This year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo may have been canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that insights on the ever-important category aren’t available.
For instance, Americans enjoy chocolate and candy two to three times per week on average, and research from the Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association (NCA) shows that they give themselves a pass on eating chocolate and candy to help them maintain their emotional well-being: 86% of consumers agree that it’s completely fine to occasionally treat yourself with some chocolate or candy.
- Although COVID-19 has had a somewhat negative effect on the candy category, retailers that adjust their merchandising strategies to the new normal should see an uptick in sales.
- While seasonal sales are a category highlight, limited-edition versions of classic confectionery brands drive sales all year long in both the chocolate and nonchocolate segments.
- Retailers can still find opportunities in the candy aisle to engage with shoppers in fun and experiential ways, both online and in the store.
During these anxious times especially, consumers are more likely than ever to indulge in a candy break. According to Erica Norton, director of global consumer insights, innovation at The Hershey Co., in Hershey, Pa., demand has been high for both mainstream and premium chocolate in recent weeks as consumers look to the category to serve a variety of needs.
“Candy is a go-to for comfort and ‘me time’ moments, when people want to escape from the madness of their current situation,” affirms Norton. “Consumers are also reaching for candy to enhance their favorite stay-at-home activities like streaming movies.”
She adds that although mainstream take-home chocolate is the fastest-growing individual segment, Hershey has seen extremely high growth in multipacks as consumers leverage these products for fun at-home experiences like s’mores. “Other large ‘sharing’ bags and bars are also selling very well, due to the combination of comfort, portion-control snacking and excitement that they can provide,” notes Norton.
Navigating the New Normal
While COVID-19 has had something of a negative effect on the category, retailers that adjust their merchandising strategies to the new normal should see an uptick in sales.
Jim Klein, chief customer officer at Ferrero USA, acknowledges that the Parsippany, N.J.-based company has seen a dip in front-of-store sales because of shoppers’ shift to self-checkouts, and an increase in curbside pickup.
Sally Lyons Wyatt, EVP and practice leader at Chicago-based data analytics and market research company Information Resources Inc. (IRI), believes that social and digital media should be a key ingredient for success in 2020, especially if consumers continue to stay home and/or limit their in-store shopping.
“Retailers need to deepen their connections with their consumers to entice them into the store to shop, but also to offer a different engagement online,” advises Wyatt. “This multiprong approach should ensure retailers capture the attention of shoppers wherever they may be, before, during and after their trip.”
Celebrating the Seasons
He adds that strong growth in the chocolate category has come from extensions of evergreen brands such as M&M’s, which recently added Hazelnut Spread and Fudge Brownie versions.
Ferrero’s Klein agrees that creating in-store theater is a winning strategy. “When retailers create big events that generate excitement for consumers in-store, they can stimulate significant category growth,” he says. Ferrero is working with its retailer partners to focus on expanding opportunities in key holiday selling seasons to deliver incremental sales and profitability.
To combat the surge in e-commerce and the migration of shoppers to online outlets, Gilroy suggests that retailers tap into their digital sites to encourage seasonal sales during key holiday selling seasons by placing confectionery in the digital transaction zone and promoting seasonal products earlier than they would in stores.
“Retailers can also drive confectionery purchases outside of the core four holidays by leaning into ‘mini moments,’” he adds. “Mars Wrigley knows that summer is a mini moment where consumers look for confectionery to treat themselves and gift others, so we introduced red, white and blue packaging for summer celebrations.”