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12/02/2012

Sweet Seasons

Winter and early-spring seasonal candy markets will include a spate of new products.

As sure as the seasons change, consumers have a taste for candy, to the tune of per capita consumption of nearly 25 pounds. Just as winter follows fall and spring follows winter, though, those tastes can be cyclical.

There's a reason, after all, why peppermint is synonymous with Christmas and why heart-shaped candies are forever linked to Feb. 14. Seasonal candies have long been popular in this country, and in keeping with both nostalgia and new product innovation, candy manufacturers continue to evolve with the seasons through new products and packaging.

Research underscores seasonal spikes in candy purchases. The National Confectioners Association (NCA) estimates a 2 percent to 3 percent increase in candy sales around the holidays. According to the Washington, D.C.-based NCA, after Halloween, the biggest candy holidays are, respectively, Easter, Christmas and Valentine's Day.

In its recent research on seasonal chocolates, Chicago-based Mintel pegged the market for seasonal chocolates at nearly $5 billion. In that same study, Mintel researchers attributed the growth of total seasonal chocolates to product innovations among both major confectionary companies as well as candymakers known for their seasonal products.

Visions of Sugar

Many new candy products for holiday 2012 (and those in the works for holiday 2013) reflect a combination of innovation and tradition. The Wrigley line from McLean, Va.-based Mars Inc., for example, complements its traditional portfolio with new items that are convenient and appealing to today's consumers.

"At Wrigley, we're nostalgic about our rich history of providing festive seasonal products, and we know our consumers are, too. At Christmas, items such as our Life Savers Hard Candy Sweet Storybook and Wrigley Heritage Tins celebrate the whimsy and tradition of the holiday," notes Jennifer Jackson-Luth, senior manager of corporate affairs at Chicago-based Wrigley, who cites new varieties that have been added to those venerable brands, including Life Savers Gummies Sweet Game Book, Skittles Original Sweet Game Book and Starburst Sweet Game Book.

Other new seasonal items released by the Wrigley brand for holiday 2012 also reflect a twist on tradition, such as a new LifeSavers Wint-O-Green Tub and Skittles and Starburst Tinsel Treats. Even the most traditional of Christmas candies — the candy cane — has been given a makeover, with a new LifeSavers Cane and Roll, a single cane in cherry or green apple sold with a Life Savers 5 Flavor roll.

Mars Chocolate North America is also fusing the classics with something new for the Christmas holiday, which remains a strong growth category for the Hackettstown, N.J.-based company, according to Timothy LeBel, VP of salesgrocery/value/military. On the classic side, he says, because mint and chocolate go hand in hand, the Dove brand has added new Peppermint Bark Singles.

The Pennsylvania-based Hershey Co., for its part, has complemented its existing holiday products with new items that exemplify shoppers' evolving tastes. As interest in dark chocolate grows, for example, Hershey's has added Dark Chocolate Hershey's Nuggets to this year's lineup.

"We've seen a huge increase in the sale of seasonal immediate-consumption items, so this year, Mars expanded its seasonal shapes offering," reports LeBel, noting that new impulse items include Snickers Peanut Butter Santas and Milky Way Simply Caramel Snowmen.

Confectioners are also cognizant of consumers' wallets. "We are offering gift sets that retail for less than $10. This is the second year, and sales were very good the first year," notes Rob Auerbach, president of Louisville, Ky.-based CandyRific, which offers a variety of both licensed and non-licensed candies.

Jackson-Luth of Wrigley agrees, saying that's one reason that smaller gift boxes are more in demand. "People are also looking for less-expensive gifts for teens, teachers and more," she observes.

According to Mintel, 86 percent of adults say they're buying candy during the holidays, and more adults buy chocolate candy in seasonal packaging compared with "regular" packaging.

Have a Heart

As any grocer knows, it's not long after Christmas that Valentine's Day candies go on display — in many cases, as soon as Dec. 26.

As with Christmas, consumers will find a variety of new candy products for the upcoming Valentine's Day holiday. Most of those products maintain tradition (red and pink packaging, heart shapes), while others extend a brand's line to take advantage of new market opportunities. Mars, for its part, is adding new flavors while keeping favorite elements.

"Red-fruit flavors are popular for Valentine's Day, because the red color signifies 'love' and because consumers enjoy rich flavors — such as chocolate mousse, caramel and dark chocolate — during the season," explains LeBel. New items for Valentine's Day 2013 include an M&Ms gift box, a Dove heart tin, an M&M'S Fun Size Milk Chocolate Candies Heart Gift Box, and a Minis Mix Heart Gift Box filled with Snickers, Twix and Milky Way bars.

Egging on the Competition

Easter, a holiday defined by baskets full of jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and eggs, has become an opportunity for manufacturers to add a variety of new confections merchandised next to the classics.

Several companies are taking advantage of the more recent diversification in Easter candy and in the general trend of more gift giving at Easter time. Wrigley, for example, has developed several new items for Easter, such as Orbit Eggsortment, Skittles/Starburst Stand Up Bag Variety Mix and Starburst Jelly Beans Bunny Boxes.

Other brands are maintaining traditional Easter shapes like eggs and bunnies while adding new flavors. Mars has taken that approach with new Dove White Chocolate Eggs, Twix Minis Filled Eggs, Snickers Peanut Butter Squared Minis and a new Dove White Chocolate Solid Bunny.

CandyRific, for its part, is moving beyond basic Easter shapes and themes, with licensed products that are suitable as gifts as well. This Easter, for instance, the company is debuting a Star Wars Real Sound Talker.

Crossover Candies

Some manufacturers are tapping into new potential by expanding into holidays where they haven't had as strong of a presence.

This candy crossover is evident in an ongoing line extension of the Peeps brand from Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born Candy. In recent years, Peeps marshmallow candies have been offered for several holidays, including Halloween and Christmas. Along with Peeps trees and snowmen, several new Peeps items hit the shelves this holiday season, including Chocolate Dipped Candy-Flavored Marshmallow Chicks, Rainbow Pops and Gingerbread-Flavored Gingerbread Men.

Likewise, the famous Easter product from the Cadbury brand (now owned by Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods), the Cadbury Creme Egg, got a bit of a Halloween makeover this year, with a Cadbury Screme Egg.

In addition, Wrigley has found that jelly beans aren't relegated just to Easter. "We know that consumers have an appetite for jelly beans outside of the Easter season," Jackson-Luth says. "As a result, Starburst Jelly Beans are now available year-round in select channels."

"We've seen a huge increase in the sale of seasonal immediate-consumption items."

—Timothy LeBel, Mars Chocolate North America