Candy, gum and mints are experiencing upswings in sales at convenience stores after two years of pandemic challenges.
Candy, gum and mint sales at convenience stores rose 13.2% to close to $6.4 billion over the past year, according to NielsenIQ Total U.S. Convenience data for the latest 52 weeks ending Feb. 26, 2022. Chocolate sales have grown 8.3% to close to $3 billion, non-chocolate confections ticked up 18.3% to more than $2 billion, gum grew 14.4% to over $731 million and mints rose 15% to over $205 million.
Two years ago, to date, gum sales had decreased by 16.7% and mints 14.2%, making 2022 a rebound year for both categories, the Nielsen research showed.
At Rutter’s 79 convenience stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, candy sales are “on fire through 2022,” reported Joseph Bortner, center store category manager for Rutter’s. “All sub-categories are experiencing growth on units and same-store sales.”
Rutter’s has seen double-digit growth in sales of both chocolate and non-chocolate candies. Chocolate has slightly outpaced non-chocolate confections.
Bortner noted that the pandemic had impacted the gum and mint sub-categories particularly hard.
“A large portion of the demand comes from the consumers’ need for refreshment,” he noted. “As social distancing and mask-wearing became the norm, the consumer need for refreshment declined.”
This year, he said, early signs point to a strong rebound in sales to levels beyond pre-pandemic.
“We’re optimistic that this trend will continue through the year,” he noted. “I think we’ll continue to see consumers shift to larger pack types as wallets get tighter due to inflation and consumers fight to find value in their purchases.”
Pricing & Promotions
Rutter’s is continuing to adjust pricing strategies as costs rise, Bortner noted. The company is also testing theories on building baskets through consumer value-added offerings.
“By balancing the two we anticipate a strong year in confection,” he said.
While traditional suppliers still provide product innovation, supply chain issues continue to be a challenge for all, and Bortner said he believes retailers will see some of them tighten their belts to focus on core brands and items.
In the meantime, Rutter’s will continue to assertively merchandise candy, gum and mints “just about everywhere in the stores,” from inline and perimeter displays to counter racks and coolers.
Periodic promotions offer two-fers on gum and mints and mix-and-match pricing on all king-size and standard items.
The company is also testing promotional strategies such as bundling and volume pricing options to drive consumers to the stores instead of just relying on the usual impulse sales to grow confection baskets.
“Early signs point to positive results driving standard sales up more than double in our test stores,” Bortner said.
Even with recent price increases, chocolate candy dollar sales have grown by double digits over the last year at FastBreak Convenience Stores, said Tim Cote, senior buyer for the chain, which operates 33 stores in Oregon and California. The increase in unit volume is lower, somewhere in the low single digits.
Without the support of manufacturer promotions during the COVID-19 pandemic, non-chocolate confection sales have achieved only a small increase in both dollars and units. The biggest change Cote has seen is the decrease in customer trade-up from standard to king-size bars.
Both gum and mint sales have risen slightly over the past four months. Gum packaged in travel cups are the top sellers in that sub-category.
“I expect to see gum and mint sales continue to struggle because they are tightly related to tobacco sales,” Cote explained. “As tobacco sales continue (to) fall, gum and mints will be in lockstep.”
To encourage impulse purchases, FastBreak uses shippers to supplement inline and peg board candy displays. Aggressive promotions include two-fers and coupons on the shippers distributed in-store.
“We also hold little contests to reward staff members for promoting the products,” Cote added.
Despite widespread supply chain issues, Cote noted that in-stocks of turn goods are pretty good and are, in fact, improving quickly. But regarding line extensions and promotions, he expects those will come into play by Q3 of this year due to supply chain interruptions.