Sweet dreams

Candy offers consumers an affordable—yet profitable—treat.

By Richard Turcsik

Retailers’ sweet dreams are made of this: high-margin, quick-turning impulse items that require little shelf space or merchandising effort. And they can snuggle up to the fact that candy, whether sold in a designated aisle, seasonal set, end cap, front-end display or even the wine department is the answer to their nightly prayers.

Manufacturers from household names to mom-and-pop start-ups and niche players continue to roll out new products and support iconic mainstays, ensuring candy’s success.

“New items are critical as consumers are always looking to try something new and this brings excitement to the category,” says Tim Lebel, vice president of sales, Mars Chocolate North America, based in Hackettstown, N.J. “New items also continue to bring category growth as they can attract consumers who may not normally shop candy on a regular basis. But it’s critical that they bring something new to the category and not be just ‘me too’ imitations.”

Innovations from Mars debuting this year include M&M’S Pretzel Chocolate Candies, 3 Musketeers Truffle Crisp Bars, Milky Way Simply Caramel, Twix Java and Dove Sugar Free Milk Chocolate with Peanut Butter Crème. Hershey also has items debuting throughout 2010, including Kit Kat Dark, dime-sized Reese’s Minis peanut butter cups, Jolly Rancher Tropical Fruit Chews, Jolly Rancher Awesome Toothsome Chews, Ice Breaker Frost Mints in Wintercool and Peppermint flavors, and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Drops and Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Crème Drops.

“In January we expanded our Reese’s Pieces line to include York Pieces, Almond Joy Pieces and Hershey’s Special Dark Pieces,” says Anna Lingeris, public relations manager for The Hershey Co., based in Hershey, Pa.

Going upscale

Once the realm of candy shops and department stores, upscale chocolates are in­creasingly finding themselves at home on supermarket shelves.

Glendale, Calif.-based Nestlé Confections and Snacks is expanding its Wonka brand into premium chocolate with three new chocolate bars: Wonka Waterfall Bar, Wonka Double Domed Dark Chocolate Bar and the Wonka Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar. “We’ve carved out a brand new area of premium by taking a very fun, lighthearted bent to what we’re offering to frankly what many see as a rather stale or too serious side of the premium chocolate business,” says Tricia Bowles, a Nestlé spokeswoman.

Best-known for its chocolate seashells, Guylian USA, an Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based manufacturer of premium imported Belgian chocolates, is expanding its product lineup with Extra Dark Guylian Seashells, featuring 74% cocoa and dark praline filling; Strawberry Seahorses, reminiscent of chocolate-covered strawberries; and Guylian Temptations, individually-wrapped, premium-sized chocolate seahorses.

“Today’s time-pressed supermarket shopper has come to expect value-added products and services, and upscale products like Guylian Chocolate fit right in,” says Michael Cobb, president Guylian USA.

According to Cobb, “Our chocolates are of higher quality than the typical supermarket candy—given the Belgian chocolate heritage, craftsmanship and expertise.” He suggests Guylian Chocolates be merchandised at eye level in the premium/upscale section of the store, along with secondary placement in the gift card aisle, floral and wine departments.

Wine and chocolate

Joshua Gentine, president of The Cholive Co., sees the supermarket wine department as an untapped opportunity to sell upscale chocolates. His Milwaukee-based company has created a line of bite-sized chocolate truffles designed to be paired with wines and beer, and “Cholives” for mixed cocktails.

“We looked at the mini dessert trend in restaurants and decided to bring this mini dessert concept to grocery and liquor stores and show people how to enjoy chocolate,” says Gentine. “We hear over and over that people want something just a little bit sweet to finish the meal,” he says.

Introduced last year, Cholives were initially sold in the alcoholic beverages department, but Gentine has since broadened his merchandising to include grocery end caps and even the meat department. “I want to bring people their mini dessert where they find that wine,” he says. “For instance, you are finding more and more of the white wines by the fish area, and red wines by the meat case. We created an in-store merchandiser modeled after a toilet étagère that fits above those cases of wine creating new real estate.”

York, Pa.-based Wolfgang Candy Co. Inc. makes a complete line of chocolates, including private label boxed lines for Giant Eagle, and chocolate-topped butter cookies sold as private label and nationally under the Eves brand.

“Some supermarkets sell Eves in the candy aisles and others sell it with the cookies. It depends on the retailer and how they classify it,” says Mike Schmid, managing partner and chief marketing officer.

For smaller players, like himself, Schmid says it’s important to find a niche. “I think there is plenty of room for the specialty candy item,” he says. “When you think of Mars and Hershey, basically what you are talking about is a candy bar. There are all kinds of specialty product out there that are not candy bars. Once you find that niche there’s plenty of room.”

Picking Irish potatoes

Take the field of Irish Potatoes, a quirky little candy indigenous to Philadelphia, but gaining popularity in other parts of the country. Actually a little ball of buttery coconut cream rolled in cinnamon and sold in boxes of 15, Irish Potatoes sprout up in supermarkets just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

“We don’t sell our chocolates to supermarkets because we can’t manufacture enough with our one enrobing line, but we do a heck of a job with Irish Potatoes,” says Dave Lamparelli, owner of Lin­wood, Pa.-based OH Ryan’s Irish Potatoes, one of the handful of companies making the sweet treat.

Production begins the first week of January. “Stores will bring them out either right before or after Valentine’s Day. They have a four to six week run and then they disappear,” Lamparelli says.

Irish Potatoes crop up in the candy, produce and bakery departments. “A lot of stores put them up front, right by the register, but bakery is where we’ve always done best,” Lamparelli says.

Recently, Jelly Belly gourmet jelly beans have also found a home in the bakery department. “We’ve got programs to increase bulk sales by giving people new usage ideas, like using Jelly Belly jelly beans to decorate cupcakes and other baked goods,” says Rob Swaigen, vice president of marketing for Fairfield, Calif.-based Jelly Belly Candy Co. Jelly Belly has placed tear pads in bakery featuring recipes from Hello Cupcake authors Karen Tack and Alan Richardson.

“While the jelly bean category is highly seasonal to Easter, we are much more of a year-round product because we are most upscale and relevant all year long,” Swaigen says.

Established in 1914, Bend, Ore.-based American Licorice Company is swinging from the natural products tree with its new Natural Vines licorice, available in traditional black and strawberry flavors, both made with real licorice extract. “We see getting into the natural marketplace as a great opportunity,” says Michael Kelly, community advocate and PR manager. “We think consumers are getting increasingly conscious of the ingredients that go into their candy.”

Sweet by nature

Innovative Candy Concepts, the Atlanta-based manufacturer of spray and liquid candy, touts its natural ingredients and American heritage. “We took the stand that we were going to make a product that is good for kids,” says Armand Hammer, president. “We do not use sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, but sweeten with fruit juice, so our products are basically sugar free and diabetic friendly. And unlike many candies, they are made right here in the U.S., so we are creating jobs for Americans throughout the supply chain.”

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