Confectionery trends — The year in review

by Monica Watrous
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New products showcased at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in May reflected trends in nostalgia, superfoods and flavor adventure.

KANSAS CITY — As product developers push boundaries with innovative flavors and ingredients perceived as healthy, the candy segment remains in good health, with total chocolate candy sales growing 3.5% and total non-chocolate candy up 1.5% in the year ended Aug. 10, according to Information Resources, Inc.

Savory flavors, nontraditional shapes and bite-size confections are redefining the global chocolate market, according to Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands. Social and health consciousness have become increasingly important to chocolate lovers, with ethical and sustainability-driven purchases on the rise, in addition to more no-added-sugar products and an emphasis on cocoa beans and country of origin.

Other product development trends in the confectionery market, according to Innova research with Cargill Chocolate & Cocoa, include more sensible packaging to eliminate waste, a growing interest in artisanal and homemade chocolates, protein inclusions and stealthy reductions in sodium, sugar and fat.

Confectionery companies are indulging demand for better-for-you, convenient options by formulating products with chia seeds, pomegranate and sea salt. But decadence and whimsy also are feeding innovation, lending to trends of dessert-inspired candy, with such flavors as red velvet and birthday cake, and unexpected combinations, including hot sauce chocolate bars and beer-flavored jelly beans.

New products showcased at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in May reflected trends in nostalgia, superfoods and flavor adventure.

Indulgent cake flavors have become a favorite among candy makers, with red velvet reigning in chocolate truffles and candy bars. Strawberry cheesecake, crème brulee, peanut butter and jelly, cake batter and cookie dough also are popular picks for new products with a classic twist.

Confections with ingredients perceived as healthy, such as quinoa and sea salt, are on gaining traction.

Indulgence with a side of health

A more subtle nod toward health and wellness has become evident from the largest companies in the industry, with innovation focused on approaches like portion control. For many smaller companies, though, esoteric ingredients have been fearlessly introduced.

Sea salt and super fruits show continued growth in the category, as candy makers deliver such on-trend ingredients as pomegranate, cranberry and acai in creative ways. Recent innovation also leverages the popularity and health halo of Greek yogurt with such products as coated bars and bites.

“One of the great things about candy and snacks generally is that they are great delivery vehicles for a lot of different things,” said Susan Whiteside, vice-president of communications for the National Confectioners Association, which hosts the Sweets & Snacks Expo. “It’s a very flexible category, so you are able to do that and make it a good-tasting and attractive and reasonably priced product, and that has given manufacturers a lot of freedom to look for those kind of innovations when they’re coming up with their next great idea.”

The clean label trend has hit the confectionery category in the form of a demand for naturally sourced colors. The Food and Drug Administration has amended color additive regulations to provide for the use of a specific spirulina extract as a color additive in candy and chewing gum. The action came in response to a petition filed by Mars, Inc.

But despite the demand for better-for-you confections, consumers still look to the category foremost for indulgence.

“When consumers think of the candy category in particular, they are thinking of a treat,” Ms. Whiteside said. “While they are unlikely to choose a product just because it has one of those interesting things going on, if that interesting thing appeals to them and it still tastes like that treat they’re expecting, they are very interested.”

Hershey, Mars and other dominant players are adding bite-size versions of popular products.

A bite-size trend

A bigger trend is scaled-down sweets, with the Hershey Co., Mars and other dominant players adding bite-size versions of popular products. Hershey expanded its hand-to-mouth platform with York Minis bite-size peppermint patties, and Mars has extended its Bites line with Twix, 3 Musketeers, and Milky Way Simply Caramel. Ghirardelli also has introduced a Minis line of smaller squares in milk chocolate caramel, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate sea salt and almond varieties. New this year from Just Born are Peeps Minis, a bite-size version of its chick-shaped marshmallow treat in several flavors. Unlike the franchise’s seasonal products, the miniature platform will be available year-round.

“We saw a huge push on that in last year’s show, but we certainly saw it continuing this year,” Ms. Whiteside said. “When people are asked about the kinds of decisions they are going to make to improve their health, they aren’t likely to say they are going to cut candy out completely. They are likely to say they are going to enjoy the things they like in smaller quantities, and these types of products can really help consumers do that.”

Gum makers are in a sticky situation, with segment sales down nearly 6% in the past year.

Gum sales stuck

Meanwhile, gum makers are in a sticky situation. Segment sales have slid nearly 6% in the past year, according to the National Confectioners Association, and a decline of 9% is projected between 2013 and 2018.

Conversely, the mints category is climbing, suggesting a shift in consumer behavior that may have chewed into gum sales.

Four factors may explain the deflation of the category, according to Rabobank, New York. First, a drop in popularity among young adults and teenagers, historically frequent chewers, has contributed to declining sales.

Second, growing consumer preferences for clean labels and ingredients perceived as natural have challenged brands that use particularly controversial artificial flavors and sweeteners. Sugar-free gum volumes turned negative in 2011 and have dropped faster than sugared gum sales since, suggesting a move away from aspartame and similar ingredients.

Third, too much innovation and too many launches may be overwhelming consumers. The fourth and final driver of lower gum sales may be rapid growth in mint consumption. The U.S. mints market has climbed by a 4% compound annual growth rate since 2008 to reach $1.2 billion in 2013, with standard mints up 15% and power mints, which are described as stronger-tasting breath fresheners, growing 27%. The latter grew 6.4% in 2013 alone.

Efforts to refresh the $3.58 billion U.S. gum market were represented in innovation on display at the Sweets & Snacks Expo. Product developers are aiming to appeal to consumer desires for unique flavors, natural ingredients, functional benefits and convenient packaging.

The cocoa market has returned to a more typical structure of tight butter supplies and ample powder supplies.

Commodity trends turn sour

The Hershey Co., Mondelez International Inc. and Mars North America announced increases on candy as the costs for cocoa butter continues to climb. Prices for cocoa butter, used mostly in chocolate, have been higher than year-ago levels.

The cocoa market has returned to a more typical structure of tight butter supplies and ample powder supplies. That structure was reversed (excess butter and tight powder supplies) when chocolate demand dived during the recession and users opted to use lower-priced powder in a broader range of applications.

Somewhat of a mitigating factor may be dairy product prices, which are nearly even to lower compared with a year ago. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast milk and dairy product prices will decline further in the coming year due to increased milk production.

Meanwhile, bulk refined sugar prices increased 50% between March and September, largely as a result of U.S. sugar producers’ countervailing and antidumping case against Mexico. The sharp increase may also contribute to higher confectionery prices.
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