Candy, snacks evolve for consumers making ingredient-focused choices

People are snacking around the clock and, after a year of indulging, are discovering the importance of snacking smarter.

People love candy and snacks for all types of reasons. For some, it’s all about sitting down with their favorite comfort foods after a stressful day. Others view candy and snacks as treats they allow themselves to have on special occasions. And for a growing group, they want to incorporate better-for-you snacks and candy into their daily food routine.

Throw a global pandemic into the mix and other reasons for purchasing snacks and candy begin to emerge. For instance, Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay’s recent U.S. Snack Index survey earlier this year found that an overwhelming majority of respondents are turning to their favorite snack or treat as a way to preserve some level of normalcy in their lives during the COVID crisis. 

With increased access, people are snacking around the clock and, after a year of indulging, are discovering the importance of snacking smarter. Manufacturers are trying to meet these evolving needs in a variety of ways. Some are creating new brands while others are extending the forms and formulas within existing brands.


“The retail landscape evolved rapidly in the past year, and the way people shop for treats and snacks has changed as well,” said Monica Jain, vice president of sales, small format, at Mars Wrigley U.S., headquartered in Newark, N.J. “People are spending more time than ever at home, entertaining family and friends, and they are turning to trusted brands they love.” 

[Read More: Mars Wrigley looks to optimize the candy aisle]

Clark Taylor, senior vice president of sales and marketing at CandyRific in Louisville, Ky., said this past year, snacks and candy have played instrumental roles in helping people cope with the stress of living through a pandemic. “Consumers are looking to reward their kids and themselves for working through the current challenges with COVID,” Taylor said. “They are looking for ways to create special events in their homes and neighborhoods and, because of this, there has been a spike in toys, activities and home entertainment products.”

As families spend more time at home, officials from Frito-Lay and other companies noted that interest has turned from smaller, more portable pack sizes to larger, family-sized packaging, and variety packs on core offerings that offer value and convenience for at-home snackers. Additionally, while familiar products are appealing, marketers noted that as consumers grew bored and overwhelmed with reality, they were also attracted to new and unusual candy and snacking options.

“Consumers are looking to reward their kids and themselves for working through the current challenges with COVID.”
Clark Taylor, senior vice president of sales and marketing at CandyRific.

Shifting purchasing habits
Consumer shopping trips may have been down due to the pandemic, but spending per trip was up. While shoppers may have turned to larger pack sizes to help ensure their favorite candy and snacks were always on hand, they were sticking to their budget more so than usual, which meant their shopping behavior this past year was less impulsive than is typically seen.

Based on retail sales data, snack consumption has dramatically increased since the onset of the pandemic.

During a March conference call with analysts, Mark Clouse, president and CEO of Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Soup, said looking at the second quarter sales for this year compared with last year, segments such as salty snacks, including its Goldfish brand saw “meaningful share improvement.” Specifically, Clouse said the company’s snack business unit sales grew 4% in the second quarter to $979 million. Growth was notably attributed to such brands as microwave popcorn hit Pop Secret, Cape Cod and Kettle potato chips, and Late July Organic Snacks. The latter brand, which uses organic and non-GMO ingredients, comes in a variety of gluten-free, vegan and kosher offerings.

“Our performance was again fueled by our power brands, which grew dollar consumption by 8% over the previous year,” Clouse said during the call. “Within the power brands, our salty snack brands grew dollar consumption by double digits and realized share growth.”

By focusing on new ways for consumers to enjoy snacks, Clouse said the company was able to substantially grow interest in its Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse line as well. Consumers, it seems, loved the idea of incorporating Goldfish into movie nights at home or as part of a lunchtime offering, he said.

[Read More: Candy makers eye healthy, premium options while extending existing lines]


Innovation Influences
The reasons why people are buying candy and snacks may have shifted, but the one aspect that has remained constant is that consumers still look at flavor and taste as the top attractors when buying treats. 

One reason interest in salty snacks remains high is the number of new offerings introduced, featuring interesting flavors and unusual takes on existing one, observers noted. As consumers’ tastes evolve, so too, has the depth and variety of snack products being offered. Nacho cheese, salt and barbeque flavors have long been favorites, but snack introductions featuring spicy cheese, chipotle and Himalayan salt, for instance, have kept consumer interest in the category strong. The number of combination products featuring citrus, smokey, sweet, spicy and internationally inspired exotic flavors are also on the rise as are ethnically inspired and regionally influenced snack products. 

Bold flavors remain a top draw for salty snack lovers as well, and as Hanover, Pa.-based Utz has noted, snack flavors are also being inspired by restaurant items. In 2020, the company launched a line of TGI Friday’s snacks featuring its restaurant’s signature seasoning.

Similarly, Late July Organic Snacks grabbed the inspiration for its recently launched Clásico Tortilla Chips from the flavors served at many of today’s taco trucks.

Hold the Salt
With COVID expected to remain part of our lives for the foreseeable future, experts predict more people will turn their attention to snacks that support their health. In fact, much of the innovation is coming from better-for-you snacks made with functional ingredients, including high fiber, whole grains, plant-based protein and free-from benefits, as well as satiating ingredients such as ancient grains. 

“Snacking has turned into a way of life for so many during COVID,” said Janet Levi, public relations manager at Shrewd Food, located in Hauppauge N.Y. “It’s natural for people to turn to food to feel better, but now that the pandemic has reached the one-year mark, people are realizing they need to choose their snacks more wisely.” Shrewd Food’s Protein Puffs, Protein Croutons, Protein Dippers, Keto Dippers and Protein Cookies provide meaningful amounts of protein, and all but the cookies have significantly low carbs.

