The $3.1 billion chocolate candy category showed healthy growth across dollar sales, units sold and volume for the latest 52 weeks ending Dec. 26, 2021, according to IRI. Category total dollar sales were up 8.9%, and units increased 4.7%.
Bigger sizes (greater than 3.5 ounces) were the clear winners, with dollar sales up 15% and units 7.6%. Smaller sizes (less than 3.5 ounces) also rose 7.9% and units 4.5%.
“Chocolate has always been a consumer favorite, accounting for 60% of all confectionery sales in the U.S.,” said John Downs, president and CEO of the National Confectioners Association (NCA). “Preferences for type and format vary widely based on consumers’ age, income and lifestyle.”
While traditional branded milk chocolate still sells best, NCA’s report “Sweet Insights: Getting to Know Chocolate Consumers 2021” showed that the preference for dark chocolate rises with age. In an almost neck-and-neck ranking, almonds edged out peanuts/peanut butter and caramel/toffee as the top ingredients consumers like to combine with chocolate. Tied for fourth place were mint and coconut.
In its “Global Candy Market 2021-2026” report, Mordor Intelligence research firm noted that several trends support the growth of the chocolate candy industry, including frequent snacking, indulgent tastes, unique and attractive design factors and infusions, like fruits, nuts and seeds.
Additionally, continued innovation in packaging and flavors by chocolate candy manufacturers, such as sweet and salty flavor-based candy, is anticipated to drive the market’s growth in the coming years.
Innovation Spurs Interest
At FriendShip Stores’ 29 Ohio locations, January 2021 to January 2022 unit sales increases confirm the experts’ optimism about the present and future growth of the chocolate candy category. While the traditional brands continue to sell best, innovation in the category helps to maintain consumer interest and spur trial, explained Aaron Hirt, the chain’s category manager and business analyst.
When it comes to packaging, king size still reigns supreme, he pointed out. This especially applies to buy-two-get-one-free promotions.
Chocolate candy is such a big category at FriendShip that Hirt is currently going through a reset of the displays with his wholesalers. He is expanding the inline display to 12 feet, showcasing king-size bars and other top sellers of regular-size packages at queue stations under the checkout counters and using shippers as power wings next to the end caps.
De Lone Wilson, president of Cubby’s convenience stores with 36 locations in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota, said he has not seen much change year-to-year in his chocolate sales, though manufacturers are constantly putting out new products.
“They are trying to come up with different flavors and combinations,” he said, “and although we carry the new products, it’s always the old standards that make up the majority of sales.”
In addition to the candy aisle, Wilson strategically places shippers throughout the store. He also frequently includes chocolate as one of the stores’ ‘suggested sale’ items for a week or month at the checkout counters and on Cubby’s app.