Just as most are still holding strong to 2020 resolutions, here comes a new season of indulging just around the corner — Valentine’s Day. While there has been a drop in people participating in the holiday, including those who choose to rebel against it, according to the National Retail Federation, supporters who are buying gifts are spending record amounts on flowers, jewelry and candy.
From tiny conversation hearts to an assorted heart box of chocolates, there’s an array of sweet treats and traditions you expect only to find before Valentine’s Day. There are die-hard fans who wait for a whole year to stock up on their favorites. Then, just as the candy aisle clears out in mid-February, another round of traditional treats are stocked on the shelves with Easter in April.
Chocolate Champions of Valentine’s Day and Easter
While Hershey’s and Ferrara may be household names, Elmer Candy Corporation is the largest manufacturer of small heart boxes with assorted chocolates. More than 40 million a year go out to retailers across the United States and 13 other countries. Though the majority of their business revolves around Valentine’s Day and Christmas, they’re known primarily in their home state of Louisiana for their Easter chocolates, especially the Gold Brick Egg and Heavenly Hash. The company holds onto the products of its heritage brand quite tightly.
Michael Sitarz, Director of Sales, and Scott Scheuermann, Eastern Region Manager, have both been with Elmer for nearly 20 years. They’ve learned the lessons of what can be changed with traditional candy, what can NOT and why.
“We’ve done different things like tweaking packaging, and almost every time we even try to do something like that, the feedback from the consumers is overwhelmingly negative. You just can’t change Santa Claus, right?”Scott Scheuermann, Eastern Region Manager
Lessons Learned When You Adjust “Love Brands”
Elmer Candy Corporation was founded in 1855, so it should be assumed that the branding has gone through some changes. What can’t be expected to change is human nature. We are creatures of habit, so the majority of us stick with what we’re familiar with and love. Clothing styles may come and go, but if a product makes us feel good, we remember and don’t want to lose it. Elmer quickly learned this when they made minor changes to their Gold Brick and Heavenly Hash packaging nearly 20 years ago.
“We didn’t change the candy at all. We just changed the packaging to a different format, the sales were negatively affected and the consumers were not happy about it. Consequently, the retailers were not happy about it,” says Scheuermann. “I remember coming to the executive team and asking what we were going to do. The consumers have already voted, you have to go back to the old. And it’s just crazy. We had retailers telling us that consumers would come into the store looking for a Gold Brick Egg, and they would take them right to the stack of Gold Brick Eggs. But the customer would look at it and say, ‘No. I don’t want those. I want the Elmer Gold Brick Egg.’ And they would turn and walk away. We cannot change it. We can’t. We’ve learned that lesson now.”
“It’s heritage. It’s tradition. It’s nostalgia. People don’t, especially today, want their nostalgia messed with.”Michael Sitarz, Director of Sales
What Adjustments Can You Get Away With
While a few flavors have been added, specifically dark chocolate, Elmer’s packaging remains the same so that customers immediately recognize them on the shelf and know it’s not an imitator. Research has also shown that packaging affects how we perceive the flavor. In short, don’t interfere with the overall customer experience, from the purchase to the unpackaging and, finally, to final bite.
While Elmer’s traditional Easter treats will remain the same, they have a full design team working year-round to refresh their heart boxes for Valentine’s Day. There’s a little more room on the box to play with design. With Easter, the purchaser is typically a mom buying for the child, but the audience broadens for February 14.
“We have over 90 different heart tops out in the marketplace. We refresh each year,” says Sitarz. “Most of them are retouched just to make sure those designs are current. It’s just like a greeting card. You want to find the latest, greatest humor or artwork. What is mommy going to see on t-shirts and school notebooks? What are popular stationery designs that could work for a box purchased for a friend? We retouch a lot of those ‘trendy’ designs. The ones that we don’t touch are the very traditional roses that the guys run in and buy at the last minute.”
The Advantage Of Staying True
According to Scheuermann and Sitarz, other national brands come into the retail space and fight to gain Elmer’s shelf space and sales. It’s to their benefit that they stick with the branding and design that they’ve maintained for 100+ years. While he knows that marketers always want to have the new and improved, it’s essential to hold onto their brand nostalgia.
“It’s to our benefit,” says Scheuermann. “We’re grateful that we have that loyalty from the consumer and that they keep passing it onto their kids. We understand that now and so, rather than fighting it, we protect it.”