Whether it’s by the bite or by the bag, non-chocolate candy remains a staple of in-store sales.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
Many convenience stores are heeding growing non-chocolate candy trends by stocking more chewy products and bite-size brand extensions.
Of course, c-stores have only so much dedicated space and must be studious in order to differentiate the flavor of the month from the real players.
While the selling points of non-chocolate candy—convenient, indulgent and instantly consumable—continue to drive growth in the segment, the influence of Millennials’ desire for more candy varieties continues to spur changes in the c-store channel.
More than 70 items debuted at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo, sponsored by the National Confectioners Association—an appropriate testing ground to learn more about products, such as Pancakes & Maple Syrup Jelly Belly Jelly Beans, which is a mouthful just to say. Conversely, the Minions ruled the Expo’s exhibit floor in the form of Minions-licensed Tic Tacs, Minions Mike & Ike’s and Minions Peeps.
However, you don’t need a Minion to decipher what’s popular right now.
Mars’ sugar confectionery sales led the category overall with 16% market share and $713 million in sales in 2014, according to Amanda Topper, a food analyst with the market research firm Mintel Group. The company has brands across all major category segments and leads the chewy candy segment. Mars’ Starburst brand grew a whopping 13% from 2013-2014, due in part to new product innovation.
“Starburst extended its minis product line, which it introduced in 2013 to include Starburst minis FaveREDs. The resealable fresh pack features unwrapped pieces of Starburst fruit chews in red flavors including cherry and strawberry,” Topper said. “Starburst minis appeal to consumer preferences for smaller products in resealable and shareable packaging; 22% of those who buy or eat sugar confectionery indicate it’s important for these products to be available in resealable packaging, while 40% prefer shareable options.”
Mondelez’s sales grew more than all other companies during the review period, due mostly to the success of its Sour Patch Kids brand. The company launched several new products, including Sour Patch Kids Lineups, as well as a Sour Patch Kids Stride Gum-brand extension.
Not to be outdone, Hershey introduced a variety of new products in 2014, including Lancaster Caramel Cremes, its first new brand in the U.S. in 30 years, as well as Jolly Rancher Bites and Twizzlers Bites.
Even mint products, such as Mentos, are grabbing more market share as gum sales slump. Dollar sales of gum overall—including sugar-free and gums with sugar—in the first quarter of 2015 declined more than 1% to $3.1 billion, according IRI, a Chicago-based research firm. Figures indicate though gum sales have dropped precipitously, mint sales have grown nearly 20% in the last five years.
Many products within the non-chocolate segment category are highlighting fruity ingredients, drawing in shoppers specifically looking for less artificial options. Mintel research shows 24% of consumers indicate natural fruit juice is important when buying non-chocolate candy, while 16% place importance on products with fruit pieces.
“Fruit flavors likely carry appeal because of the perception that these products are healthier or less indulgent than chocolate-flavored products,” Topper said. “Many of those who buy non-chocolate candy indicate a preference for products made with natural ingredients, real fruit juice or fruit pieces, and minimal sugar or fat. With a move toward more natural ingredients across food categories fruit flavors and fruit pieces likely stand out to consumers as ingredients they recognize.”
While fruit flavors have become popular because of the perceived health benefit, patrons are also regulating their snacking routines by opting for smaller portions.
“I think a lot of the mini formats of various candies including Starburst minis, Jolly Rancher Bites, etc. meet both criteria. These products often are sold in resealable packages that lend themselves to on-the-go snacking and allow the consumer to eat as much or little as desired,” Topper said. “Additionally, single-serve formats help control portion size and caloric intake for those looking for a responsible indulgence. Licorice seems to have a healthy halo as well, helped by its common fat-free claim. Bite-sized versions from Fruit Vines, Twizzlers, etc. also cater to healthier snacking routines.”
Where Millennials are concerned, snacking occasions are taking the place of regular meals, more studies show. As Americans decide on which snacking products they prefer, chocolate candy suddenly is one of several candy and other snacking alternatives that are fighting for shelf space.
“The change from candy bars to healthier snack bars is the largest impact we’re seeing. It stems from the idea that customers now want easy food that fits into their busy lives. We have been expanding our selection to provide that,” said Maria D’Amelia, spokesperson for Stewart Shops, a Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based convenience chain. “People are eating smaller portions, multiple times throughout the day while they are on the go. We’re here to make their lives easier.”
D’Amelia counted Skittles and Airheads as two of the chain’s best non-chocolate sellers. Stewart’s operates 331 stores in New York state and Vermont.
Not only are serving amounts and healthier choices part of mainstream thinking, artificial ingredients—or the lack thereof—is a growing U.S. consumer sentiment.
“The trend of removing artificial ingredients directly addresses consumer preferences,” Topper said. “According to a recent Mintel study, 42% of consumers agree non-chocolate candy has too many artificial flavors or ingredients, while 30% agree non-chocolate candy with only natural ingredients can be eaten more often. Additionally, 23% of consumers specifically look for products with natural ingredients. With Nestlé leading the way, we expect other large manufacturers to follow suit.”
In addition, non-chocolate chewables and other varieties are adopting the characteristics of the energy drink craze, including vitamin-enhanced, electrolytes, or caffeine-enriched items now on the market. Other products boast they contain added protein. Rap Protein LLC expanded into this space with a line of high protein gummies, with 20 grams of protein per serving.
Comparably, there are Energy Gummi Bears with caffeine content similar to what’s found in energy drink brands.
Millennials are not only the most likely to eat non-chocolate confectionery, they are eating more this year compared to last year,” Topper said. “Additionally, they are more likely to be eating multiple types together, presenting opportunity for cross promotion.”
Another way younger consumers are impacting the category is with flavors. Generally speaking, Millennials tend to be more adventurous with flavors and formats and this is great for product innovation. Spicy flavors or exotic fruit flavors are two areas of interest and may spur flavor development across category segments.
Millennials’ penchant for non-chocolate confections aren’t restricted to the U.S., but are playing out in the UK.
“We don’t actually segment our customers based on age, we use our own mission-based customer segmentation—so we are unable to say directly what impact Millennials are having on candy sales,” said Nikki Rogers, retail trading director for BP UK. “However, we do know they are very adventurous and keen to try new tastes and textures, and this is starting to come through in some of the NPD (new product development) we are seeing from suppliers.”
Of the 1,200 BP stores in the UK, 320 are company-owned.
Also, Millennials are more likely to try new varieties seasonally, but are more likely to eat the same types of candy they ate as a kid. Because of this, classic or nostalgic candy brands and new, seasonal varieties are likely to appeal to younger generations, in particular. Topper said these consumers have strong brand loyalty, but are also more open-minded when buying seasonal products.