Non-chocolate trends include gummy and sour varieties, as well as a new focus on mouthfeel and texture.
By Erin Rigik Del Conte, Senior Editor
The National Confectioners Association (NCA) found that the overall confections category grew 3.2% in 2015. Non-chocolate confection sales increased 3.7% with fruity candy, gummies, sour candies and breath fresheners leading the segment.
At the Sweets & Snacks Expo at Chicago’s McCormick Place in May, it was clear across the show floor that chewy, gummy and sour candy varieties are the trend this year. Among innovations at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, popular Japanese chewy candy Hi-Chew was debuting its new sour line, and Wrigley showcased Starburst Gummies in both regular and sour varieties. Ferrara Candy Co. introduced Black Forest Organic Gummy Bears and Black Forest Organic Sour Heads.
In addition, Nestlé recently introduced its tangy SweetTarts softbites, which it calls “sweet and tart” as opposed to “sour,” and its SweetTarts mini gummy bites. Even Airheads went sour with Perfetti Van Melle USA Inc. featuring Airheads Xtremes Sourfuls.
After flavor, mouthfeel is the next frontier in candy.
Texture, specifically, is playing a bigger part in candy products and is expected to continue to do so. The texture trend is easy to spot in some of the latest chocolate launches, such as in Mars’ Snickers Crisper, Nestlé Butterfinger Crisp, and in Hershey’s new Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cups, which is a peanut butter cup with Reese’s Pieces candy inside.
But non-chocolate gummy and chewy varieties also fit into this mouthfeel arena. NCA noted that nut innovations—which are also helping to add texture to products—are on trend this year and that customers can expect to see products that include hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews and salted almonds in candies.
Fruit combinations like blueberry and açai or fig with vanilla are also growing in popularity, according to NCA.
Shareability, portability and eat-some-now-save-some-for-later continue to trend with customers, and bites, barks and thins are meeting the demand, as is packaging from twist-to-close wrappers to re-closeable cups.
GROWING NON-CHOCOLATE SALES
In the c-store industry specifically, sales of non-chocolate candy, including breath fresheners and mints are growing. Total non-chocolate candy dollar sales were up 4.16% year-over-year, while non-chocolate chewy candy sales grew 5.51%, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI’s total U.S. convenience data for the 52 weeks ending June 12.
Meanwhile, gum category sales dipped 1.82% with regular gum down 3.22% and sugarless gum declining 1.49% over the same period. Sales of breath fresheners grew 6.6% and plain mints were up 5.8%.
At Robinson Oil Corp.’s Rotten Robbie Gas Stations, Category Manager Reilly Robinson Musser sees customers demanding more non-chocolate options. The 34-store chain based in Santa Clara, Calif., recently added peg sections back into its candy sets.
“Our peg sets are made up mostly of non-chocolate candy. Haribo and Trolli both are showing increases for us. Gummy and sours are both the most popular flavors,” Musser said. Tic Tac Minions, which the chain recently added, are another non-chocolate candy item that seems to be resonating especially well with customers.
Meanwhile, gum and mints are showing signs of recovery at Rotten Robbie, with sales coming in flat after two years of being down. “The Dentyne Ice Split to Fit is showing the largest increases,” Musser said.
Rotten Robbie continues to look for ways to best merchandise the candy section. The company scaled back on shippers this year and also reorganized the candy bar planogram so that similar flavors are side-by-side instead of grouping items by manufacturer.
“We didn’t start promoting until later in the year—in May—and our sales have definitely taken a hit. I think we will find the right mix of shippers, promotions and mix of chocolate to non-chocolate—we were over-SKUed in chocolate—and we will get the sales back,” Musser said.
Meanwhile in Michigan, Misty Steinhauer, purchasing and retail branding director for J&H Oil Co., sees the non-chocolate segment struggling a bit at the 48-store Wyoming, Mich. chain. “I have not seen many new items this year that I felt would sell, and the items that I have focused on have flopped,” she said.
Gum and mints, however, are a different story. Sales in these segments are on the rise after many years of decline.
“I’m seeing 20% growth in both gum and mints. I attribute this grow to the focus of the major manufactures on core items rather than flooding the category with new items,” Steinhauer said.
Sales in the chocolate segment are faring better for the chain compared to non-chocolate sales. The recent M&M Vote for the new flavor promotion preformed very well at J&H Oil locations.
“Generally speaking, when a manufacturer produces three unique flavors it seems one is a dud and the stores are left with leftovers,” Steinhauer said. But not so, with the new M&M promotion. “With the new M&M flavors, I found all three flavors sold out,” she added.
Customers, she noted, are demanding low prices on candy items more than anything else.
“The everyday (price of candy) has been creeping up over the last few years,” she said, noting that customers no longer see the value given the price increases.
Steinhauer sees the biggest lift in sales and gross profit in the candy category through deals where customers buy one item and get the second item at a deeply discounted price. She promotes candy on a three-tier rack near the checkout register of all locations. The products change monthly in each of the baskets, and the chain uses eye-catching signage to promote two-fers and other multiple-item discounts.
But Steinhauer said she rarely promotes non-chocolate candy.
“I never see a lift in sales even when promoted,” Steinhauer said. “I have included non-chocolate items on the front-end rack with two-fer (deals). The results of those promotions are how I’ve concluded it doesn’t increase sales enough.”
Today, Steinhauer only includes non-chocolate items in the three-tier racks 1-2 months a year during the summer months, when traffic counts spike. But the front-end merchandising has seen strong results overall for the candy category as a whole.
“Since the introduction of this program a little over three years ago, I have been able to increase candy sales 20%+ year over year, eliminate cardboard shippers in the stores and offer the customer a value on the multiple purchase (items),” Steinhauer said.