Candy land comes to Chicago

Sales opportunities lay ahead for retailers following the Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Chicagoland’s McCormick Place convention center was transformed into a life- sized candy land during the annual Sweets & Snacks Expo.Juicy-Fruit-Fruity-Chews_Strawberry

The National Confectioners Association (NCA) played host to 16,000 attendees and 650 exhibitors across the confectionary and snack food industries. From traditional confections to popcorn and potato chips, the expo was a sweet—as well as salty and savory—place to be.

“This year we saw an interesting mix of new products that push flavor boundaries and introduce innovative ingredients, alongside new products that have returned to classic taste profiles and comforting ingredients,” said Alison Bodor, executive vice president for the Washington, D.C.-based NCA. “It’s an interesting balance—on the one hand you have Sriracha and on the other, peanut butter. There are products with kale and chia seeds, ingredients many Americans are just getting to know, and products with coconut or marshmallows, classic ingredients being taken to a whole new level.”

An annual highlight of the show was the Most Innovative New Product Awards. Products were judged on taste, packaging, innovation, value, appearance and go-to-market viability. The Most Innovative New Product Award is presented to one item from nine separate categories including chocolate, non-chocolate, sweet snacks, salty snacks, savory, novelty/licensed, seasonal, gourmet/premium and gum and mints. This year was also the first time a Best-in-Show was awarded, won by The Hershey Co.’s York Minis.

“Our tasting panel, which chooses the award winners, saw a resurgence of nuts in premium formats providing a deeper flavor profile,” said Jenn Ellek, NCA director of trade and marketing communications. More often than not, these new formats included chocolate, she added.

DeMet’s Candy Co.’s new Dark Chocolate Almond Turtles was one of the products to fit the bill. Hitting shelves this fall, the Stamford, Conn.-based company paired a 60% cacao dark chocolate with premium almonds for a new spin on its Turtle. Both ingredients are a first for DeMet’s Turtles but Tara Kirch, marketing manager, said they are confident its loyal customers will embrace the on-trend innovation.

The awards’ savory category saw a 100% increase in entries for the 2014 show, many of which featured an array of herbs and spices across sweets and snacks. “Consumers are definitely embracing popcorn as a great delivery vehicle for flavor,” Ellek said.

G.H. Cretors got in on the action with the introduction of its Organic Simply Salted and Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil popcorns. The brand’s Waukegan, Ill.-based parent company, Cornfields, also produces Hi I’m Skinny Sticks, a grain-based snack available in veggie-inspired flavors.

“We set out to design a new snack packed full of extreme flavor and crunch without piling on the calories and preservative-filled ingredients,” said Claire Cretors, Cornfields’ president. “Our new Hi I’m Skinny Sticks are made with non-GMO grains that offer a great source of whole grains and contain significantly less fat than regular potato chips.”

Better-for-you sweets made a splash with added benefits like organic, vegan and allergy friendly claims. Lovely Candy Co. introduced its gluten-free licorice, available in Black, Cherry and Strawberry flavors. Officials for the Woodstock, Ill.-based company say it is the first extruded licorice product in North America that is gluten-free.

For the first time this year, the NCA included mints and gums as a product category in its Most Innovative New Product Awards. While gum sales saw overall declines, 83 of the top 200 gum SKUs increased sales; 57 of them experienced double-digit growth in 2013, according to IRI. In an effort to battle the category’s decline, Wrigley is determined to bring the fun back to gum. At the show the Chicago-based subsidiary of Mars unveiled two new formats for its Juicy Fruit brand.

Juicy Fruit Fruity Chews deliver a vibrant burst of flavor in a sugar-free soft chew gum format and is packaged in a bottle to make sharing easy and fun, said officials. The brand has also embraced the number one fun gum format with new Juicy Fruit Bubble Gum. Both products will be available in Original and Strawberry flavors.

While most gums are known for losing its flavor over time, Wrigley’s new 5 Ascent Wintermint flavor intensifies as it is chewed, said officials. As the newest core mint flavor to join the 5 gum family, 5 Ascent complements popular mint flavors 5 Cobalt and Rain.

Some manufacturers are attempting to head off the decline of gum by linking it with the growing mints category. The Hershey Co. created Ice Breakers Cool Blasts Chew, “a product that chews like a gum but dissolves like a mint,” said Anna Ligeris, senior manager, brand public relations and consumer engagement for the Hershey, Pa.-based company. Available in a 0.8-ounce slide pack, Ice Breakers Cool Blast Chews come in Spearmint and Peppermint flavors.

