Customers are demanding more chocolate innovation in 2023.
“Over the past three years, many brands have focused on their core offerings, so when a new flavor or line is released, we see customers gravitating towards these new products,” said Nathan Arnold, director of marketing for Englefield Oil Co., which operates 120 Duchess convenience stores throughout Ohio and West Virginia. “While the number of new innovation items has decreased, we still see these as a popular choice for customers.”
Candy manufacturers are hearing the call for new items.
Many well-known chocolate brands are introducing unique new line extensions, crossover products or interesting flavor options, said Mike Kostyo, trendologist and associate director for market research firm Datassential.
“Options like M&M’s Caramel Cold Brew candies or the Reese’s Potato Chips Big Cups are keeping these consumer-favorite brands top-of-mind,” he said.
Seasonality continues to be important for the chocolate category as customers look for reasons to treat themselves, Kostyo pointed out.
“We’ve seen a lot of interesting chocolate product launches for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas, like Hershey’s Grinch Kisses for the holiday season or Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Kisses for Valentine’s Day,” he said.
Premiumization and wellness represent two major trends impacting the chocolate category this year.
“We continue to see more high-end chocolate bars with attractive packaging resonating with consumers,” said Kostyo. He added that 58% of consumers want to reduce stress in 2023, “so chocolate bars that drive home wellness messaging, taking a break for yourself or that feature functional ingredients promoting wellness and stress relief will be key this year.”
There’s also significant overlap between those products and the range of new chocolate options using plant-based dairy like oat milk, Kostyo said.
“Expect to see more of those options on shelves,” he added.
Arnold has noticed brands offering larger sizes.
“This strategy of offering the classic flavor or item but in a larger package helps reduce the chance of out-of-stocks due to supply chain issues and provides the customer their favorite treat in a larger, shareable size,” Arnold added.
Dollar sales for chocolate in convenience stores totaled $3.4 billion in sales, representing an 8.7% increase in 2022. The 1.5 billion units sold represent a 5% decrease over the previous year, while per-unit prices increased by 14.4%.
Arnold has seen a double-digit sales jump for the category at Duchess and anticipates 10% positive growth for the year ahead.
“Many of the challenges we saw through the pandemic have subsided in this category, but one challenge we see with rising retail prices is customers are purchasing fewer multiples,” Arnold said. “Our strategy is focusing on the best value by providing a great deal for our customers when they purchase two or providing a bundle offer with other categories in our stores. This increases basket size and the overall ring at checkout.”