The Truth About The Food Sold At Five Below

Dollar stores were once considered novelty outlets where people went looking for bargains. Now, places like Dollar Tree and Dollar General are muscling their way into Walmart's territory as one-stop shops for essential consumer needs (via Motley Fool). This includes food, although the adage "you get what you pay for" certainly applies at a dollar store, where you'll find "cheese" with no dairy and "beef" stew with textured vegetable protein.

While the two stores with "dollar" in their names might dominate among small-box discount retailers, another player has found room to grow in this sector with a $5 price point, a focus on teens and tweens, and its own spin on food. If you walk into one of Five Below's 900-plus locations in the U.S., some of the first things you'll notice are loud bubblegum pop music on the speakers, and an outsized makeup area. Keep in mind, Five Below targets Generation Z. And fittingly, the store's food inventory is going to be age appropriate: It's all about the trendy candy and snacks.

Ask teenagers to name their favorite candy, and the unsurprising answer is chocolate. A 2019 survey of 13- to 18-year-olds ranked Kit Kat bars first, followed by generic chocolate and then Hershey bars (via YPulse). But browse Five Below's candy section — a part of the store appropriately called "Sugar Rush" — and you'll find chocolate is not the emphasis. 

Five Below must think teens like all things gummy

YouTubers Reis World, PrettyNflawed and kristabrusso posted tours of their local Five Below stores. Instead of chocolate, they found gummy candies taking up a lot of space in the store's "5 for $5" displays. Haribo and Trolli are well represented (These brands did rank eighth in the YPulse survey). Five Below even sells a single, half-pound Gummy Bear on a stick for $4.99. While 58 percent of teens eat sweets daily, maybe they feel less guilty if their candy looks something like food. That could explain why Five Below offers gummy candies that look like pizza, hamburgers, tacos, and sushi. 

What Five Below decides to put on its shelves really stems from its effort to follow teen trends. The store rode the fidget spinner wave in 2017, then jumped off to catch the next trend after the spinners predictably crashed (via Motley Fool). This trend hopping also happens in the "Sugar Rush" department. Five Below's candy buyer even won a 2020 National Confectioners Association award for his "knack for pinpointing trends." He has stocked store shelves with the popular $5 mega tubes and the perennial favorite Pez.

Five Below's snack selections are hot trends

Five Below hasn't forgotten about the 42 percent of teens who don't eat candy every day. For the youth who actually seek some nutritional value in their between-meal munching, the store offers snacks such as pistachios, dried mango slices and Harvest Snaps — processed green peas that put you on a nutrition level somewhere between potato chips and real veggies (via STACK).

Talk about hot trends; Five Below also offers Takis Fuego Tortilla Chips, a spicy snack so popular that it, along with Hot Cheetos, has been banned from some schools because students were leaving red fingerprints on the walls (via Commercial Appeal). Never mind that kid can't keep their hands to themselves; the spicy addictiveness of these trending chips actually sends hundreds of Memphis-area (and presumably other area) children to the doctor each year with upset stomachs.

Five Below stakes its business model on attractive pricing, but YouTuber PrettyNflawed found some of the candies are not good deals. The "giant" bags of Sour Patch Kids and Now And Laters for $5 had more air in the bag than candy, she said, and she remembers seeing the same bags at Dollar Tree for $1. Later in the same trip, she found a $5 bag of Unicorn Poop marshmallow twists that also sells at Dollar Tree for $1. If teens are shopping at Five Below for the bargains, they might want to stick with the bluetooth speakers and bedsheets.