Greeting card sales continue to hold steady

BY Carol Radice

According to the Greeting Card Association, sales of the greeting card category — which they estimate to be between $7 and $8 billion — have held steady the past few years. 

Seven-out-of-10 card buyers surveyed by the Washington, D.C.-based group consider greeting cards “absolutely” or “almost” essential to them. Eight-out-of-10 of these buyers expect their purchases to remain the same going forward. Of the balance, twice as many card buyers said they will increase their purchasing as say they will “decrease” their purchasing in the coming year.

The average price for a card ranges from $2 to $4, but some cost as little as $.50 cents and as much as $10. Cards featuring special techniques, intricate designs and new technologies, as well as handmade cards, are at the top of the price scale.

Facts from GCA:

•  6.5 billion: the number of greeting cards purchased each year
•  30: the number of greeting cards the average household buys
•  80%: The amount of women versus men responsible for buying greeting cards. When guys shop for cards, the recipient often is a significant other or family member.
•  Birthdays are the top selling everyday card, accounting for more than half of the greeting cards sold, followed by sympathy, Thank You, wedding, thinking of you, get well, new baby and congratulations cards.
•  Christmas is the most popular seasonal card, followed by Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day.


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Innovation hits the snack business

BY Michael Johnsen

Borrowing a well-known phrase from Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of the snack market are greatly exaggerated. 

In fact, a number of industry officials stress that many consumers — while looking for healthier lifestyles and cleaner, ethically sourced ingredients — still want their favorite pretzels, popcorn or potato chips, though maybe with a little less fat and calories.

“How consumers view snacking has shifted dramatically over the past several years. They are just eating differently,” said Edward Taylor, vice president multichannel at Mars Wrigley Confectionery. “Millennials talk openly about how meals have become snacks, snacks have become meals. The value of food has changed — it’s all along a spectrum of well-being as consumers balance their ‘credit debit’ eating — making choices across indulgent and permissible options.”

Drawing from the company’s recently generated Confectionery Path to Purchase research, Mars officials noted that consumers seek snacks to treat themselves. “It’s clear we need to deliver our products in a variety of flavors and sizing options to meet the different needs of busy, on-the-go consumers,” Taylor said. 

Some of Mars’ latest snacking innovations include six new flavors of goodnessKNOWS snack bars, as well as a new M&M’s Snack Mix and Combos Honey Sriracha. 

“We’re also spicing things up within confections with the introduction of Skittles and Starburst Sweet Heat and new Snickers Hunger Bars, featuring such intense flavors as Espresso, Fiery and Salty & Sweet,”  Taylor added. 

In the past quarter, Hershey expanded its initial Snack Mix and Snack Bites products with the launch of Hershey’s and Reese’s Popped Snack Mix and Chocolate Dipped Pretzels, primarily in large format take-home bags. “Net sales growth is ahead of plan, and consumer reaction is positive when our brands are merchandised in the snacks aisle,” Michele Buck, Hershey CEO, told investors in October. 

 Hershey also recently introduced Hershey’s Gold, its fourth flavor. Hershey’s Gold features a rich cream that delivers a buttery-sweet flavor. Its caramelized cream also includes a combination of salty crunchy bits of peanuts and pretzels that deliver a creamy, crunchy experience. “The instant consumable pack type will begin to ship to only a few select customers in Q4, but you’ll see it in stores more broadly in January, as merchandising and program will be tied with the Winter Olympics, which begins Feb. 9,” Buck said. 

To help make the category easier to shop, suppliers in the space are repackaging their snack offerings in stand-up pouches, which help the product stand out at shelf. “The transition from lay-down bags to stand-up pouches on our core chocolate packaged candy products is progressing,” Buck said. “This initiative enables product to get on the shelf quicker, with less in-store labor, and it improves shopability in the aisle.”

Tiffany Menyhart, vice president-U.S. category leadership at Mars Wrigley Confectionery, said the company is partnering with retailers to develop conversion tactics on shelves through changes to current shelves, including flow, adjacency and the stand-up pouches. “With 70% of impulse purchases being driven by visibility or an in-moment craving, it’s critical retailers make it easy for shoppers to find products that meet these needs in the moment,” Menyhart said.


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It’s all in the cards: What’s driving the greeting card industry forward?

BY Carol Radice

Time-tested and generations approved, greetings cards continue to be one of the go-to ways people choose to express themselves. Despite having other options, consumers still prefer to note such occasions as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, births and deaths by giving traditional, store-bought greeting cards. 

This news may come as a bit of a surprise to some in the industry who, just a few years ago, predicted the category would take a different course. 

