Sweet Talk

New flavors, old standbys and aggressive merchandising move the candy category.

Sweet Talk

May 2019   minute read

By: Pat Pape

Lauren Bruington of Lubbock, Texas, is the mother of five active girls ages 14 years to 6 months, so she knows a lot about candy. “They’ll have candy if we’re going on a trip and stop at a convenience store, and if they go to a birthday party, they can have it there,” she said. “Holidays are big candy times. They get candy in their stockings, at Halloween and even at Easter.

“Their dad likes candy, and sometimes when he goes to the store, he’ll get each of them something,” Bruington added. “But we try to limit candy to special occasions. It’s a treat as long as it’s in moderation.”

Despite the nation’s focus on consuming better-for-you foods, most Americans still love candy. The love is so strong that the chocolate and non-chocolate candy industries are expected to grow 2.8% and 3.7%, respectively, through 2022, according to Packaged Facts, the consumer research organization.

“Most Americans enjoy chocolate and candy two to three times per week,” said Carly Schildhaus, public affairs manager, National Confectioners Association. “That averages to about 40 calories and one teaspoon of added sugar per day.”

Monthly sales of candy in convenience stores increased by 0.5% from 2017 to 2018, according to recently presented data at this year's NACS SOI Summit, with monthly gross profit dollars inching up 0.2%. Peg candy, the largest subcategory, contributed 33.5% of sales to the candy category according to the latest Nielsen data, while chocolate bars, the second most popular subcategory brought in 28% of the category's sales in 2018.

Industry Sales

Source: NACS State of the Industry Report of 2017 Data

C-store candy has enjoyed sales and unit increases in the novelties/seasonal subcategory, increasing 10.9% in year-over-year sales and 4.4% in year-over-year unit change, but other subcategories have experienced little growth. “Consumers are choosing to swap out what they may have snacked on previously—candy or chocolate—with what they consider a healthier option,” said Jayme Gough, analyst at NACS. “The increase of high-protein diets, such as paleo or keto, has some consumers opting for a meat or cheese snack, which has impaced the category some."

Most Americans enjoy chocolate and candy two to three times per week.

The Candy Aisle

Lisa Dell’Alba regularly works out, diets and practices karate, but like most consumers, she still enjoys a tasty piece of candy. “I budget for it,” she said. “If I’m going to eat candy, it’s got to be something really good.”

As president and CEO of Square One Markets, the 11-store chain based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Dell’Alba also wants to keep desirable candies in front of her customers. Recently, she offered shoppers the three newest Snickers bars featuring creamy interiors of almond butter, peanut butter and maple almond butter. “They flew off the shelves,” she said.

She anticipates similar success with Reese’s new LTO Lovers Cups, which rolled out in April. The two versions are the Chocolate Lovers, with a thicker milk chocolate shell around peanut butter, and the Peanut Butter Lovers, with a thinner chocolate shell, extra peanut butter and a peanut buttery coating. “People are looking for more variety,” said Dell’Alba, who is a member of the NACS Board of Directors.

“Innovation is an important part of the candy category,” said Alan Tobin, director, category management–c-store, The Hershey Company. “But core items that have been around for years play an important role, because they account for 94% of annual candy sales in the c-store channel. Hershey is activating new advertising on these brands in 2019—brands like Hershey’s Heath, York and Almond Joy.”

Category Definition


+ Bagged, Repacked Peg Candy
+ Candy Rolls, Mints, Drops
+ Chocolate Bars/Packs

+ Gum
+ Non-chocolate Bars/Packs
+ Novelties, Seasonal

NACS category definitions can be used to establish performance benchmarks and a framework for retailers and suppliers to discuss market performance comparisons. Download the NACS Category Definitions and Numbering Guide-Version 7.2.

Premium chocolate continues to be an affordable indulgence that most consumers relish, according to Schildhaus. “In fact, growth in this segment has been an influential driver of overall chocolate category growth,” she said. “While the overall chocolate category has grown in the convenience channel by around 1% year over year, 59% of that growth comes from premium chocolate.”

The Color of Chocolate

Almost everyone has noshed on milk, dark and white chocolate at some point, but these days, be on the lookout for the new ruby chocolate, which is a dusty pink color and made from ruby cocoa beans harvested in Ecuador, Brazil and the Ivory Coast. It has a smooth texture and slight berry flavor.

Although Nestlé has introduced a ruby chocolate Kit Kat bar to consumers in Asia and the U.K., a Chicago ice cream company, Vosges Haut-Chocolat, is expected to launch the new flavor in the U.S. sometime this year.

