In the candy world, there’s nothing sweeter than chocolate. Chocolate could stand on its own as a separate category, representing 60% of the $35 billion U.S. confectionery industry, according to the “Getting to Know Chocolate Consumers 2019” study by the National Confectioners Association and the Fine Chocolate Industry Association.
Household penetration for everyday chocolate is 91%, and seasonal chocolate boasts an even higher rate, at 96%, according to the study.
“Chocolate continues to be a leading consumable category at Love’s,” said Wade Hollis, senior manager of category buying for Love’s Travel Stops, “followed closely by salty snacks and alternative snacks like beef jerky, protein bars and cookies.” Love’s is headquartered in Oklahoma City with more than 490 locations in 41 states.
Chocolate’s lofty perch seems safe. A 2017 Transparency Market Research report, “Milk Chocolate Market: Global Industry Analysis 2017-2026,” projects the milk chocolate market compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to be 6.2% through 2026.
While all chocolate sales and candy as a whole have been flat, annual dollar sales for novelty chocolate rose a whopping 86.9%, with unit sales up 90.3% for the 52 weeks ending July 14, according to Chicago-based research firm IRI.
“We have seen a trend of customers wanting more value in the products they purchase, and that translates in a few different ways,” said Hollis. “They want larger, value-sized bags from national brand manufactures, but they also like to purchase Love’s smaller snack bags at two for $3.”
Those smaller bags are part of Love’s Travel Snacks line, the company’s foray into the novelty candy arena, which began in June.
“The biggest key to the launch was offering a product to our customers that would resonate with them and allow them to save money,” Hollis said. “Distributing our own candy also allowed us to better ensure our aisles remain stocked for customers who need to quickly get back on the road.”
The Love’s line includes gummy bears and worms (regular and sour), assorted fruity and orange slices, starlight mints and peach rings. The line’s heart-shaped sour cherries pay tribute to Love’s heritage. “This line provides our customers good value, innovative flavors and offers they can’t find anywhere else,” Hollis said.
Partnering for Success
Teaming up with candy manufacturers can be a recipe for success. Candy makers can help with marketing ideas, promotional signage and more. Dyson Williams, marketing manager for Sayre, Pa.-based Dandy Mini Marts’ 64 stores in Pennsylvania and New York, said using that help has upped Dandy’s sales.
The new “strike-zone strategy” from The Hershey Co. “ … seems to be actually increasing candy sales overall,” said Williams. “They block by flavor and then by size. For example, you’d have the Reese’s king-size bar and then the Reese’s standard bar in the same block … they feel that people are shopping by flavor.”
They may also be shopping by size; bigger is becoming better. Williams has noticed king-size bars have been displacing standard sizes in his stores the past couple of years.
Using manufacturer-provided displays placed strategically throughout the store, away from the regular candy counter, helps drive impulse buys, Williams said. Plus, there’s always the no-brainer space at the checkout for your strongest items.
“They’re right there by the register,” said Williams. “That drives incremental sales,” he said, as gas customers opt for impulse purchases.
And while chocolate is king, it’s not the only thing. Love’s Hollis said sour candy products have always been a sales leader. He’s particularly proud of the success of Love’s private-brand peach rings. “Peach rings continue to move up the flavor ranking,” he said.
Williams noted gum and mints sales have risen at Dandy Mini Marts locations, with bigger share-size packs up double digits.
Regional favorites are important to stock, too. “You’ve got to have Mallo Cups in Pennsylvania, in my opinion,” Williams said.
A novel classic? Good candy never goes out of style.