By Natalie Hope McDonald
Hershey Park is synonymous with chocolate. And at Hershey’s ZooAmerica gift shop, it’s chocolate that always outsells every other edible treat.
Nestled on 11 acres, ZooAmerica is adjacent to the famous Hersheypark. But unlike the amusement and waterpark, the zoo is open year-round. Along tree-lined pathways, guests can learn about more than 200 animals from throughout North America as they stroll the grounds.
In recent months, ZooAmerica has introduced three unique tour opportunities, including the Early Bird Tour that follows what happens first thing in the morning as animals start their day, the After Hours Tour which takes a look at the zoo after sundown (guests even have the chance to feed the otters) and a Photography Tour that allows entrance into less public spaces in the park to get up-close pictures of animals.
Throughout the zoo, as well as Hersheypark and other attractions, retail shops are positioned for guests to take home some very sweet souvenirs that have helped to make these destinations so famous worldwide. While the shops offer plenty of personal care items (like sunscreen and baby pacifiers) they also carry plush, apparel and candy – lots and lots of candy made at the Hershey factory just down the road.
Elizabeth Hendrix, director of retail at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, said that chocolate is by far the biggest seller at each and every gift shop throughout the resort. “Our number one edible item is the Giant Hershey’s Bar,” she explained. “We do a huge business in Hershey’s products, as we are located in Hershey, Pa. Our seasonal guests are thrilled to be able to purchase chocolate from the town in which Hershey’s chocolate got its start.”
The gift shop at ZooAmerica also carries a wide array of merchandise related to the animals of North America. But it’s the chocolate bar that always sells out. She said it’s not unusual for people to buy lots of chocolate to take home as souvenirs and gifts.
Sweet Treats to Go
At Zoo de Granby in Quebec, French culture pervades much of the attractions and the merchandise in the gift shop. As one of only six institutions in Canada to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, its overarching mission is to provide an enriching and ultimately educational experience about animal conservation. As such, the zoo has become one of Quebec’s most popular tourist attractions.
With more than 1,000 different animals from 200 species in North and South America, Africa and Asia, the zoo welcomes more than a half-million visitors each year. Adjacent to the animal exhibits is a waterpark and amusement park – both with fun ties to pop and Canadian culture.
In addition to souvenir shops around the campus that can be accessed on the monorail, the zoo also offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy food. A few of the more popular locations, like the Café de l’Allee and Le Marche, have selections of snacks and drinks. A more sophisticated menu can be found at the Bistro Mechoui du Village where braised pork is always on the grill. There’s also Oji, Tiki Express and Refuge, most of which offer light bites and healthy vegan and gluten-free meal options.
The gift shop at the zoo also sells a few treats, including lollipops with plush, popcorn in cups and candy. “We sell products that can stand hot temperatures (some of our gift shops are large and open with no air-conditioning),” explained Louise Sylvestre, the biologiste Chef des ventes au détail at the zoo. She looks for items that can “stay fresh for a long period of time. We don’t sell chocolate or coffee.”
Sylvestre said that small, handheld treats usually sell well. “Because these are impulsive items,” she explained, “candies are presented in front of the cash counter.”
And as with many products, she admitted, “the display makes the sales.”
At the San Diego Zoo in sunny California, the gift shops and bodegas sprinkled around the 100-acre park sell their own private-label snacks. “Our private-label items all retail under $10,” explained Janet Matsuura, the deputy director of corporate merchandise at the zoo.
The edibles – which range from snacks to candy – are all displayed near the checkout.They’re designed as impulse buys. Some of the best-sellers, said Matsuura, include trail mix, neon worms and gummy bears.
This summer season, the zoo (which is actually one of the largest zoological membership organizations in the world) is enjoying an influx of visitors to its Balboa Park location for the Summer Safari. The event, which includes internationally inspired shows, is complemented with a global cuisine. Some of the culinary highlights include chicken shawarma and carne asada tacos.
In addition to the world-themed events, visitors can also experience up-close encountered with animals at the Tull Family Tiger Trail and Frequent Flyers show.