As people look to make healthier decisions, they are finding that they don’t have to give up taste for health, Levi said. “The functional snack category is on fire. People are snacking smarter today and gravitating to options that are crunchy, satisfying and are satiating.” 

[Read More: Still snacky: New candy, snack products build sales]

“It’s natural for people to turn to food to feel better, but now that the pandemic has reached the one-year mark, people are realizing they need to choose their snacks more wisely.”
Janet Levi, public relations manager at Shrewd Food.

Changing Treat Market
Carly Schildhaus, a spokesperson for the National Confectioners Association in Washington, D.C., said this past year was certainly an interesting one for the $36.7 billion confectionery category, a year that saw many new factors influencing what consumers bought, where they bought it and how much they purchased. 

According to the NCA, on average U.S. consumers are enjoying chocolate and candy two to three times a week. “Candy had and will continue to play an important role in consumers’ emotional well-being,” Schildhaus said. “Though COVID-19 kept us apart, chocolate and candy have helped bring people together and added some fun to a challenging and uncertain time.”

Twenty-five years ago, one of the most popular candies was Triple Power Push Pops, a three-level lollipop encased in a plastic tower that allowed kids of all ages to enjoy multiple flavors at once. It encapsulated what many candy options were about at that time — novelty, entertainment and flavor. While many of these qualities still drive sales today, what consumers want from snacks and candy is changing. 

While people are still turning to treats to mark special moments, such as birthdays, holidays and other celebrations, Schildhaus said consumers are also searching for ways to balance this with being more conscious of their sugar intake. “Companies are responding by offering more options in smaller pack sizes with clear calorie labeling.” 

In exploring “what consumers want from candy,” market researchers have found that while taste continues to top the list, consumers increasingly look for healthy options, such as products with clean-label ingredients, vegan options, alternatives to corn syrup, and local, authentic ingredient sourcing. Consumers also favor companies that practice fair trade and those that have made sustainability a priority.


Observers said consumers are likely to see such immunity-boosting ingredients as antioxidants and superfruits playing noteworthy roles in snacks and candy sales in the near future.

The challenge for brands is that consumers want health-and-wellness benefits in their candy and snacks, but still have the same expectations in terms of flavor and texture from their snack experience.

Hershey has taken note of the shifting consumer landscape by committing to make significant investments in developing breakthrough sugar reduction capabilities and recipes. 

“While most snacking categories have benefitted from more in-home consumption, better-for-you segments are rapidly growing,” said Dan Mohnshine, team lead of strategic growth platforms at Hershey, headquartered in Hershey, Pa. He said confectionery products featuring reduced sugar grew 14% in 2020 while sales of organic confection products rose 6%.

As part of Hershey’s long-term strategy to address consumer demand for better-for-you options, the company has been focusing on offering portion-controlled choices for many of its top sellers, including Reese’s, Kit Kat and York Peppermint Pattie. “We also want to extend our core brands into better-for-you spaces, such as the recent addition of Reese’s and Hershey’s Organic chocolate bars, and the re-launch of our Zero Sugar platform,” Mohnshine said. 

[Read More: Hershey sets its sights on better-for-you confections]

“While most snacking categories have benefitted from more in-home consumption, better-for-you segments are rapidly growing.”
Dan Mohnshine, team lead of strategic growth platforms at Hershey.

Over at Mars Wrigley, Jain said there has been an increasing demand for chewy and soft-creme textures. “Some of our recent innovations, such as M&M’S Fudge Brownie, Twix Cookies & Crème and Snickers Peanut Brownie, are all great examples of products that lean into this trend with a unique twist on fan favorite brands,” she said. The company also introduced Orbit Mega Packs, Skittles Gummies and M&M’S Mix, a new flavor experience that brings the classic M&M’S flavors together in one package. 

This year, Mars Wrigley launched its “Never Stop Summering” in-store promotion. The program offers retailers an opportunity to tap into at-home and on-the-go activities during the summer season. “This will keep shoppers engaged throughout the long promotional period and drive basket building and conversion,” Jain said. Outside of the aisle, she said there is an opportunity to drive impulse sales at the front end. “When confectionery is present at the transaction zone, not only do people love to add it to their carts, but its presence can result in higher front-end margins and higher basket sizes.” 

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Peri Mendelson, director of sales operations and analytics at PIM Brands, said consumers are drawn to products with nostalgic flavors due to the sense of comfort and safety they offer. She also said that, at the same time, consumers are prioritizing immunity and are drawn to functional flavors and foods this year.  

Flavor mashups are another trend Mendelson said he sees influencing new confectionery products. Recognizing this, the Park Ridge, N.J.-based company recently launched Tropical Fish Party, a line extension under its popular Original Gummi Fun Mix brand. Tropical Fish Party features tropical fish shapes, each paired with such exotic flavors as Kiwi Guava ‘n Mango, Passion Fruit ‘n Lemonade and Watermelon ‘n Tropical Punch. Company officials said the new line was inspired by consumers’ desires to travel through flavor and try new and interesting mashups. “Through these products, consumers get to experience moments of joy, fun and variety in an otherwise challenging year,” Mendelson said.

CandyRific’s Taylor said, given the increase in home activities and entertainment products, the company has been leveraging its premium licenses to tie into online movie releases, such as “Trolls 2 - Trolls World Tour,” “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” Avengers “Black Widow” and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” this coming fall. The company also expanded its programs with M&M’S/Orville Redenbacher Popcorn Buckets for their movie nights and game nights at home.   

“Consumers are continuing to fill their pantries with staple goods,” Taylor said. “The challenge for retailers is to find ways to offer them new and exciting items that are not typically on their shopping lists, such as novel flavors and impulse purchases. Given everything happening in the world, retailers should focus on offering shoppers something fun and new to buy.”