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Upside of Sweet Trends


Supermarkets remain a sweet spot for confectionery, posting 1.8 percent sales growth during 2014, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association (NCA).

But with consumers shopping so many channels, it’s vital that grocery retailers not only retain, but also grow, their confectionery share, notes Jenn Ellek, NCA’s senior director of trade marketing and communications.

In advance of the 2015 Sweets & Snacks Expo, slated for May 19–21 in Chicago, Progressive Grocer asked NCA and several confectionery players about key market trends and new products that expo attendees can expect to see and sample.

What’s driving category growth? Frequent new product introductions, premium offerings, shareables with recloseable pouches, line extensions and cross-branding, seasonal execution, and “experience,” specifically in the realms of product texture and flavor.

Premium + Wholesome

“Fruit is the fastest-growing snack category, and consumers are enjoying snack options that include both fruit and chocolate,” says Larry Lupo, VP of sales for grocery, convenience and drug at Mars Chocolate North America, in Mount Olive, N.J. Last fall, the company launched Real Fruit Dipped in Dove Dark Chocolate, in cranberry, cherry and blueberry varieties. In October 2015, the line will expand to include cranberry and cherry varieties in 17-ounce standup pouches.

“Millennials are more conscious of food and are trying to eat healthier … but people still want to indulge and have a treat,” acknowledges Bob Goodpaster, VP and chief global knowledge officer at The Hershey Co., in Hershey, Pa. He cites recent launches that are well positioned for success in the category, including Hershey Caramels, gourmet chocolate-covered caramels in dark and milk chocolate; and Brookside Fruit & Nut bars made with real fruit, whole roasted almonds and dark chocolate. Varieties of the latter include Cranberry with Blackberry, Cherry with Pomegranate, and Blueberry with Açaí.

Brookside products also illustrate Hershey’s “simple ingredient” pledge made earlier this year: “We are committed to making our products using ingredients that are simple and easy to understand,” the company’s website notes. Brookside Fruit & Nut Bars, for example, contain no high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and no artificial flavors or colors, as well as being gluten-free, while Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars and Milk Chocolate Kisses now contain no lactose, vanillin or artificial flavors.

Chad Hartman, director of marketing at Charlotte, N.C.-based Truly Good Foods, believes this is a path all companies will take. “Nostalgic flavors, simplified ingredients, transparent sourcing and sustainability practices are all things consumers are requesting,” he says. “We expect all confectionery companies to consider these moving forward.”

Some companies are based on just this proposition. Boulder, Colo.-based Justin’s, for example, is going “unwrapped” with Organic Mini Peanut Butter Cups in shareable, resealable 4.7-ounce standup bags. Available in dark and milk chocolate, Minis are gluten-free and made from Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa.

Lovely Candy Co., based in Woodstock, Ill., which makes gluten-, HFCS-, soy and wheat-free candy, will debut the first U.S.-made gluten-free licorice, in original, cherry and strawberry varieties, at the Sweets & Snacks Expo.

New Sensations: Flavor and Texture

“We are seeing … growth among intense flavors such as sour/spicy, as well as unique flavor combinations and internationally/ethnically inspired flavors,” says Matt Pye, VP of corporate affairs and trade relations at Just Born Quality Confections, in Bethlehem, Pa. New products from the company that reflect these trends include Hot Tamales Tropical Heat, and Mike and Ike Zours, the last of which feature a sweet/sour combo.

Littleton, Colo.-based Impact Confections, meanwhile, is expanding its popular Warheads sour candy brand with Warheads Worms. “The chewy category has consistently grown three to four times of the nonchocolate category as a whole, so we were looking at opportunities to expand our portfolio in that space,” says Andy Telatnik, Impact’s marketing director.

Hartman says Truly Good is also acting on the bold flavor trend, along with grab-and-go packaging. Its Grabeez cup line includes Gummy Bears and Sour Neon Worms. Truly Good also has created mixes of sweet and savory snacks. Its Banana Split is made with banana chips, peanuts, dried marshmallows, chocolate, pineapple, caramel bits and cranberries. The company additionally makes a line of Yogurt Pretzels in a variety of flavors.

According to Mars Chocolate’s Lupo, it was “consumers’ desire for new textures” that led the company bring back M&M’s Crispy Candies.

For its part, Hershey has introduced Ice Breakers Cool Blast Chews, “a first-of-its-kind product [that] provides an icy-cool blast of freshness in a quick-dissolving chew.”

“Nostalgic flavors, simplified ingredients, transparent sourcing and sustainability practices are all things consumers are requesting.”
—Chard Hartman, Truly Good Foods

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