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Why-ology News: Trend Go beyond the what to the why of consumer behavior. August 2017

Reese's Pieces Makes the News

Not all news coverage is "good" coverage. The candy industry faces increasing criticism for promoting empty calories. The scientific community actively warns consumers about the negative health effects of sugary treats. Although Confectionary News reports growing—not glowing—2017 candy and snack sales, confectionary-industry consultant Melody Pattison Mehta predicts the eventuality of sugar regulation. Adding to industry pressure, news outlets are now singling out The Hershey Company (Hershey, Pennsylvania) as a bad actor for underfilling (slack filling) packages of Reese's Pieces and Whoppers. In May 2017, the Consumerist reports that a Missouri man has filed a class-action lawsuit against Hershey, alleging he received too few peanut butter treats (insufficient calories) and too much empty air in purchased packages of Reese's Pieces and Whoppers. One wonders whether the number of candies per package has changed since E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (a 1982 award-winning movie in which Reese's Pieces were a feature).

Figure: Reese's Pieces Buyers (Percent by VALS Type)

Between 2002 and 2016, the percent of US adults buying Reese's Pieces has increased from 2.3% (4.2 million) to 3.4% (8.3 million). Throughout this time, Experiencers have been, and still are, the candy's best customers. But Experiencers are the number 1 customers for most candy and snack treats. Quick pick-me-ups are a "food group" for mobile Experiencers who may be too busy to make time to eat a meal. Experiencers require variety in all things; the plethora of candy and snack choices provides plenty of options to choose from. When time permits, some Experiencers balance snacking with eating organic foods. Unlike Experiencers, Strivers—the group next-most-likely to buy Reese's Pieces—don't seek variety. As a result, they are more likely than Experiencers to stick with a short list of favorite treats—sugar consumption is rarely a consideration. Achievers are the third-most-likely consumer group to buy Reese's Pieces. Although some Achievers may consume candy as a midafternoon pick-me-up at their desk—rationalizing that the peanut butter in Reese's Pieces has some nutritional value—they are equally likely to purchase the E.T. favorite to tuck into a child's lunch box.

As more consumers heed warnings about sugar consumption, sweets-market competition will increase. If and when the sweets industry undergoes regulation, manufacturers' challenge will be to target best customers carefully. In order to do so, they will need purchase frequency and volumetric data. Equally important to success, they will need to segment consumers meaningfully. By design, VALS segments consumers to provide meaningful, actionable distinctions between groups.

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