CHICAGO – Although many Americans profess to want to adopt a healthier diet, the candy and snack industry has nothing to fear. The National Confectioners Association's (NCA) 2014 Sweets & Snacks Expo kicked off Tuesday with news that the industry is continuing its trend of annual growth, building on the 2.5-percent increase it posted in 2013.
Value, however, is playing a larger part in consumers' purchase decisions. "Consumers are searching for value, and value isn't about cheap. It's about making my life better," Larry Levin, executive vice president of industry insights for Information Resources Inc., said during his opening keynote speech.
More than 15,000 attendees and 620 companies are participating in this year's Sweets & Snacks Expo at Chicago's McCormick Place, making it the largest show in the event's history. The expo features more than 3 acres of exhibitors; a Shopper Solutions Theater where industry experts come to share insights and tips; and the Most Innovative New Product Awards as voted by attendees.
On the exhibit floor, top suppliers highlighted upcoming extensions of popular lines, along with creative variations on existing brands.
The Hershey Co. gave its Miniatures collection -– which includes Hershey's milk chocolate, Hershey's Special Dark, Mr. Goodbar and Krackel -- a new packaging look. The candy maker also announced the return of its full-size Krackel bar for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Additionally, the company showcased:
- Crunchy Clusters, a new Brookside variant that combines crispy multigrain, sweetened cranberry bits with dark chocolate;
- York Minis, an impending addition to its Minis line; and
- Hershey’s Spreads Snacksters Graham Dippers, an on-the-go pairing of its milk chocolate spread with graham sticks.
Hershey also previewed a unique product designed in response to the struggling gum market. Ice Breakers Cool Blasts Chews, a cross between gum and chewing mints, provides the minty freshness and sensation of chewing gum, but dissolves in the mouth.
Mars Chocolate North America, meanwhile, highlighted its continuing to focus on "key moments," as well as seasonal products. Starting in June, a Summer Movie Moment promotion will give away free home movies and showcase Mars products as tasty movie snacks. Then, when football season begins, Snickers and other Mars brands will get fans pumped through the 2014 Game Day Satisfaction campaign, which will include an instant-win sweepstakes.
The company's featured new products at the expo include three new additions to the Mars Bites line as it reaches its one-year anniversary: 3 Musketeers Bites, Milky Way Simply Caramel Bites and Twix Bites, which company officials expect to be the biggest launch.
Mars will offer consumers a new better-for-you option, too, in the form of Dove Whole Fruit Dipped in Dark Chocolate, which is made using real fruit. Cranberry and Blueberry varieties will arrive this fall, followed by Cherry in January 2015.
Mars also announced a major step forward in its sustainability initiatives: an agreement to open a wind farm near Lamesa, Texas, in partnership with Sumitomo Corp. of Americas. The 118-turbine wind farm will provide electricity for 100 percent of Mars' U.S. operations, which includes 70 locations and 37 factories.
At the Shopping Solutions Theater corner of the expo, Kit Dietz of Dietz Consulting presented research on maximizing candy sales, followed by a retailer panel discussion.
"We have a real opportunity to create interruptions and do a better job of capturing sales," said Dietz.
He urged convenience store retailers, in particular, to understand the extremely impulsive nature of candy sales, as 65.9 percent of candy purchase decisions are made within 10 to 20 seconds.
Dietz also noted that candy responds well to secondary merchandising, with chocolate generating the highest lift, and he said there's a big opportunity in finding ways to convert fuel customers who don't normally enter the store into candy and snack purchasers.
Retailers can take a big step toward increasing profitability for the category by optimizing their product assortment and the space it occupies, according to the consultant.
"Endcaps have an opportunity to play a bigger role than they do today," he said, adding that high-margin/high-impulse items such as candy should be oriented in the center store along the path to destination categories such as packaged beverages, which are typically found on the perimeter.