Snacking chocolate, clean label confectionery
Bite-size snacking chocolate in thins and barks, fruit and chocolate snacks and high cacao dark chocolate are growing segments in the confectionery industry.

ROCKVILLE, MD. — Consumers are becoming more health-conscious and knowledgeable about product ingredients, but they aren’t shunning confectionery in the process. In fact, the opposite may be true, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. By 2020, Packaged Facts said it expects sales of confectionery products in the United States to exceed $41 billion for the first time, and chocolate candy is forecast to account for 60% of the confectionery market’s sales in 2020.

The projected boost is tied to an evolving approach to snacking, Packaged Facts said. Instead of completely cutting out candy and snacks in their quest for nutrition, consumers are adopting a clean snacking mindset.

“Clean snacking is a balanced approach to nutrition that explores realistic options rather than a more dogmatic philosophy that forbids snacks or sweets altogether,” Packaged Facts said in its report, Chocolate Candy in the U.S., 11th Edition.

Chocolate bark, clean label confectionery
Snacking chocolate continues to gain traction.

The effects of the clean snacking philosophy have emerged in a variety of growing segments in the confectionery industry, particularly those related to chocolate, Packaged Facts said. These include bite-size snacking chocolate in thins and barks, fruit and chocolate snacks, high cacao dark chocolate and other new clean label products.

David Sprinkle, Packaged Facts
David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts

“The clean snacking consumer will eat sweet snacks but looks carefully at the type of sweetener, origin of ingredients, and presence of additives, and then optimizes among the available choices,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. “Ongoing research on the many health benefits of dark chocolate opened the floodgates of clean snackers who can enjoy dark chocolate as a health food.”

Several confectionery manufacturers have acknowledged this shift in consumer attitudes about production processes and ingredients and have evolved to ensure their products are in tune with consumer preferences.

In February 2015, Nestle USA committed to removing all flavors perceived as artificial and Food and Drug Administration-certified colors from all of its chocolate candy products. The Hershey Co. also announced in February 2015 its plan to transition to simple and easy-to-understand ingredients in such products as Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars and Hershey’s Kisses. Additionally, the company committed to transparency and responsible ingredient sourcing. Mars, Inc. followed suit in February 2016, committing to remove all artificial colors from its chocolate, gum, confection, food and drink products.

Chocolate bars, clean label confectionery
Within the past two years, Nestle, Hershey and Mars have committed to cleaner ingredients in their chocolate products.

These efforts to satisfy consumer demands by the confectionery giants may help the U.S. confectionery market rebound after sluggish sales in 2016, Packaged Facts said.

“The U.S. confectionery market is quite dynamic with a strong pace of innovation, an influx of creative new players and a steady flow of new products that engage consumers,” Packaged Facts said. “In addition, there remains consumer devotion to confectionery products and the growing perception of the product as an accessible luxury creates many opportunities to trade the consumer up to premium products.  These factors are positives to future sales growth.”

Despite the projected sales growth, however, the confectionery industry may still face challenges. Hurdles to overcome may include public concern about the cocoa farming process; the supply of cocoa and other ingredients, which affects prices; changes in consumer demands for indulgent snacks; and shift in shopping behavior such as self-checkout and on-line purchasing, which may decrease impulse purchases, Mr. Sprinkle said.

“Overall, however, the industry is posed for continued growth based on the ingrained desire for accessible indulgences that confectionery produces provide,” Mr. Sprinkle said.