Snacking is everywhere and all the time, spanning demographics, dayparts, channels, and ingredients. The ubiquitous nature of snacking was on full display May 23-May 26 during National Confectioners Association's (NCA) Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, a microcosm for trends and market realities.
First, a big-picture look: In an opening-day session, Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics, projected that confectionery sales will reach $45 billion and snacks will hit $93 billion by 2026. In another presentation, Sally Lyons Wyatt of IRI cited data showing that the core snack category in the omnichannel has grown almost 6% in a compound basis, with a 4% lift in brick and mortar stores and a 46% surge in e-commerce sales. The top 12 sweet and savory snack categories are seeing continued dollar growth as people continue to snack three or more times a day, except for ice cream and snack nuts, which are on a bit of a decline due to shifting eating habits, Lyons Wyatt noted.
Back on the show floor, hundreds of companies and brands shared products, solutions and ideas reflecting the state of the industry and the resulting impact on retailers. To be sure, there was a lot to see (and taste!) inside the sprawling McCormick Place convention center, but some trends stood out.
Combos and mix-ins aren’t anything new in sweets and snacks, but exhibitors at this year’s expo showcased a number of inventive fusions in ingredients and formats. The Hershey Co.’s Reese’s Snack Bar, which combines chocolate, peanut butter crème, whole grain brown rice and peanuts, was named one of the most innovative new products by the National Confectioners Association; Reese’s also came out with a Big Cup made with crushed potato chips. Many co-branded products leveraged familiarity, such as Jell-O Candy Squares, Bigs sunflower seeds made with seasonings from Takis and Taco Bell, respectively, and Cookie and Candy Pop popcorn with flavors from brand partners including Sour Patch, Oreo and Twix, among many other examples.
Palate Meets Palette
Continuing a trend that started in foodservice and beverages, plenty of brightly hued sweets and snacks popped up at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo. Although candies have always been vibrant (think bubblegum and red licorice sticks) there is a new crop of colorful goodies. The Hi-Chew brand, for example, shared its Infusions and Fantasy varieties, with brightly colored packages that matched the vibrant flavors.
“It’s the first Hi-Chew that has non-traditional flavors, like blue raspberry, blue Hawaiian and rainbow sherbet. It’s a really fun mix,” said Marketing Assistant Sara Golla.
Better Is Good
Not surprisingly during/after a pandemic – and in motion well before it – several better-for-you sweets and snacks garnered attention. One of NCA best new products was a carrot bacon from Carolina Smoke. The NCA recognized other health and wellness-oriented products, including Pecan Nation Cinnamon Healthy Snacking Pecans and Best in Show winner Trü Frü Natures Strawberries Hyper-Chilled Fresh in Ruby Cacao. Plenty of low/no sugar items were spotlighted, as were items lower in sodium and high in protein.
Likewise, several better-for-the-planet products came to the fore: The Yowie brand of chocolate, for instance, includes items made with ingredients that are sustainably sourced, non-GMO and gluten free and sold with animal figurines that underscore the importance of protecting species and conserving habitats.
Even during inflationary times, consumers are craving premium flavors, whether as part of a permissible indulgence mindset or for a taste of comfort food. The venerable Godiva brand, long associated with upscale chocolate eating experiences, showed off its Classic Gold Collection variety box for retailers including Target Corp. and large grocery retailers like Publix Super Market. The Dove brand from Mars Wrigley sampled new offerings including caramel and peanut butter-filled chocolate candies.
Elevating Buying Experiences
Of course, Hershey highlighted several products and solutions, but the company also used its display to show retailers how to create satisfying store experiences that generate sales. Hershey is increasingly focusing on strategic approaches to optimize space in physical stores and in the e-commerce space, according to Communications Manager Todd Scott. “It’s about the whole store and thinking about the entire consumer journey throughout the shopping experience,” he explained, citing insights from a recent industry survey the company conducted. “More than 60% came back and said ‘We need to make changes in the physical footprint.’” Those changes go beyond in-store checkout and queuing, he notes, and extend to things like merchandising at curbside pickup areas and greater continuity on the digital shelf.
Enhancing and updating the store experience was the subject of other areas at the Sweets & Snacks Expo. A section on front-end experiences was a draw among attendees, featuring small format checkout systems from Mashgin and display-mounted video screens by Grocery TV.
Seize the Day
While there was a focus on traditional candy-centric holidays, including Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Easter, industry experts pointed out that retailers and CPGs can get a lift from promoting their products at many points throughout the year.
“We talk about the ‘big four’ but we have other big opportunities for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, summer holidays, and also have candy occasions, like road trips, a beach day or a hike. We also see a lot of retailers 'inventing' their own holiday,” said Roerink during a session on the State of Treating. Candy and snack brands are moving into that space with items like champagne-flavored New Year’s gummy bears from the Clever Candy brand distributed by Nassau Candy and Day of the Dead hot chocolate from McSteven’s. At Hershey’s, Scott shared another opportunity: “More than 35% of consumers are still engaging in stock-up behavior and out of that behavior, we see a lot of new snacking occasions. One of them is movie night – 43% are streaming weekly.” Even in a robust market, it seems, there’s room for more candy and snack consumption.