per store per week over the 90 days ending first-quarter 2014.

NPD Group’s National Eating Trends In-Home and Away-From Home database indicates that 63% of c-store shoppers say they want more BFY products in c-stores, while 51% say if BFY products were carried in stores, they would shop there more often.

CONTINUED: You Better, You Bet

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