Whether they’re hitting a beach barbecue this summer or already planning their Halloween treat strategy for the fall, candy and snacks are still top of mind for American consumers.
“Confectionery has remained a resilient category, with chocolate and candy providing some much-needed normalcy and joy to many Americans throughout an unusual year,” said Carly Schildhaus, public affairs manager for the National Confectioners Association (NCA), in Washington, D.C. “As we get back to the things we love, Americans report that they’ll be bringing chocolate and candy along as they pursue their favorite activities, especially as most consumers agree that physical health and emotional well-being are connected.”
Nothing inspires joy, makes the store experience special or promotes unplanned purchases quite like the candy category. In 2020, as consumers looked to alleviate their pandemic stress with comfort foods, confectionery sales hit $36.7 billion, with chocolate sales at $21.9 billion and non-chocolate sales reaching $11.5 billion. Grocery in particular saw significant gains in chocolate (up 10.5%) and non-chocolate (up 9.9%) – with chocolate making up 65% of confectionery sales in the grocery channel. Total CMG was the ninth-largest center store category in 2020.
So far in 2021, the trajectory for confectionery looks sweet. According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), dollar sales of chocolate candy are up 6.2% for the 52 weeks ending May 16, while non-chocolate candy sales are up 5.3%.
According to new research from Rockland, Md,-based Packaged Facts, consumers are expected to plan extended seasonal and holiday celebrations to make up for “lost gathering time” during the pandemic — in other words, 2021 may see the biggest Halloween candy sales ever. In its “Chocolate Candy: U.S. Market Trends and Opportunities” report, consumers say that they have or will extend seasonal celebrations compared with before the pandemic. Some of these trends may even stick through 2022. Last year, seasonal treats were available at stores earlier, and the same is expected from many retailers this year as well. For example, Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco Wholesale put its Halloween candy out in May, and shoppers are already showing interest.
When NCA published its annual “State of Treating” report in March, it painted a bright picture of the strength of the confectionery category. According to the report, 61% of shoppers changed up their confectionery purchasing patterns during the pandemic, 41% bought more value packs with individually wrapped treats, households purchasing chocolate and candy online at least twice in 2020 increased by 76%, and the annual online dollars per buyer increased by 14.3%. NCA now projects that candy sales will total $39.5 billion by 2025.
“Amidst the uncertainty this year, the confectionery category has remained a true testament to how chocolate and candy are an important aspect of our collective emotional well-being,” says John Downs, president and CEO of NCA. “Whether it’s a quick escape for parents from the chaos of balancing work from home with virtual school, a celebration of a milestone moment or simply sending a treat to a friend from afar, chocolate and candy have helped Americans stay connected even when we couldn’t be together.”
June is National Candy Month, and Downs is getting ready to celebrate the event by hosting the grocery industry’s first big trade show since the pandemic hit. NCA’s 2021 Sweets & Snacks Expo will host more than 400 of the top candy and snack companies and more than 2,250 retailer attendees to celebrate not just one but two years of the industry’s most innovative products.
“This year, this event is even more important, as confectionery and snack products have helped consumers improve their emotional well-being during a challenging time,” Downs notes. “We know after a year of treating and snacking at home during the pandemic, they’re hungry for new product innovation from their favorite brands.”
Rice Cakes Are Back
Candy sales are certainly hot, but the post-pandemic consumer is looking for more than just sweets.
It seems as though everyone from Grandma to Generation Z is looking to dried meat snacks, rice cakes, dried fruit snacks and nuts to usher in the post-COVID summer and fall.
According to IRI, dollar sales of salty snacks are up 8.2% for the 52 weeks ending May 16. Popcorn/rice cake sales are up 20.2% during the same period, snack nuts are up 4.2%, dried meat snacks are up 20%, and dried fruit snacks are up 8.8%. Costco has expanded its dried meat aisle, right next to the nuts and trail mixes. To wit, nuts and trail mixes are seeing a jump in innovation — and sales — as health-conscious consumers increasingly seek a value-priced snack to contribute to their overall nutrition for the day. Nuts and trail mix, which tend to offer good sources of protein, supply nutrients that people often have trouble fitting into their diets, such as antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats. Food retailers such as Costco and Minneapolis-based Target are finding success in “snackable” dried fruits, nuts, seeds and mixes that are packaged into convenient individual portions; these snacks are being defined as premium and somewhere between healthy and indulgent.
Ninety-four percent of adults snack at least once daily, and 50% snack two to three times a day, according to Mintel. Various factors determine snacking habits, but typically snackers seek fuel or indulgence, or both – and they can find both in nuts and seeds, trail mix, and similar snacks.
Snacking went way up during the pandemic: Deerfield, Ill.-based Mondelez’s annual “State of Snacking” study reported that 52% of adults agreed that snacking has been a “lifeline” throughout the pandemic, and that 88% of adults are snacking more or the same during the pandemic as previously. The rise of snacking is creating ample opportunity for retailers and suppliers of salty snacks to leverage these behaviors into sales.
Chicago-based Mintel points to the need for more product innovation for nuts, seeds and trail mixes to be used at other times of the day, or in other meals (at breakfast, for example, or as a dessert or salad topping). In addition, pairing nuts and seeds with other protein-rich components (such as charcuterie meats or cheeses) for snacks or even entrées might offer a compelling value proposition for consumers.
Whether it’s Halloween chocolate or Thanksgiving turkey jerky, retailers looking to increase candy and snack sales in the back half of the year could benefit from offering premium products featuring natural, organic and eco-conscious labels that promise indulgence and festive fun. In addition, flavor innovations, particularly seasonal and holiday items that offer novelty, remain an important approach to standing out on shelves, even after the pandemic.