While pandemic-mired treat lovers bought big and confectioners thought big, self-reward and innovation are keeping chocolate top of mind as treat lovers search for the old normal moving into 2021.
Overall, chocolate candy held firm during pandemic-plagued 2020 with relatively flat growth of 1.6%, per IRI. While snack-size and novelty chocolate saw large dollar sales drops of just over 35%, gift boxes maintained sales, losing less than a percent. Sugar-free chocolate candy experienced a huge dollar sales jump of 54.3%.
“Throughout the past year, people across the country have turned to chocolate and candy for little moments of normalcy and joy in an otherwise uncertain time,” said Carly Schildhaus, manager of public affairs for the National Confectioners Association (NCA). She explained that during the pandemic (measured from March 15 to Sept. 6, 2020), chocolate sales gained 5.5%, outperforming the confection category as a whole, which rose 4.1%.
And candymakers have plenty of sweet somethings to choose for every member of the family. Innovation in candy is running at a fever pitch, especially with new forms and flavors colliding with classic favorites.
“Snickers is launching the new Snickers (Peanut) Brownie that’s out in stores now,” noted Tim Young, category manager with Newcomb Oil’s Bardstown, Ky.-based Five Star Food Mart with 87 stores in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee.
He also pointed to ongoing innovation in Hershey’s Reese’s products, including the Reese’s Big Cup with Pretzels in stores now and the upcoming Reese’s Big Cup with Chips, which is stuffed with potato chips. Other noteworthy innovations include Kit Kat Duos Mocha + Chocolate and the Whozeewhatzit, a version of the Whatchamacallit bar that includes a peanut butter crème layer and rice crisps coated in chocolate.
It’s all about comfort, Young stressed. “You just want to come in and get a candy bar and just take your mind off the madness. You can walk in and find a lot of items and a lot of brands that are just very comfortable.”
Young calls it “permissible indulgence.” Simple items. Small price tags. Guilt-free rewards.
Numbers from the NCA agree. According to Schildhaus, more than nine in 10 Americans — 92% of consumers — have purchased chocolate since the start of the pandemic.
Pandemic or not, chocolate will continue to be a customer ‘go-to’ for a quick break and sweet reward.