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Chocolate-makers burnish social-media data to get a hop on Easter sales

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Siddharth Cavale and Silke Koltrowitz
·4 min read
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By Siddharth Cavale and Silke Koltrowitz

April 1 (Reuters) - Major chocolate makers, including Hershey and Mondelez, say they've turned to social media platforms like Pinterest to look for clues on which products might sell best during the pandemic U.S. Easter season.

About a month before Easter, people posted images of do-it-yourself Easter cookie kits and Easter baskets on Pinterest, according to Hershey Co's research. The Pennsylvania-based chocolate company found that searches for those products on Pinterest increased in early March, with search volumes for related hashtags increasing more than 1,000% year-over-year.

Based on the trend, Hershey moved quickly to add recipes incorporating Hershey Cadbury crème eggs and Hershey chocolate syrup to the company’s own "Easter" and "Cakes and Cupcakes" boards on Pinterest.

“We are looking at different social sites like Pinterest and we leverage those insights with retailers. ... It definitely is more than usual (this year),” Philip Stanley, Hershey's chief sales officer, said in a recent telephone interview.

Shoppers plan to spend an average of $179.70 this Easter, the highest figure on record, according to a March 2021 survey of 8,111 respondents conducted by consumer research firm Prosper Insights & Analytics for the National Retail Federation, the U.S. retail trade association.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder for retailers and food companies to predict where and how people will shop. More than two-thirds of Americans will celebrate this weekend's Easter holiday and spend a collective $21.6 billion, the federation added, with 13% of respondents saying they will shop in a store. This compares with 9% of respondents saying the same in a pre-pandemic survey last year.

"Consumer behavior change was so rapid during COVID, our normal cycle of understanding our annual rituals with our products and consumer insights was not the same," Hershey spokeswoman Allison Kleinfelter said by phone.

PINTEREST PROMINENCE

Pinterest operates like an online mood board, where users pin images they like to several different interest-specific boards on their page. These images can then be shared and pinned between users, creating what Pinterest Inc calls "a catalogue of ideas."

"Because Pinterest is grounded in the future, it gets an earlier indication of where consumers are headed and can help brands better predict what's to come for their category," Sibylle Tretera, head of creative strategy for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Pinterest, wrote in a December blog post.

Jonathan Halvorson, global vice president of consumer experience at Mondelez International Inc, said by phone that the Chicago-based company had tripled its marketing budget on Pinterest over the last two years, without giving a specific number. Halvorson said the platform "had made the biggest progression on insights" on which it could act upon, including for Easter.

To be sure, the maker of Oreo cookies still spends the majority of its social media marketing budget on Alphabet Inc's Google and Facebook, but nevertheless has increased its brand campaigns on Pinterest.

Cadbury's UK unit was among the first brands to use Pinterest's Trend Badges feature when it launched in 2020 - which gave advertisers the exclusive opportunity to spotlight their own products based on trending search terms.

"We’re able to get insight into things like when during the day – morning, evening, meal time, etc. – consumers are searching for snacks, what kind, and where they're looking to buy them," said Halvorson of social media sites, including Pinterest.

Even as far back as mid-February, shortly after Valentine’s Day, Pinterest users, who call themselves "Pinners," showed an interest in baking at home, leading Hershey to focus on 10-ounce (284-gram) Hershey’s kisses and seasonal Reese’s miniatures pieces.

When people posted images suggesting they were planning to take part in more at-home activities, community-led Easter egg hunts and barbecues in the two weeks before Easter Sunday, Hershey focused on selling limited-time products such as Reese’s mallow-top peanut butter cups, as it found marshmallows to be popular around this season.

"It all just shifted so quickly," Hershey spokeswoman Kleinfelter said, "so social media was really critical in understanding the quick sweeps (in consumer behavior) that we were seeing and when these quick sweeps (are) happening. (Reporting by Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru and Silke Koltrowitz in Zurich; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)