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Sweet, sweet success: Two years of the pandemic resulted in record candy sales as consumers sought comfort, surprise and delight

With the pandemic driving consumers to both indulge and take charge of their health, many brands are working to provide novel and healthier options.

The story goes that, after three failed attempts to get Hershey off the ground, the Hershey’s Kiss took off during the Great Depression. It was affordable and provided instant gratification. Today, after more than two years of enduring a pandemic, consumers are continuing to seek the sweetness of a confection to make them forget about their daily woes.

Confectionery sales totaled $36.9 billion in 2021, according to the 2022 State of Treating Report by the National Confectioners Association, or NCA. The year marked another strong period, setting new sales records and growing at a faster clip than most other categories. 

[Read more: Get them to crave candy: With curbside pickup growing, retailers are looking at ways to ignite sales of impulse-driven merchandise]

Americans surely sought confections as they cocooned in their homes, seeking fun treats and being less conscientious of the long-term outcomes. The NCA report found that 72% of consumers believe that physical health and emotional well-being are interconnected, and 78% of adults believe it’s perfectly fine to indulge with chocolate or candy occasionally. 

The question remains if 2022 will shape up to be another banner year for confections. As American consumers emerge from their cocoons, many are returning to a healthier lifestyle. Lou DiMarco, executive vice president of novelty candy maker Hilco, expects an evening out in the category, with a baseline higher than it was before the pandemic. “There’s such a loyalty to the fun value of candy that we’re still seeing growth,” he said.

“The non-chocolate category is definitely on fire.” — Lou DiMarco, executive vice president, Hilco

Another factor contributing to the category’s impressive growth is a re-engagement with the confectionary seasons — the periods around various holidays when people are consuming candy. “Families celebrated seasons in different ways in the past two years, so offering them different varieties and new ways to celebrate seasons together as a family has been really fun for Frankford,” said Molly Jacobson, director of business development at Frankford Candy. The company recently worked on two collaborations for Easter: lemonade mixes in conjunction with Peeps and coffee-flavored jelly beans with Dunkin’.

Flavor adventuring

The non-chocolate category is dominating right now, up 14.5% in dollar sales growth in 2021, compared to 9.2% for chocolate, according to the NCA report. DiMarco said consumers have been responding to non-chocolate during the pandemic because it’s a great, affordable treat. “The non-chocolate category is definitely on fire.” 

In both segments, consumers are seeking new experiences when they indulge in a sweet treat. Surprise candy varieties and new flavor combinations are driving innovation within the novelty candy category as well as the mainstream brands. “They’re adding all these different items that are already strong flavor profiles, but they’re creating them and putting those into different candy items,” said Clark Taylor, senior vice president of sales and marketing at CandyRific, which sells candy and novelty product combinations using popular licensed brands. 

[Read more: C4 Energy, Skittles drop energy drink mash-up]

Flavors such as mango, chili lime and strawberry are being combined to create something unique. “That seems to be the surprise and delight that you would probably look at as driving additional volume in candy today,” he said.

As people stop spending quite so much time at home, Jacobson said she expects consumers to seek new experiences with candy. “The pandemic was all about stocking up on what you love, and now people are looking for new experiences outside of the home,” she said. 

New takes on old favorites

In addition to trying exotic flavors, consumers are looking for new and exciting ways to enjoy their favorite brands. “I think that’s one of the hottest trends right now,” Jacobson said. “How do you take brands from across the store and bring them into new aisles?” 

One way Frankford Candy is introducing consumers to new products is by combining nostalgic brands with new formats. The company’s Oscar Meyer gummy hot dogs, brought in under the Kraft Heinz brand, is an example of reaching brand-loyal consumers in a playful way. Each fruit-flavored gummy is shaped like a little hot dog.

This innovation builds off another trend: food as an icon, which Jacobson said is having a moment right now, meaning food objects are finding their way into play patterns in categories such as plush toys and clothing.

Better-for-you bets

The NCA report found that 47% of consumers occasionally purchase confectionery items they personally deem to have a “better-for-you” profile.

With the pandemic driving consumers to both indulge and take charge of their health, many brands are working to provide healthier options, by either including nutrients, such as fiber or vitamins, or using ingredients such as tapioca syrup or sugar alcohols as sweeteners. 

[Read more: BeHonest debuts low sugar confectionary line]

“More than ever, consumers are looking for healthier, lower sugar and cleaner label alternatives to the ‘old school’ treats they love, but they don’t want to sacrifice flavor or enjoyment,” said Breezy Griffith, CEO of SkinnyDipped, which competes with legacy brands by making lower sugar alternatives to favorites such as peanut butter cups.

As pharmacies continue on the path of becoming healthcare destinations, offering an assortment of options for those optimizing their health while still indulging in treats — either for themselves or their children — is sure to be a good bet. 

Product picks


Mars Wrigley Starburst Airs, SRP: Varies, 4.3-oz. peg bag
Different from a typical gummy candy, Starburst Airs feature an inflated texture, resulting in a fluffy aerated experience. The pillow-like gummies are available in original and sour tropical packs featuring beloved Starburst flavors.

Skinny Dipped Strawberry Lemonade Almonds, SRP: $4.99
In time to kick off summer, these whole roasted almonds are sourced from certified bee-friendly farms, dipped in a lightly sweetened yogurt coating and kissed with real lemon and berry. 

Hilco Warheads 3-Pack Popping Candy, SRP: $1.99 
The Warheads Everyday Popping Candy peg bags come with three pouches of candy in Sour Blue Raspberry, Watermelon and Green Apple flavors. For Halloween, the peg bags have Halloween graphics and are available in Wicked Watermelon, R.I.P. Raspberry and Cackle Apple flavors.

Frankford Candy Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Gummies, SRP: $4 for 5.6-oz. box
Packaged in a box that mimics the iconic Kraft Mac and Cheese, each of these gummies is shaped like a macaroni noodle. The licensed partnership brings a recognizable fruit flavor served up as a playful take on a comfort brand that delights children and brings a nostalgic feeling to adults.

CandyRific Grogu-inspired Character Fan, SRP: $5.99
CandyRific’s expansion on Star Wars-themed items features characters from the live action Star Wars series “The Mandalorian.” The new design of the Grogu-inspired Character Fan features the show’s character and a button that produces a burst of cool air. Each fan comes with .53 oz. of assorted fruit-flavored dextrose candies.

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