According to some, social media — once considered a prime threat to traditional greeting cards — is actually helping fuel interest today. For instance, people are acknowledging more life events than ever before because of reminders generated through such platforms as Facebook. However, instead of using social media as the only way to send well-wishes, it appears that many consumers are still heading to the store to purchase a card, as well. 

That doesn’t mean card publishers don’t have to work harder than ever. Industry officials said that on-trend content and cutting-edge designs from both established brands and newer entrants are all helping to keep the category relevant. Cards with hand lettering, textures, 3-D graphics, audio and LED lighting are popular with consumers as are cards featuring positive messages and customized content. 

“Our digital world has consumers touching things that are so smooth, our fingers are hungry,” said Megan Baucco, associate manager, marketing communications at Cleveland-based American Greetings. “Texture and dimension fill a need, as well as deliver on the artisanal elements consumers enjoy.” 

Consumers also are looking for clever and unexpected new ways to say things, and observers have said this is especially true for affirming messages. Even when a person is acknowledging something difficult, they want positivity to be the prevailing feeling the recipient is left with, Baucco said. 

While the idea of wellness is something drug stores always have been well-versed in, it is developing in new ways in the greeting card aisle. American Greetings officials said that consumers have become more proactive about and focused on aspects beyond their physical health — creating a trend around total wellness. They said greeting cards can help create or strengthen the emotional connections that consumers have an underlying need for in their relationships — more so than many digital forms of communication.

“Relationships have a significant impact on the mental and spiritual aspects of wellness, and that is a key focus for greeting cards,” Baucco said. 

New Consumers, New Needs 

And, experts predict that as long as social expression companies continue to keep up with ever-changing consumer preferences, future growth opportunities will be limitless.

Millennials, the oft-referenced “experience generation” are on the lookout for the next epic moment in their lives. This group wants greeting cards that represent their values — progressive, fun, casual and open. 

“Increasingly, millennials view cards as keepsakes, and are open to spending a little more to purchase cards, featuring quality materials and a sophisticated handcrafted feel,” said Amy McAnarney,  vice president/general manager of chain drug at Kansas City, Mo.-based Hallmark Cards. 

The company’s Signature line features distinctive, detailed and dimensional designs coupled with warm, genuine messages that it said speak directly to the millennial consumer. 

Multiculuralism Matters

As wtih other categories, greeting card companies are looking to offer products for increasingly diverse shoppers. Research shows that millennials are 46% multicultural, and even if they’re not, they’re likely close to someone who is. Hallmark’s selection offers its customers an opportunity to celebrate and mark a wide variety of holidays and occasions. 

McAnarney said. Hallmark plans to expand the Signature line with premium Hanukkah cards this holiday season; dimensional gift card holders; new Signature childrens’ birthday cards with detachable toys and games; a Signature Spanish collection; and expanded premium gift wrap and stationery, as well as new captions and price points.

In addition to its Mahogany line, celebrating the African-America spirit and culture; its VIDA line, which honors the heritage of Spanish-speakers; and its Tree of Life line, which has helped Jewish families connect with one another during key holidays and milestones, Hallmark recently launched an Asian-inspired card line.

Today’s modern family also requires card makers to create product that speaks to every family’s unique makeup, with cards featuring multicultural families, blended families, single-parent households and same-sex couples to mark anniversaries, weddings, and a new baby, among many other holidays and occasions.

Keeping it Fresh 

For greeting card companies, innovation means providing an opportunity to share an unexpected, delightful experience with family and friends.

American Greetings’ Cheeky Wishes is a new line of funny birthday cards, featuring animal characters. With a tug on the tail, each character moves and sings to a popular song. Its Wishes Uncorked line plays off the message-in-a-bottle concept and features upbeat music, delicate lights and whimsical illustrated moments tucked inside a bottle. American Greetings’ Costume Critters line was created to appeal to the pet lover in all of us, and features adorable photos of pets singing and dancing to their own theme songs.

For Father’s Day 2017, Hallmark introduced virtual reality cards. These cards leverage one of today’s top trends and combine it with a card and a warm, authentic message. Hallmark’s engineers invented a pop-up viewer that makes the technology accessible to less tech-savvy consumers. 

The company has plans to release a new sound card format in 2018, with the launch of Vinyls at Valentine’s Day. Each Vinyls card will come with a 45 rpm record, featuring songs from Bruno Mars, Aretha Franklin and INXS.

Company officials said both of these innovative cards help extend the life of a greeting card, make the moment of exchange more memorable and something consumers want to share with their friends and family.

McAnarney added that Hallmark’s premium brand, Signature, is innovative in this way too. 

“By creating beautiful, distinctive, dimensional designs, Signature cards are little works of art that people want to display in their homes or share on social media,” she said. 