Watch for new chocolate and candy products with violet, maqui berry or saffron flavors, according to the experts at FONA International, a U.S. flavor manufacturer. Other unique tastes will be exotic citrus, pink peppercorn, Tahitian vanilla, white cranberry and jackfruit. Seeds and nuts, including macadamia, pecans and Brazil nuts, will be a healthy addition to chocolate products. “This is largely driven by millennials, who are looking for these unique experiences in their treats,” said Schildhaus.

With an eye toward more natural food products, the FDA recently banned six artificial flavors that were commonly used in ice cream and candy. (Those additives include synthetically derived benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, eugenyl methyl ether [methyl eugenol], myrcene, pulegone and pyridine, which were found to have carcinogenic effects on lab animals. The FDA reported that they don’t pose a risk to public health under the conditions of their intended use.) The agency suggested that manufacturers replace them with natural flavoring.

Clean labels, transparency and ethical sourcing in all foods are important to most consumers today. “Younger consumers are often more likely to purchase something when they know where it’s from or if the proceeds benefit a good cause,” Gough said.

Source: CSX; csxllc.com
Subcategory Performance

Source: NACS State of the Industry Report of 2017 Data

On the Shelves

Tart and sour candies are still trendy among kids and young adults—so much so that some c-stores have created private-label offerings of those proven treats.

This year, Circle K introduced its private-label candies, including colorful Sour Neon Worms and a soft, chewy cousin of the gummi, Peach Rings. In late 2018, Yesway stores, the Des Moines, Iowa-based convenience chain with 80 stores, rolled out its proprietary brand of loose-bag candies, available as sour gummi worms and bears. Customers have responded positively.

As with any product, proper merchandising helps move more SKUs, and candy is highly expandable, making it ideal for merchandising. “Confection generates the highest lift on display compared to other top categories at 119%,” said Tobin. “Confection promotions that tie in with trip-driving categories maximize cross purchase and basket size, and promotions that pair with soft drinks and other snacking categories appeal to consumers. Confection baskets are 100% larger, and tying in items with other high-margin categories can drive profitability. Everyday multiples and performance-based pricing like buy-two-get-one-free also has been successful in increasing basket size.”

Be on the lookout for the new ruby chocolate, which is a dusty pink color and made from ruby cocoa beans.

Hershey’s carefully crafted Strike Zone Optimization strategy aims to improve visibility of standard (regular-size) bars, the second largest size in the category after king. Standard bars make up 2% of dollar sales and 35% of unit sales in the candy category.

“The most important detail of Hershey’s suggested planogram involves positioning a retailer’s top 20 most popular confectionery items in both king and standard sizes in the ‘strike zone’—the area of the aisle right below eye level and just below mints and refreshment,” said Tobin. “That makes the important core items discoverable in the best location of the store.”

Hershey’s strike-zone planogram has consistently generated a lift in both standard- and king-size candy bar sales when it is executed as recommended. Stores typically see a 4% to 6% sales increase, he said.

Checkout queue fixtures significantly increase interest in front-end merchandise. “The number of shoppers engaging with products [at checkout] more than tripled, jumping from 2.5 per 100 front-end visitors to 7.8,” Tobin said. “The checkout queue system is effective at driving unplanned purchases. [Engaged] shoppers were more likely to buy, leading to a 240% increase in overall buyers.”

Hershey also provides merchandising information to c-store operators and supplies signage to help shoppers locate products. “We’ve received positive feedback and seen strong results from retailers who have added this signage into the strike zone,” Tobin said.

When considering ways to promote the candy category, don’t forget store associates. Dell’Alba distributes candy samples to her employees. “I encourage our team members to try everything,” she said. “They’re the best sales people.”

Chew on This

Gum and mints are important items in the candy aisle. Chewing gum sales make up 11% of the total U.S. retail candy market, and last year, U.S. gum sales hit approximately $4.1 billion, according to a recent report from Packaged Facts.

Sugar-free gum accounts for 85% of dollar sales, compared with 15% for traditional gum sweetened with sugar. More than half (54%) of U.S. adults chew gum, the report noted.

Meanwhile, the global mint market has seen double-digit growth over the past five years, reported Mordor Intelligence. Intense breath-freshening mints, such as Altoids, Ice Breakers and Mentos saw a stronger growth rate than standard mints.

Pat Pape

Pat Pape

Pat Pape worked in the convenience store industry for more than 20 years before becoming a full-time writer. See more of her articles at patpape.wordpress.com.