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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Whether an economic recession or a rebound, consumers are still looking for even the smallest indulgence, boosting growth in the candy category.
According to the National Confectioners Association (NCA), among more than 300 product categories across the store, confectionery is growing faster than 184 other categories, with 92 of those actually showing declines.
Over the 52 weeks ended Nov. 1, confectionery kept in step with total store growth of 3.2 percent and dollar sales growth of 3 percent for chocolate and non-chocolate combined.
Looking over the past 12 months, NCA highlighted some key sales trends that have driven growth:
Chewy candy — For several years, chewy candy has led the growth in non-chocolate with high single-digit and even double-digit growth. These gains are driven by significant levels of product innovation in terms of new and bold flavors (particularly in sour), fun shapes and packaging. Chewy candy is not only a growth leader, but also the largest sub-segment within non-chocolate.
Mints — In the past year, mints have seen consistent dollar growth around 4-5 percent, perhaps directly tied to the nation's intrigue with spicy and flavorful foods.
Gourmet/premium chocolate — The premium segment has been on fire with double-digit growth for several years now, and 11 percent for the most recent 12 months. This includes higher-end chocolate with organic claims, chocolate with very high cocoa percentages, but also products from countries such as Germany or Belgium. NCA is also seeing a rise in the share of premium that focuses on GMO-free, fair trade, etc. — even though this very much remains a niche segment to date.
Fun and daring flavor combinations — Tied to the premium trend is a subtrend of creating and infusing fun and daring flavor combinations — particularly enjoyed by millennials. These are things like hot red peppers, bacon, lavender and ginger that give a new twist to an old favorite.
The infusion of nuts/dried fruits — According to the NCA survey among 1,400 shoppers, 41 percent purchase chocolate with fruits and nuts when looking for better-for-you alternatives. Actual dollar sales back up these claims with chocolate infused with hazelnuts up 9 percent, infused with almonds up 4 percent and dried fruits (a much smaller segment) up 56 percent.
Minis featured in resealable packaging — Resealable packages have been tremendously popular with a compound annual growth rate of more than 10 percent across the globe. They allow people to enjoy a little treat and easily share with others. They also address the on-the-go convenience that is a rising requirement among shoppers. The retail value sales of shareable bags/boxes grew by more than $1 billion from 2009-2014, and is expected to continue to grow at a similar rate from 2014-2019.
Dark chocolate — According to the NCA survey, 70 percent of shoppers will at least occasionally switch to dark chocolate as an alternative to milk chocolate. Actual sales figures saw dark chocolate sales grow by more than 9 percent. But even within dark chocolate, the market is slowly shifting from dark to darker: 57 percent of shoppers say they will shift up to a higher cocoa percentage when looking for healthier-for-you alternatives.
Washington, D.C.-based NCA is the trade organization representing the $35-billion U.S. confections industry.