C-store retailers saw sales increase across chocolate and non-chocolate in 2022 and are optimistic about the candy sales outlook for 2023, despite price increases and supply chain woes.
Heading into 2023, “despite severe out of stocks, candy sales are stronger than ever,” said Eric Patterson, merchandising manager for Beacon & Bridge Market, which operates 25 stores in Michigan. “It’s one of the few categories that did not take heavy damage due to COVID-19 or economic constraints.”
The data is bearing that out to a certain extent.
Overall, chocolate and non-chocolate candy sales are up in dollars, although unit sales have fallen as prices have increased over the past year.
According to NielsenIQ data, dollar sales for the overall candy category came to $31.4 billion, up 11.8% for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 26, 2022, across food/grocery, drug, mass merchandisers and convenience channels. Chocolate led the category with $17.81 billion in sales, up 10%.
Candy unit sales overall totaled 12.4 billion — a 0.3% dip compared to the previous year, with 6.3 billion in unit sales for chocolate, a 2.5% decrease.
Prices for candy are on the rise. The average unit price for chocolate was $2.82, a 12.8% increase, with $2.53 being the average unit price for candy overall, representing a 12.2% climb.
Nicolette Jaeger, director of merchandising and loyalty for The Pride Stores, which operates 15 stores in the Chicagoland area and one in Indiana, noted that candy sales have lifted and continue to stay elevated into 2023.
At the end of 2022, Beacon & Bridge Market was poised to show record sales growth, which can be partially explained when looking at the vast amount of retail changes encountered throughout the year, Patterson said.
“We’ve also implemented a strategy designed to push our consumers to purchase king-sized bars rather than regular-sized, which has also contributed substantially to our overall sales growth in the category,” he added.
Jaeger noted innovation blends between categories — especially sweet and salty — remained strong, with snack and candy brands joining forces to introduce new creations.
“Consumers are still seeking comforting snacks, and larger bag sizes are growing in popularity as consumers tend to snack more throughout the day instead of sitting down for larger meals,” she added.
Patterson said he’s noticed candy manufacturers attempting to blend the line between candy and sweet snacks such as cookies and brownies, for example.
“We’ve seen Hershey creep into the sweet snacks category with their snack cakes much like they crept into the salty category with their dipped pretzels a couple years back,” he pointed out.
“Earlier in the year, Mars Wrigley hit the market with a brownie batter-themed Snickers bar, and this year they are starting the year with a cookie dough Twix bar. Hershey is also doing a great job keeping the category fresh with their Kit Kat Duos line extensions,” he added.
Customers are demanding inventory, Patterson pointed out.
“I think a lot of customers are tired of having to go to large stores to find what they are looking for,” he added. “Unfortunately, c-stores tend to be low on the priority list when it comes to production and distribution, which is why these days you’ll find (some popular candies) on the shelf at your local grocery store before you find them at the convenience store on the corner.”
Patterson noted that 2022 was a relatively slow year for innovation or new entries, which he believes is because “a lot of the manufacturers are still treading water and trying to stabilize their core item supply chain.”
However, c-stores are engaged in launching new products in 2023.
Among the popular launches at The Pride Stores is Nerds Gummy Clusters and SweeTARTS Soft & Chewy Ropes.
“We are looking forward to seeing how Reese’s Big Cup with Potato Chips does,” said Jaeger of a recent launch.
As for new launches this year at Beacon & Bridge Market, “Cookie Dough Twix is a big one that we’re going after in January,” said Patterson.