Bitter Patch Youngsters Defied Skeptics, Efficiently Opening a Bodily Store in a Pandemic

You know them from their commercials. Tiny, naughty-but-nice anthropomorphic candies cause problems for people, such as dropping a dumbbell on a poor guy’s foot in the gym or blasting air horns when a young girl returns home past curfew. But then they offer some sort of endearing solution that approaches redemption.

Whether they are friend or foe, they’re consistently not doing what’s expected of them.

To a large extent, the public greeted the news that Sour Patch Kids was opening a permanent store in New York this August with a similar amount of confusion and bewilderment. Why do that now? Why do that at all?

But while opening its first physical storefront during a pandemic might seem like a strange decision, it’s not so much an isolated move as it is part of a larger strategy to enter both more sales channels and product categories.

Walk into the store in lower Manhattan and here’s what you’ll see: mugs, pillows, purses, socks, umbrellas, bottles, sunglasses, T-shirts and lip balm. The 3,300-square-foot space contains more than 100 different types of products. Apart from a section of Swedish Fish merchandise located near the back, every item unmistakably belongs to the Sour Patch Kids brand.

There’s plenty of candy, too. Bins filled with different flavors of Sour Patch Kids occupy the middle of the room.

The store was supposed to debut in April, but opening day got pushed back due to Covid-19. And some complications still linger. For instance, a food bar that sells cookies, milkshakes and ice cream cones—all made with tiny bits of chopped up Sour Patch Kids—is open, but an adjacent area with tables and chairs for customers to sit and eat at has been roped off and will remain that way until people can dine inside again.

Inside Sour Patch Kids’ first brick-and-mortar store, located in New York.Sour Patch Kids

The brand, which is owned by Mondelēz International, has released a video game, nail polish, energy drinks, cereal, scripted YouTube series and sneakers in partnership with Stephen Curry and Under Armour in recent years. Just under a year ago, Sour Patch Kids also launched its first direct-to-consumer (DTC) website.

To Bryan Gildenberg, svp of commerce at Omnicom Retail Group, the step into both physical retail and DTC is a natural one for confectionery brands. Rivals Hershey’s and M&M’s have their own New York stores. The main reasons why this expansion makes sense, Gildenberg explained, is that candy companies are often aimed at young people and have a solid following on social media. Plus, the category is fun.

“At some level, it’s just easier to bring Sour Patch Kids to life online than it is to bring Drano to life,” said Gildenberg.

And because this makes sense, the marketers behind Sour Patch Kids consider it a lifestyle brand as opposed to merely a candy brand. They’ve set their sights on making the sour-then-sweet product, currently celebrating its 35th anniversary, a part of today’s culture.

green and pink shoesThe candy brand partnered with Stephen Curry and Under Armour to make sneakers.Sour Patch Kids

“We dedicated a pillar of our growth strategy to figure out how to fuel the fandom and come up with what we refer to as unique experiences and unique ways to have that candy-eating occasion,” said Mili Laddha, associate director of marketing for Sour Patch Kids.

By the main metric that matters—revenue—Sour Patch Kids’ approach to being everywhere and doing everything appears to be working. In the past 52-week period, year-over-year sales of Sour Patch Kids have climbed 3.7% to $352 million, outpacing the non-chocolate candy category’s annual growth of 2.8%, according to market research firm Information Resources, Inc.

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