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The Sweet Life


Nobody’s going to mistake candy for health food any time soon, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed by those concerned about improving their nutritional intake. That idea is gaining ever more traction among retailers, manufacturers and consumers, who all agree that you don’t have to sacrifice your sweet tooth to lead a healthier lifestyle.

When it comes to customers’ candy consumption, “we believe in all things in moderation, [and] that same holds true where sweets are concerned,” asserts Lauren G.R. Johnson, “leader of the pack” and COO at Newport Avenue Market, a Bend, Ore.-based single-store operator, which relies on bulk/repack placement in a variety of locations, including the corner of the cheese counter, an end cap display, the candy aisle and a checkstand rack. As Johnson sagely advises, “If you can get it in their mouth, they are far more likely to purchase.”

Kenneth Hausmann, category merchandiser, warehouse, beverage, PB/spreads, candy and bulk at Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Markets LLC, has seen “extensive growth” in portion-control solutions like stand-up, resealable pouches offering “little bites of shoppers’ favorite treats” — the format enables them to take a small amount and then close up the bag for later consumption without worrying that the product inside will grow stale — along with the rise in popularity of dark chocolate and such functional upscale treats as infused truffles with flaxseed and quinoa, all driven by customers’ health-and-wellness concerns.

In common with Newport Avenue Market, Tops has experienced strong category sales by merchandising candy throughout the store; the latter grocer has additionally seen success with candy destinations providing a store-within-a-store feel; creative, high-profile seasonal programs; and partnerships with local candy companies to leverage nearby residents’ feelings of pride and nostalgia in relation to such products.

Just the Facts

Both retailers’ observations on current shopper attitudes to sweets are supported by the facts. Candy consumption and better health are “completely compatible,” affirms Jenn Ellek, director of trade communications and marketing at the Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association, whose annual Sweets & Snacks Expo takes place this month. “First, it’s important to note that shopper research conducted in February 2014 shows that most consumers see confections as a treat that should be enjoyed in moderation, with 92 percent voicing that their health is their personal responsibility. Candy is often mentioned in conversations about how to reduce obesity in the United States; however, recent research suggests candy comprises only 2 percent to 3 percent of the average adult American’s diet.”

For her part, Leslie Sabino, category leader, candy at Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon Worldwide, which specializes in the sales and marketing of private label consumer products, points to the Bogalusa, La.-based longitudinal study of children’s candy consumption and adult weight/heart issues, which found that moderate candy consumption doesn’t dictate weight gain or other risk factors related to heart disease, as well as other research reaching similar conclusions.

Among the candy items deemed better for you, “chocolate especially has been positioned well, leveraging its health benefits” — particularly in the case of dark varieties — “and playing on its ability to [create an] overall sense of well-being,” Sabino notes, adding that the confection’s popularity has helped strengthen category sales.

Also contributing to this growth is the current “snacking culture,” says Sabino, adding that “about 50 percent of all eating occasions for both Baby Boomers and Millennials involve snacking, with confections a rising percentage of that.” This state of affairs “has evolved quickly into super-snacking, as Millennials in particular demand more from their fast-moving consumer goods,” she explains. “What once was all about better-for-you is now good-for-you. Consumer shopping behaviors, primarily driven by Millennials, but also Baby Boomers, along with the definition of value, have also evolved, changing more rapidly with each generation.”

The move toward healthier products “is evident with reduced/low/no and alternative sweeteners; the insurgence of non-GMO and ‘free-from’ ingredient players; the introduction of more naturally functional ingredients with functional health benefits such as energy from superfruits and grains; and herbal inclusions known for healing properties, or naturally occurring energy from coconut and other flavorful fruits and grains,” she observes.

Thrilled to Bits

One trend related to health — not to mention convenience — that mainstream candy makers have adopted in a big way is that of miniature products, which can, as noted earlier, aid in portion control. Stamford-based DeMet’s Candy Co., for example, has come out with Turtles Minis, as well as, in recognition of another health-oriented trend, Dark Almond Turtles, both in stand-up packaging, among other formats, according to Jim Gerbo, EVP of marketing.

“We continue to invest in hand-to-mouth [usage occasions] with our biggest brands while maintaining their brand equity and the taste consumers demand,” says Brian Kavanagh, senior director, category strategy and insights, food channel at The Hershey Co., in Hershey, Pa. “We very successfully launched Kit Kat Minis last year, and later this year we will be launching York Minis. We are also continuing to work with retailers on developing ideal planograms that showcase new hand-to-mouth innovation by building prominent sections at eye level.”

Noting that each of its new Peeps Minis contains just 14 calories, “so they represent little indulgences,” Matthew Pye, VP of trade relations and corporate affairs at Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born, observes that the company “has always been ahead of the curve with bite-size, hand-to-mouth offerings. … Peeps Minis address the bite-size trend, and all of our brands are now available in recloseable stand-up bags. We are seeing tremendous growth in the category and with our own bags.”

“Over the last couple years, we have expanded our candy line to include new formats of our popular candy flavors,” says Jen Redmond, associate brand manager of Airheads Candy, a brand of Erlanger, Ky.-based Perfette Van Melle USA. “In April 2013, we launched both Airheads Bites and Airhead Xtremes Bites — bite-size pieces that have the same great flavor as the original but are now easier to eat and poppable. … One of our overall goals for the brand is to ‘up-age’ our customer and promote Airheads to a Millennial target audience who loved Airheads as kids, but are not considering them currently.”

Enhancing the Experience

Healthier candies, along with a healthier attitude toward the occasional sweet indulgence as a psychological pick-me-up, seem set to remain for the long haul. This concern with the nutritional quality of items is leading in turn to interest in their origins and ingredients, and even their effect on the planet.

“Products that are perceived better-for-you will continue to grow,” predicts DeMet’s Gerbo. “There is a growing interest from consumers to learn about the foods they eat — where they come from, the ingredient list, whether preservatives are used,” and the like.

“Functional candy will take on more segmentation within the candy category,” forecasts Daymon’s Sabino. “It plays well for the ‘snackification’ and health-and-wellness trends that are making a cultural shift in consumer shopping and eating behavior. Functional will take on the role of convenience, healthy, beneficial and multitasking for individuals [who] want to self-moderate their consumption, take control of their well-being and increase their overall quality of life without sacrificing. This will become increasingly clear as the aging of consumers takes on even greater magnitude, and health risks and ailments require attention and lifestyle changes.”

Sabino agrees with Gerbo that “transparency/source of origin will also take on a stronger presence” for such key ingredients as sugar and cocoa. Given this emerging trend, she believes that “the sustainability efforts being pursued by 2020 will also carry transparency and source of origin into the future, and those that participate and gain a stronghold will have the competitive advantage, both domestically and internationally.”

Finally, Sabino asserts that “natural and organic, which is already mainstreaming in many categories, will continue into the future. It offers a balance many consumers are looking for, which is why so many retailers are seeking sources of supply to expand permanently into this space, including creating their own line of private brands.”

Tops’ Hausmann concurs with Sabino and Gerbo on the growing consumer interest in “cleaner, simpler ingredients” and sources of candy ingredients such as cocoa, noting that retailers will increasingly rely on strategies like clear package labeling and more consumer education as part of “capitalizing on the experience to enhance the emotional attachment created by candy.”

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