The Signature team also is developing childrens’ cards that come with detachable elements that kids can play with, wear or build. This holiday season, for example, Signature is introducing a Hanukkah card with a buildable dreidel. 

Designer Greetings recently refreshed its Locally Yours line to meet the latest trend in customized products. Retailers can customize the verbiage by placing the name of a person, a specific town, state, school, landmark, etc., on the card for a personalized statement.

Carving Out a Niche

Boutique handmade-style cards are popular, said Dawn Garvey, CFO at Designer Greetings in Edison, N.J. In a world where everything is so impersonal, Garvey pointed out that this line of cards provides the feeling that the greeting card was carefully designed and tailored for the recipient. These types of boutique-style cards — which often incorporate high-end paper and embellishments — are a key driver in the category, Garvey said. 

Officials at Avanti Press reported that both sales and units are up this year at the Detroit-based company, thanks in part to increased distribution. Marc Trobman, vice president of business development, attributes this to the uniqueness of the company’s three brands — Avanti, A*Press and its most-recent offering, America. 

“We are a niche supplier — a craft beer, if you will — presenting consumers with a different type of offering and giving retailers a way to differentiate themselves from their competition,” Trobman said. 

The new America collection represents a slight departure from the typical family friendly, funny approach Avanti often takes. The cards feature timeless vintage photos of iconic and everyday moments in the United States, and on the back of the card is a story about the photograph. 

“While the line will work well in all the mass channels, I think chain drug is really going to love this, in part because of its national appeal,” Trobman said.

The company is finding that the line also appeals to men, who historically are not large card buyers. At a time when so many tragedies are impacting this country, Trobman said such brands as America are highly relevant to consumers.

Beyond the Aisle

Rather than simply being seen as a “a greeting card company,” officials at American Greetings want to be viewed as a leader in meaningful connections, with a purpose to make the world a more thoughtful and caring place. 

In addition to marketing campaigns that have earned impressive industry awards, American Greetings’ activation at the International Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, earlier this year and its new “Give Meaning” campaign illustrate how and why the greeting card category remains relevant in an increasingly digital world.

“We teased our presence at CES with the fanfare typical of consumer electronics product launches and the #DeviceLikeNoOther hashtag, and many guests still were surprised that the ‘technology’ we unveiled was, in fact, a paper greeting card,” Baucco said. 

American Greetings achieved its goal of demonstrating that a greeting card is one of the most-powerful messaging devices on the planet, and that the right occasion calls for the right technology. “In today’s well-connected world, we can share unprecedented amounts of information at the touch of a button — but when it comes to making a connection in a meaningful way, nothing replaces a hand-written card,” Baucco said.

At Hallmark, personalization combined with convenience have been effective tools in reaching today’s consumer. The company works closely with its retail partners to curate a specific assortment of cards at a rooftop level, so when customers enter the store, they find the card they want in the shortest amount of time. Hallmark’s localization capabilities use an array of consumer data available from population trends to neighborhood dynamics, demographic information and marketplace research. “All of this, coupled with the knowledge our retailers have about their customers, helps us customize product assortments, merchandising, price points and visuals to ensure we are meeting their needs at a local level,” McAnarney said. 

Hallmark’s Trends Studio is tasked with uncovering emerging trends to meet changing consumer needs. This research ensures Hallmark’s team of artists, writers and designers are creating product that reflects their shopper. “Whether it is our multicultural card lines, such as Mahogany or VIDA, our humor line Shoebox, our millennial card line Studio INK or our latest innovations, such as virtual reality cards or Vinyls, our cards always reflect the evolving needs of our consumer,” McAnarney said.

At Avanti, they innovate not only the content but the display fixtures, as well. The use of bold colors helps to make their cards stand out, and its full-face displays enable the entire card to be seen easily. Avanti’s research shows that when retailers go from 12 or 13 rows of cards down to seven or eight rows, revenues stay the same because the full-faced displays make the set easier to shop. 

As a small, niche greeting card publisher, Avanti said it offers a full suite of services and all the operational back-end support necessary to help make retailers successful, including full in-store service, real-time inventory replenishment and the ability to develop consumer insights from data, and apply them. For instance, Avanti has found that outposting is an effective way  for retailers to build incremental sales. To this end, the company offers a number of options, including a full-faced easel display and a 48- and 72-pocket spinner display for its America line. Trobman said the line also lends itself to multiple seasonal cross-merchandising display opportunities throughout the year, including Memorial Day, July 4,  and Labor Day.

“Managing this category so that you give consumers what they want is critical to growing sales,” Trobman said. “Content is king, and people buy cards with the messages that resonate with them.”


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Which area of the industry do you think Amazon’s entry would shake up the most?