Early Easter Impacting Retail Sales in Canada; New Trends in Chocolates and Merchandising Innovation Showcased [Feature Interviews]

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Easter is around the corner and like many holidays, it arrived on retail shelves earlier. Jeff Doucette, general manager at Field Agent Canada, and Joanne Mutter, owner of JoJo CoCo Chocolate in Ottawa, discusses the current state of Easter, rising trends, and what is missing – such as the presence of adult Easter themed products.

“The Seasonal Creep” 

Easter this year came out earlier than ever as products were mixed with Valentine’s Day causing retailers to have multiple displays at once – making it a messy experience.

Jeff Doucette

“What we saw early on, is a mismatch of Easter and Valentine’s Day all happening almost immediately after Christmas. All that product hit the stores and is the idea of seasonal creep – all seasons mixed together. Every year the seasons tend to start a little bit earlier, so it just seems like there is a lot of competition and a lot of space being used in-store to celebrate multiple ones at the same time. We have already started to see some summer olympic stuff, so it could be seen as confusing for consumers because there are a couple of different things happening at the same time,” says Jeff Doucette. 

Doucette says other countries are seeing the same, such as Australia where retailers started selling Easter products in January: “So, it is really early this year.” This trend was previously reported in Retail Insider discussing Halloween, which was mixed with Christmas causing a confusion among consumers. 

JoJo CoCo Chocolate – What it is seeing in-store 

JoJo CoCo in Ottawa (Image: JoJo CoCo)

JoJo CoCo is located in Ottawa, Ontario where it has an assortment of chocolate from artisan makers throughout Canada and focuses on fine and ‘bean to bar’ instead of mass produced.

 Joanne Mutter says for Easter, there aren’t usually a lot of specialized products. 

 Joanne Mutter

“There is not a lot of chocolate that gets produced for any holidays simply because a lot of the artisans don’t work with any sort of molds of chicks and bunnies for Easter – but now, more and more of them are starting to use them and products look great,” says Mutter. 

The store offers products for everyone and has options for dietary restrictions. As Easter is earlier this year, Mutter says it takes people by surprise, creating a slower build. 

“When it is the week of Easter, people are suddenly like ‘oh, wow – it is Easter weekend.’ So a lot more traffic happens a lot closer than it would be if let’s say Easter was in the middle of April,” says Mutter. “We started getting ready for Easter as soon as Valentine’s Day was over. We are not a big volume retailer, so we don’t have one holiday ahead of the other, we are right on the heels of another and so we probably have a good four weeks of selling period for Easter.”

“Going to the dark side” 

Image: jojococo.ca

As for trends, Mutter says the main one right now is more people are purchasing dark chocolate and more people are interested in ingredients as consumers want to know what they are eating.  

“There are a lot of people out there that are making really great craft chocolate and people should be open to trying the dark chocolate as it is better for you and has lots of interesting flavour notes to it. So I would say, step out of the box and try something a little bit new,” says Mutter. 

Mutter also notices a shift in consumers wanting to support more local businesses and are seeing an increase in traffic and interest towards their products. 

As for Easter products, consumers can expect to see different options for bunnies such as dark chocolate, vegan, and dairy free. The store also offers a selection of mini eggs. JoJo CoCo is available to ship across Canada. 

Easter chocolate innovation and adult appeal. 

Cadbury’s ‘Share with love’ Campaign at No Frills in Oshawa (Image: Field Agent Canada)

“Big brands that I have seen that are standing out this Easter in terms of merchandising are Cadbury and Peeps. The Peeps marshmallow treats, which is not really a big brand outside of the Easter period, are doing extremely well this Easter in terms of the space they are getting and just has been more noticeable than what I have seen in the past,” says Doucette. 

Doucette says there is not a lot of product innovation, but is seeing retailers spending more on displays. 

Retailers are not just throwing products onto shelves, but are putting more effort this year into displays and signage in-store. One example would be Cadbury’s program “share with love” as “it creates an island of Easter inside the store, so that is interesting and there is a tie with children’s charities with the campaign”. Lindt has really good premium merchandise where they are “not competing as much for low prices, but more on image. So that is a different tactic in this type of economy to be focused on the upper end of the spectrum.” 

As for adults, the category is growing for Easter as Doucette says more brands are putting out products such as the Guinness chocolate egg, Baileys, and other alcoholic themed chocolate eggs – but brands could be doing more for adults. 

“It is tough. There is not anything exciting right now, there is not a whole lot that is really neat. It has been quite quiet in terms of actual new product innovations,” says Doucette. 

JoJo CoCo in Ottawa (Image: JoJo CoCo)

Inside JoJo CoCo, Mutter says it offers adult Easter gift baskets such as a box of truffles and some Easter mixed products. The brand also offers wine pairing. 

“We actually do a lot of pairing of chocolate, so people will come to us saying ‘we are serving this type of wine, what chocolate should we have with it?’ A majority of people want something that is Easter themed in whatever chocolate they want, so bunnies and eggs are the ones moving out the door quickly,” says Mutter. 

Doucette says brands are beginning to step up their game with Easter, such as Nestle who is “getting more serious about the Easter category with their big three brands: Smarties, KitKat, and Arrow.” Despite this, there is still a lot of room for Easter innovations including brands who are outside of the candy category. 

Think outside of candy 

Easter Display at Real Canadian Superstore in Peterborough, Ontario (Image: Field Agent Canada)

It is not just candy companies that are trying to bring products and designs to Easter as Doucette says Mondelez International Inc. has a Ritz, Triscuit, and a cracker barrel that is designed to “bring them together for Easter. Of course the company is a candy company so they are no strangers to Easter, but using Ritz and Triscuit is a different approach.”

Another concept Doucette saw last year was cheese selections that were wrapped like an Easter egg, chicken, or a bunny shape: “Sounds kind of funny, but there literally was an Easter cheese offering and it was kind of cool.” 

Outside of the food category, Doucette suggests other categories to expand into Easter including opportunities for toys, health, and beauty products.

Future in-store experiences

Lindt Chocolate in First Canadian Place (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

One way retailers could bring shoppers in-store rather than shopping online, would be to have an Easter egg hunt in-store. This would not only bring shoppers in, but would create a memorable shopping experience. 

“Maybe four weeks before Easter, retailers could have an Easter bunny in-store and have kids run around to find eggs just as a way to get people in-store and have a little event. That would be fun and more of a shopping event and then you kind of submit yourself as the Easter store and just kind of lock that store in as the destination for Easter,” says Doucette.  

Doucette also suggests retailers to have a shop-in-shop layout for Easter where there is a big section tying all brands and Easter products together in one place, making it easier for shoppers while providing a great and memorable experience. 

Shelby Hautala
Shelby Hautala
Shelby Hautala is a Retail Insider journalist currently based out of Toronto. She has experience writing for local newspapers and also internationally for Helsinki Times while she lived in Finland. Shelby holds a Bachelor of Journalism Honours degree from the University of King’s College and a Social Work degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax.

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