Snacks: Retailer Perspective 2014

Q&A with Jim DeFilippis of NOCO Energy Corp.

By  Kelly Kurt, Freelance writer

Jim DeFillipis, NOCO Energy
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Q. What trends do you see shaping the snack category in your stores?

A. It’s very clear the new consumer is definitely trending toward better-for-you snacks. And it seems like there’s more variety coming out on a monthly basis. We’re taking a look at what looks like it will stick, and we try to be first to market with it.

We just did Fit popcorn at the first of the year, knowing it was diet season and everyone had their resolutions going. What else has been out for a while are Deep River Snacks gluten-free chips that have been doing well. And we’ve had huge success with Kind bars.

Q. Are the Kind bars doing well because people want gluten-free or are they just looking for a snack bar?

A. Both segments. I think we attract the gluten-free consumer but also folks that just like it. There’s so much news and education on eating more nuts and healthy eating. It’s filled with a lot of fiber. It fills you up for the afternoon.

Gluten-free has been the hottest trend. Up here in western New York, about 10 years ago customers started telling us that pediatricians were driving the moms to start looking at these products. Back then there wasn’t one-fifth the variety there is today. I think some folks thought of this as a fad, but it’s certainly something that’s become the future.

Q. Do you think people are attracted to the better-for-you items because they’re snacking all day long?

A. Yes. We’re also using some of our own in-house snack cuts for fresh-cut veggies and fruits. It’s very clear that today’s kids look forward to those snacks because the moms raise them from infants to eat healthier. We’re expanding our fresh fruit. Our apples, pears and oranges continue to sell more and more.

Q. What about nuts?

A. I think it’s growing, but in our area you’ve got to keep packages small and keep it more of a grab-and-go. We do an in-house program where we package it ourselves so that it isn’t the same package you see everyplace else. We package our own cashews and pistachios, and now we’re doing our own trail mixes, too. We have a program this year where we’re putting spicy, salty nuts on our beer endcaps. For Christmas, [we took] typical yogurt pretzels drizzled with red and green, and [put] them in a little parfait cup. It’s a nice, cute little package. It’s how we differentiate ourselves. That’s our goal.

Q. Which snack subcategories are doing well?

A. The protein bars, energy bars and any alternative chips, [plus] the lower-calorie cheese puffs and that type of product.

Q. What changes will you be making in your snack set as you look ahead?

A. The biggest thing is how can we tie products into other categories and maybe pick up those incremental sales.

Q. What challenges are you facing in this category?

A. It’s a challenge smaller guys face. It’s harder trying a brand-new item without a proven track record. That’s always our disadvantage against the drug channel and those types of stores. We tread slowly, but we’re not afraid to try. We need to continue to pay attention to the new items. More important, it’s doing the analytics— stay close to it and see what’s catching fi re and what’s not. We try to be selective.

The vendor partnership is very important to us. They’re our eyes on the street.

Jim DeFilippis is director of merchandising and marketing at NOCO Energy Corp., Tonawanda, N.Y., 35 stores.

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