Chocolate Rules C-Store Candy Sales

C-store candy customers are demanding new flavors and textures in the chocolate segment.

Everyone still loves chocolate. Well, almost everyone.

“Chocolate confectionery purchase is nearly universal, with more than nine in 10 adults reporting having purchased one form or another in the past three months,” Mintel published in its “April 2018 Chocolate Confectionery, US” report, which also noted that overall chocolate sales have increased 15% since 2012.

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Year-over-year sales reflect that overall growth, as chocolate sales increased 3% in 2017 to almost $18 billion. Mintel noted that chocolate maintains its popularity because 34% of people “always have chocolate candy on hand,” while 42% make impulse purchases of chocolate and 56% “usually buy the same types of chocolate candy.”

But while people remain loyal to types and brands they have enjoyed for a long time, combinations are rising as people seek out new flavors and textures.

“Chocolate companies have been hopping on the mashup trend, merging different types of chocolate treats into one,” said George Puro, president of Puro Research Group. “Hershey’s introduced the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar with Reese’s Pieces to convenience stores in fall 2018. M&M’s big innovation is the launch of a new chocolate bar filled with M&M’s Minis. The bars come in five flavors, and received a big welcome with a Super Bowl ad featuring Christina Applegate.”

There are also mashups of creamy and crunchy textures.

“We’ve seen the debut of other multi-texture mashups, notably Reese’s Crunchy Cookie Cup, the Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch line and the Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cups,” Puro said.

Other innovations include Hershey Gold, Caramel M&M’s and Kinder Egg, which the National Confectioners Association said contributed to positive sales, though individual stores didn’t always see those results.

“Overall our sales were flat,” said Melissa McPherson, category manager at NOCO Express, which operates 39 c-stores in western New York. “Chocolate was down, but bagged candy was up double digits.”

But innovations in the chocolate segment are keeping big brands relevant.

“There are a couple of items that stand out,” McPherson said. “Snickers Creamy Peanut Butter and M&M’s Hazelnut are great line extensions that will really resonate with the customers.”

As companies continue to tap into health consciousness with better-for-you (BFY) options, customers are taking note.

“In March, Hershey is debuting Reese’s Thins, which promise to be about 40% thinner than regular Reese’s,” Puro said, adding that it is “perhaps not so surprising from the company that recently acquired healthier-sounding brands like BarkThins, Skinny Pop, Krave and Brookside.”

Puro added that Mars is following suit by investing in KIND and expanding its goodnessknows brand. And Mintel’s study conceded that, while customers who eat healthier view chocolate as an “acceptable indulgence,” that can be improved with “fresh twists on the familiar and with BFY products that don’t compromise on taste.”