Category Report: Candy is unassailable

Americans cannot, and will not, live without their chocolates and chewies.

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By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

With focus on obesity and health issues such as diabetes from both media and the government, one would think the candy industry would be enrobed in gloom rather than chocolate. But Americans cannot, and will not, live without their candy.

"Confectionery is a $25 billion industry," according to Bill Kelley, chairman of the National Confectioners Assn., Vienna, Va., which is "aging well," despite celebrating its 120th anniversary, he kidded, at the recent All Candy Expo held in Chicago.

I won’t dwell on those of us who would rather give up water than our decadent 85 percent cocoa-content chocolate bars no matter what the consequences to our waistlines or pocketbooks. Our entire year is planned around All Candy Expo. We say, keep it swooping into our shopping carts, don’t muck with it. We’ll reward you by eating those M&M’s and Kisses.

On the other hand, those with a more moderate view are quite delighted with the options the candy industry has provided – particularly this past year. As the industry adapts itself to the needs of health-conscious consumers, sugar-free, low-sugar, low-carb, calcium- and vitamin-fortified candy has proliferated. Not coincidentally, as more aging Americans develop diabetes and go on diets to lose weight, sugar-free candy sales are on the rise, topping $100 million dollars in sales in 2003.

It's notable that in households segmented by health profiles, indulgent products and chocolate in particular are consumed equally in both "more health-conscious" and "less health-conscious" households, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI).

IRI identifies the hot trends in confectionery as sugar-free, reduced-calorie, reduced-carb, added vitamins and minerals, added fiber, nutrients for anti-aging and heart health, and energy and mood elevation products.

There’s no doubt candy continues to evolve, offering opportunities to manufacturers and suppliers. But there’s a paradox. Consumers don’t always buy what they say they want. Marketing guru John Stanton, our widely quoted Market View columnist, warns against jumping willy-nilly into the vat and committing all of your dollars to one strategy. "Put your money where people are eating, rather than on what they say they want," he explains. "You want to avoid what we call mass marketing -- put it on the shelf, go to church on Sunday, and say mass that it will succeed."

Now where did I hide that chocolate bar?

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