Shifts in seasonal
Often the Sweets & Snacks Expo is a showcase for seasonal items, particularly for the autumn and winter holidays. As these seasonal items become popular many manufacturers attempt to convert them to be a part of the everyday assortment. Several utilized the resurging popularity of sour confections to aid their transition.

Once only available during the Easter season, Impact Confection’s Warhead Sour Jelly Beans are now on shelves year-round with an expanded offering of packaging formats and six fruity flavors.

“The everyday jelly bean category has seen great growth, currently growing at two times the non-chocolate category,” said Andy Telatnik, director of marketing for the Littleton, Colo.-based company. “The sour jelly bean market is even stronger, growing at eight times the industry. However, there does not exist a sour, branded, value-priced offering in the everyday market. We saw the opportunity to fill this gap with our highly successful Warheads Sour Jelly Beans.”

Just Born’s Quality Confections’ Peeps brand introduced its first everyday product at the show, Peeps Minis. The iconic marshmallow chicks are now available year-round in a snackable mini size in three flavors: Strawberry Crème, Chocolate Crème and Sour Watermelon.

“We didn’t want to hurt our success at Easter so we did our best to tap into some of today’s top consumer trends like individual bites in traditional, everyday flavors,” said Matt Pye, vice president, trade relations and corporate affairs for the Bethlehem, Pa.-based company. “We adopted the fastest growing package type, the stand-up resealable pouch format and launched with three flavors to ensure a strong shelf presence.”

Sweets and snacks manufacturers generally have a great understanding and appreciation for the high-value placed on grocery real estate. In a category where secondary placement is crucial to sales, manufacturers are constantly improving their display vehicles to better accommodate the retailer and interrupt and attract the shopper.

On the show floor Jelly Belly Candy Co. showcased its customizable display unit for grocery. With space for both bulk and packaged confections, it was designed to provide retailers with endless options for creating displays that suit their store and customer base perfectly. “Through the use of displays or peg racks, grocery manufacturers can create a candy store destination within the store in a very small footprint,” said Tomi Holt, director of communications for the Fairfield, Calif.-based company. “They can fill it with chocolates, gummies, jelly beans or seasonal candy. We’ve even seen retailers do a beautiful job by incorporating this unit into the endcap.”

Carl Budding Co., based in Homewood, Ill., maker of Old Wisconsin brand snack meats, displayed a variety of merchandising solutions including clip strips and register trays to satisfy each retailer’s unique needs. The brand’s Old Wisconsin Power Wing Display can hold 30 packages of 4-ounce Snack Bites. With three flexible footprint options, “it is the perfect tool for secondary and end-cap display placements,” said Tom Buddig, executive vice president.

Shining a light on the front end
Candy is crucial to any retailer’s front end, a matter only complicated by the fact that “the front end is very specific and unique to each retailer,” says Jenn Ellek, director of trade and marketing communications for the National Confectioners Association (NCA). “And by the time shoppers make it to the front end, they are ready for a reward.”

However, according to the grocery front end study conducted by Envirosell, 59% of shoppers said they did not consider purchasing items at checkout because they either did not notice anything or did not think about it. “The front end racks have become like wallpaper to consumers,” says Susan Gwinnett-Smith, vice president of grocery sales for Mars Chocolate N.A., based in Hackettstown, N.J.

At the NCA’s Sweets & Snacks Expo, officials for Wrigley, a Chicago-based subsidiary of Mars and Mars Chocolate introduced LED displays that they say have been shown to increase sales of the grocery front end confectionary space by 10-12%.

“The lighting is only one aspect of the increase we saw. It’s also about making sure you have the right assortment and the right balance between the singles and what we call the sharing size,” says Gwinnett-Smith.

In 2013 alone, new candy and snack items were the leading source of growth in both categories, which together delivered more than 20% center store growth. Industry observers recommend retailers keep assortments current and fresh while striking the right balance between new innovations and core product.

Before the Chicago debut, the LED display systems were tested in two separate retailers for 12 months. Participating retailer Winn Dixie received very positive consumer response, says Gwinnett-Smith. “Since the front end is the last thing a consumer sees before leaving the store, we are told that it enhanced their overall shopping experience,” she adds.

Mars and Wrigley also used the show floor to share their self-checkout solution. “As consumers have continued to accept the self-scan units, we needed to figure out how to incorporate our products into this format,” says Gwinnett-Smith. “We’ve come up with a recommendation that takes the three most expandable, impulse product categories, which are beverage, confections and magazines, and found a way to give it a very streamlined look.”

Since there is less time for the consumer to browse when utilizing the self-checkout compared to cashiered lanes, retailers must engage them quickly by stocking impulse categories with low product involvement. “With this solution, we feel that retailers will be able to capture five to 10% of lost sales,” says Gwinnett-Smith.

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