It’s a sweet time to be a candy consumer — and a candy retailer.
“2019 was a great year for candy,” said Daniel Moran, category manager for Rotten Robbie’s 34 stores in Northern California. “We saw a 5.73% sales increase across our chain.”
In 2019, candy sales at convenience stores increased by both dollar sales and volume in all segments, including chocolate, non-chocolate chewy candy and gum, according to the National Confectioners Association (NCA), using syndicated data from its partner, IRI Worldwide.
“We’ve always done well with Haribo (gummy candy),” Moran said. “But this past year, we had some really strong growth with the brand, so we increased their space in our peg candy sets for 2020.”
For all retail outlets combined, according to Nielsen scan data through Nov. 23, 2019, chocolate dollar sales rose a modest 2.4%. The gains were an
improvement, though, after three years of fairly flat performance.
For sheer numbers, chocolate is still king — in more ways than one.
“Best-selling items are still the Reese’s (peanut butter cup) king size and Snickers king size,” said Cole Fountain, category manager at Gate Petroleum, which operates and supplies fuel for nearly 200 locations in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. “Although, Kinder Bueno has really come along fast; it will continue to gain traction.”
Flavor innovations have been growing throughout the category, especially mashups of old-time classics combined with either new or proven flavors.
“We also launched the Kit Kat Duo Mint here at the beginning of the year, and customers are buying them up fast as well,” said Fountain. “The neat thing is these are similar items with slightly different profiles.”
Interesting combinations can appeal to specific demographics, not only with flavor innovation, but in packaging size and health appeal, too, according to NCA.
“We’re also seeing more choice than ever before, with certain products gaining popularity based on the demographics they appeal to,” noted Carly Schildhaus, public affairs manager, NCA. “For example, millennials have a propensity to purchase non-chocolate items (especially chewy products) and enjoy extreme flavor combinations. Innovation also includes offering smaller pack sizes of treats consumers know and love in an effort to help them manage their sugar intake.”
That echoes a 2018 Mintel Group study that confirmed these flavor and package innovation preferences: “The role of flavor innovation in encouraging category participation is clear, with 63% of respondents who have increased their consumption crediting a better selection of flavors,” reported the Mintel “Non-chocolate Confectionery – US” study. Desire for better pack sizes registered second at 51% and better textures third at 38%.
Just ask Moran. Packaging matters.
“While our inline candy represents the bulk of our candy category sales, we’ve seen over 15% growth within peg candy specifically,” Moran said. For 2020, Rotten Robbie plans to capitalize on that trend and expand peg sets where possible.
“Looking ahead to 2020, the future is bright for the candy aisle in c-stores,” the NCA reported. “Much of this can be attributed to growth in the segment.”
Still, as consumers look for a bargain, retailers would be wise to help them find it. Gate Petroleum is taking advantage of its supplier partnerships to more effectively put the right product in front of the right consumers.
“We are moving to the strike zone optimization that Hershey has presented,” said Fountain. “I think sometimes you have to move the furniture around the house to let customers see a different view, but it also pulls higher-recognized standard bars up in the set to be more easily shopped.”
Moran attributed Rotten Robbie’s 2019 success to dialed-in promotional planning, an organized display calendar and good execution/inventory management at the store level.
To Fountain, superior execution involves thinking like a customer.
“We’ve added an everyday multiple that’s still a good bargain for our customers,” Fountain said. “We’ve also continued to expand stand-up pouches and, lastly, tried to be a little more strategic on secondary displays and points of distribution to help customers find candy in different parts of the store other than the main inline section.”
There’s no getting around it — people like to treat themselves. Candy may be the most affordable and easiest way to do that. That makes candy a sweet proposition.