Candy makers eye healthy, premium options while extending existing lines

The candy category is being pulled in three different directions — all for the same reason: to bring more shoppers into the confectionery aisle.

Even as more candy suppliers emphasize offering healthier alternatives to their own products, they also are coming out with a broad assortment of line extensions and premium-priced items to get traditional candy consumers to step up and buy a few more items.

These strategies could work for the category whose annual sales IRI pegged at around $25.3 billion between candy, gum, mints and chocolate in U.S. multi-outlets for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 7. However, it is under pressure from other snack alternatives that are seeking ways to gain more space on retail shelves, often at the expense of the candy section.

“Candy is one of the stalwarts of the mass retail industry and has been for decades,” said a candy buyer for a major supermarket chain. “But, I think the pressure is on the vendors to make sure they stay ahead of the curve on consumer expectations. Today, shoppers want candy products that taste great, but maybe are not as bad for them as in the past. That means less calories and sugar, but it also means interesting products.”

A more educated consumer has made it clear that she wants healthier products from the candy category, including items that have fewer calories and chemicals, as well as less fat and sugar. Suppliers are taking steps to keep the category relevant with these shoppers. Some are simple, like adding content information to packaging to show consumers that having a candy bar is really not that bad. Others are more dramatic, including new items and sizes that simply have less of everything.

“The conversation around sugar — how much to have, if it is good or bad for you — is an ongoing conversation, and it is top-of-mind

for people when they think about what they eat,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, senior director of public affairs and communications of Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association, or NCA. “The confectionery industry has made a commitment to make their package sizes smaller, to put calorie information on the front of the packs, and to educate people about the role chocolate and candy can play in a happy, balanced lifestyle.”

Interestingly, though, this sudden urge to be healthier comes at the same time that the major players seek to expand interest in their most popular candy items, as well as offer more premium lines. Some suppliers are adding products to such well-known brands as Milky Way, Snickers, Kit Kat and Reese’s to spur consumer interest in these products and generate incremental sales increases. “These (line extensions) are just another way to reach more consumers and bring more consumers into the candy world,” said an official with Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars.

Gindlesperger used Mars as a great example of a company that is using a combination of well-known brand names and line extensions to build sales. He said that Mars has extended its classic Snickers bar brand to include Snickers 2 To Go, Snickers 24-count Sharing Size, Snickers with Almonds, Snickers Peanut Butter, Snickers Hazelnut, Snickers Crisper, and a Snickers Easter Egg. “You can see that across companies. Where they have one classic iconic brand, they put it into different types of products; it showcases the innovation,” he said.

Premium-priced items also are gaining a foothold in this category as younger and more demanding shoppers put price aside in their search for quality. Millennials are driving the popularity of these chocolates, Gindlesperger said, noting Lindt, Ghirardelli, Hershey’s and Mars’ premium lines, as well as mom-and-pop companies producing “bean to bar” premium chocolate products, are being embraced.

“You’ll see beautifully wrapped chocolate tablet bars that this demographic enjoys and are loyal to. Interestingly, this group also likes gummy and sours on the non-chocolate side,” he said.

All three trends show just how high the stakes are for this category. The bottom line is that candy has served as a major category for mass retailers for decades, and both retailers and suppliers want to make sure that this category continues to draw shoppers into stores.

Health Consciousness
One of the confection companies addressing consumers’ health concerns is Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born Quality Confections — makers of such brands as Mike and Ike, Peeps and Hot Tamales.

“As part of our commitment to transparency, we now carry front-of-pack labeling to allow consumers to make informed decisions on all our products,” said Keith Domalewski, the company’s director of marketing and consumer engagement. “We offer a range of candies that meet special dietary needs, including products that are fat-free, gluten-free, kosher and dairy-free. For Easter, we also make Sugar-Free Peeps.”

He said the company offers these special varieties in various pack types and sizes, and also offers allergen information on its labels.

Some candy manufacturers also are working on addressing consumer’s concerns about artificial additives. In 2016, Mars, for example, pledged to remove artificial additives used to make the vibrant colors in M&Ms, Skittles and other candy by 2021.

Educating consumers is vital, industry officials said. The NCA has launched a few website initiatives, including, which aims to help consumers make informed choices and help educate them about actions the confectionery industry is taking to address their health concerns.

As Thanksgiving and the winter holidays approach, the NCA will build out a winter holidays section on the website. “The winter holidays are candy moments,” Gindlesperger said. “They are times when people naturally think about chocolate and candy, and we want to say, ‘Here are some resources and a place where people can go to think through all of this and learn what they can expect from the companies, and what support they can get.’”

NCA also recently launched, an online resource that highlights the industry’s state, national and community impact. It also features research about the economic impact of the industry.

Category Shifts
Domalewski also is witnessing a spike in the popularity of sour flavors, especially among teens. “Teens love sour candy and they look for it everywhere they shop, translating into a growth rate nearly double that of the category overall,” he said. “The sour candy segment makes up nearly one-fifth of the everyday candy category and is among the fastest growing.”

In January, Just Born will unveil its most intense sour product yet — Mike and Ike Mega Mix Sour! in 10 flavors, including Sour Power Pineapple, Sour Zappin Apple and Sour Pucker Punch.

The company also is responding to a growing interest in spicy sweets, introducing Hot Tamales in Mango Tango, Pineapple Picante and Limon Fever. In 2019, the company will roll out Hot Tamales Fire & Ice candies, featuring two flavors inside one box: classic Hot Tamales Fierce Cinnamon and the new blue Cool Mint.

“Just Born realized the trend of the rise in Hispanic population in the U.S., and as you see with other recent candy launches, all of the big players are coming out with spicy varieties,” Domalewski said.

Yet consumers also are craving a specific sweet flavor. “A trend that is on the rise is maple, and taking fun flavors like this and extending it beyond the traditional breakfast or baking category and into the candy aisle is fun for our fans,” Domalewski said about the company’s plan to add pancakes and syrup-flavored marshmallow to its Peeps brand lineup.

Officials at Promotion in Motion have identified a category shift towards smart snacking and flavor options, as well as the introduction of seasonally specific items.

The Allandale, N.J.-based company offers Go Organically Fruit Snacks, Welch’s Fruit ‘N Yogurt, Welch’s Fruit Rolls and its
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