On a Sugar High

The candy category continues to generate customer excitement and experimentation with new and unique products.

On a Sugar High

June 2024   minute read

By: Sarah Hamaker

Since candy first appeared on c-store shelves, consumers have turned to convenience stores as the place to get trendy sweets as well as the tried-and-true staples.

“Candy is one of those quintessential c-store categories that is perfect for experimentation in flavors and trends, like premiumization of chocolate, gummy candy, retro candies, plant-based options and the popularity of candy-cutting ASMR on TikTok,” said Emma Tainter, NACS research analyst/writer.

This innovation is what’s been driving category sales at convenience stores, according to retailers like Richard Cashion, COO of Curby’s Express Market in Lubbock, Texas. “While traditional CPG candies are down some, candy sales in nontraditional, novelty products are really up at our store,” he said.

At EddieWorld in Yermo, California, candy sales have been consistent inside the convenience store. “We’re unique in that we bag our own candy in one-pound bags,” said owner Alex Ringle. “We sell a ton of candy, which makes up about 40% of our sales.”

At the two Wally’s locations in Fenton, Missouri, and Pontiac, Illinois, regular candy sales are up almost 12%, but novelties have jumped 144% from a year earlier. “Kids especially are excited about our novelty candy, like five-foot long gummy snakes and toy cars full of candy,” said Lute Cain, executive chef and store operations manager.

Overall, in 2023, candy sales grew 8.2% year over year, according to CSX data presented at the NACS 2024 State of the Industry Summit. In order of contribution, candy was number six in inside sales and the number five contributor to inside margin. Nearly every convenience store (99.9%) reporting to the NACS State of the Industry survey carried candy in 2022.

Something New

To satisfy their sweet cravings, consumers, particularly millennials and Gen Z, are turning to candy with more complex textures and flavors. “We’ve also seen Gen Z consumers gravitate to unique fruity flavors,” said Yvette Fossum, vice president of sales, convenience stores at Ferrero.

Novelties often have the flavors and textures consumers crave. “We like to constantly innovate in our candy, and that includes bringing in the new novelties as quickly as possible,” said Cashion.

To meet this increased demand, Curby’s expanded its entire candy section in January 2024, dedicating more space to novelties. “As a result, we’ve turned the entire novelty section over nine times between January and late March,” Cashion said.

Ringle has also experienced a rise in popularity for unusual and new candy at EddieWorld. “We’re seeing a huge trend in freeze-dried candy, such as Skittles, Jolly Ranchers, taffy, Fruit Roll-Ups and peach rings with freeze-dried options,” he said.

Freeze-dried candy has been popular at Wally’s as well. “It’s starting to really blow up, with flavors such as lemon, peach and taffy,” Cain said. “We also stock a lot of retro candy—like candy cigarettes and clove gum—that has done extremely well for us.”

Like EddieWorld, Wally’s has its own private-label line of bagged candy, including cotton candy and gummies. “We’re continuing to expand our own bagged candy as we see this as an area of real growth for us,” said Andy Strom, chief experience officer for Wally’s.

Candy sales in nontraditional, novelty products are really up at our store.”

Sweet Growth

Retailers must keep a close eye on candy inventory to keep consumer interest high. “One challenge with this category is finding enough of the novelty candy to keep our shelves stocked,” said Cain. “Some of the novelty candy companies weren’t prepared for their products to take off, so we’ve had some supply issues lately.”

Also, retailers who consider how they merchandise candy can boost sales even more. “We had candy in nontraditional, four-way merchandisers but that was hindering our sales, so we changed to straight gondolas and saw a lift in candy sales,” Cashion said. “That showed us we must pay attention to the merchandising to keep sales up.”

We’re seeing a huge trend in freeze-dried candy.”

Seasonal Sweets

These retailers haven’t seen value in bringing in seasonal candy, such as products with Halloween- or Easter-themed packaging. “We’d rather put our attention on developing a candy shop feel to our candy section and experiment within the section than have holiday-themed candy,” Cashion said.

Ringle also eschewed seasonal candies. “I don’t want to get stuck with leftover holiday candy I then have to discount,” he said. “Instead, we sell some of the more popular seasonal candies, like candy corn, year-round.”

Wally’s doesn’t do seasonal candy either. “We do so many other seasonal items in our stores that we would rather continue to focus on building the general candy section than bother with holiday-specific candy,” Cain said.

Sweet Without Sugar

It might seem counterintuitive to offer sugar-free candy, but more consumers are searching for less sugary options, boosted by the overall trend toward a greater focus on health. “People are recognizing the benefits of controlling sugar intake for both mind and body,” said Joe Foguth, sales operations analyst for Gerrit J. Verburg Company, which recently released sugar-free options to its vintage gum. “We came out with these sugar-free alternatives because we wanted customers to have a product that aligns with their desire for healthier options.”

At EddieWorld, Ringle has devoted an entire section to sugar-free candies. “While the prices for sugar-free candies are noticeably higher than regular candy, there is still a demand,” he said.

Ferrero’s Fossum pointed out that consumers also desire vegan and other dietary products in candy. “More and more people expect different dietary options in candy wherever they shop, including convenience stores,” she said.

Americans will always look for treats as an affordable, accessible break, reward or indulgence.”

The Future Looks Sweet

Candy and convenience stores will continue to have a tight relationship as retailers bring customers the innovations and sweets they crave. “The smart players in this space will continue to innovate,” Curby’s Cashion said. “Those who don’t will see stagnant sales because consumers want to see the next-best thing in candy on the shelves.”

Having a well-stocked candy section also provides opportunities for impulse purchases. “We believe that candy products will continue to have a strong presence in the convenience channel primarily due to their impulse-driven nature,” said Foguth with Gerrit J. Verburg Company. “Candy can brighten someone’s day.”

As Fossum pointed out, “Americans will always look for treats as an affordable, accessible break, reward or indulgence.”

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer, NACS Magazine contributor, and romantic suspense author based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.

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