Americans enjoy chocolate and non-chocolate candy two to three times per week, averaging just 40 calories per day, according to the National Confectioners Association’s report “Sweet Insights: State of Treating 2020.” Confectionery remains a strong and powerful category across all retail channels, with sales above $37 billion annually.
And when the consumer sweet tooth calls, it orders up the large portion. That goes double, as many customers are self-quarantining in their homes during the pandemic. The trend for bigger, share-size bags is stronger than ever — with packaging labels touting progressively larger portions running from “share” to “family” to “party” size bags.
Retailers are responding to the changing needs.
Bigger is Better
“With candy, one thing I’m testing out right now is larger take-home packages in c-store — the large Mars and Hershey’s take-home bags,” said Jon Manuyag, director of marketing for Portland, Ore.-based Plaid Pantry’s 108 stores. “I’m going to be adding, actually, several SKUs into this next year.”
Ray Johnson, operations manager with Speedee Mart, a 23-store chain operating in Nevada’s Las Vegas Valley, acknowledged that the big bags get noticed. “You have all these stand-up packages that look like billboards that really show the product off,” he said, noting that retailers need to be conscious of space considerations and figure where the larger bags will fit within a store’s planogram.
Manuyag agreed, citing strategic placement in stores and focusing on good merchandising. He understands well the challenge of space constraints within the c-store. Before joining Plaid Pantry back in December 2019, he spent 20 years in merchandising with the Fred Meyer division of Kroger, where display space is plentiful.
“I come from a world where I have 20-, 30-, 40-foot runs of candy, and here it’s just 12-16 feet, and the assortment just needs to work that much harder,” he said.
March IRI AllScan data bears that out. Early in the month, convenience store candy sales trends matched those of big-box grocery, club and dollar stores in small increases over last year. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continued, shoppers stocking up on staples gave larger stores an advantage.
Still, despite the pandemic, candy consumers are buying.
For the four weeks ending March 22, chocolate (-0.2%) and non-chocolate (-0.7%) candy sales were flat, with very slight dips, according to the IRI data.
Speedee Mart’s Johnson has a simple theory on why.
“I think people are treating themselves,” Johnson offered, noting that chocolate is one of his top two best-selling food items right now.
Which is not really a surprise — chocolate is the longtime candy king. Customers are also treating themselves by sizing up when it comes to candy bar purchases.
“King-size by far,” said Johnson, when asked about customers’ candy size preferences. He noted while Speedee Mart has consistently focused on moving the king-size over the regular, the bigger bar is performing unusually well.
“We’re not doing anything that we didn’t always do,” Johnson said. “Two-for promos and stuff. So, the things we do, we’ve always done, but you can tell that people have switched to the larger size.”
Gum & Mints
Gum sales are in tune with other candy — the bigger the better. Retailers reported that the bottle packages move well.
And Johnson said his customers are buying even bigger.
“What’s doing even better is the big package,” he said, “like the 35-count and the 50-count that still looks like a bag of gum, but it’s really big, and it does better than the bottle one for me.”
Plaid Pantry’s customers are doing the same, and Manuyag is happy to stock it. “Like the tub of gum and the large-count size gums, which I’m actually bringing in a lot more assortment coming into this update,” he said of his ordering plans. “So we’re adding a lot more large-package gum bases into the assortment because we notice that our customers are buying a lot more of that stuff.”
Sales are pretty steady as far as mints go. Manuyag said the strategy for mints is the same for other candy — get the customer to notice the product.
“I am just trying to find different merchandising ways for candy, and how we can engage more incremental sales of candy on my sales floor,” he said. “Because right now candy is obviously the No. 1 impulse commodity in the store.”
Manuyag’s philosophy: For customers to buy it, they need to see it.
And Manuyag has a fairly simple formula to achieve that.
“So, deeper promos,” he said. “Looking at more added value, value promotions of merchandising in stores, that value price point to help our customers to interact with candy.”