We all know Americans love chocolate, but non-chocolate candy is a key candy segment as well that continues to offer new innovation for customers.
In uncertain times, non-chocolate candies — gum, mints, chewy candy, sour candy, hard candy, novelty non-chocolate, licorice and more — continue to serve as a much-needed emotional salve for tens of millions of Americans.
And that isn’t going to change any time soon.
Though savvy merchandising and exciting promotions will always be integral to building sales, the key to this category for convenience store operators is knowing what consumers are looking for, even as trends continuously shift, both over time and depending on location.
Overall, non-chocolate candy has seen dependable sales gains — up 2.9% in 2020, with total sales reaching $11.5 billion, according to the National Confectioners Association (NCA). Overall, the non-chocolate category is expected to reach $12.2 billion in sales by 2024. Consumers have proven enduringly loyal to this category, with 80% purchasing non-chocolate candy since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 46% of customers have purchased different items, 42% different brands, per NCA.
Growth of both gum — sticks, pellets, lozenges and strips — and mints slowed as consumers spent more time at home, but the segment still saw $3.9 billion in sales in 2020.
Increasingly health-conscious Americans are choosing sugar-free gum, while lingering concerns over some ingredients are restraining growth and helping products that offer natural ingredients.
According to the NCA, since the beginning of the pandemic 59% of consumers have purchased different pack sizes of gum.
Nicotine gums saw gains during the COVID-19 pandemic as more consumers — afraid of possible respiratory problems — rushed to quit smoking. The functional chewing gum market is projected to expand by as much as $1.8 billion by 2024, with a compound annual growth rate of nearly 4%, according to Technavio.
As Americans embraced mask-wearing during the pandemic, they shared their preferences for breath fresheners. About 40% of consumers use mints to freshen their breath under their COVID-19 masks, NCA found, with 38% preferring gum and 22% hard candy.
In recent years the non-chocolate candy segment has seen increased innovation with new flavor combinations and growth in chewy candy launches, and especially gummies.
During the pandemic non-chocolate candies, such as caramel, novelty non-chocolate candy, non-chocolate chewy candy, and licorice have seen modest gains, while hard sugar candy, specialty nut/coconut candy and sugar-free diet candy dipped in the c-store channel.
With people saying home, more competition is coming from the e-commerce space, which means c-stores have to be even more diligent about merchandising set, promotions and staying up to date on customers’ changing demands.