“Savoy Truffle,” an ode to candy written by George Harrison and performed by the Beatles on their White Album, was inspired by Eric Clapton’s notorious sweet tooth and his predilection for all things chocolate.
Apparently he’s not the only one who loves chocolate. In fact, in 2007, some 1,800 new confectionery products containing chocolate debuted, and the category is still going strong. Sales of premium chocolate grew more than 30 percent this year alone, and dark chocolate sales increased more than 50 percent, according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI).
All Candy Expo 2008, the largest candy and snack show in North America (and the most fun show I go to), unveiled more than 2,000 new confectionery creations and snack sensations May 20-22 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. Representing the $275 billion industry, the National Confectioners Assn. brought together industry experts and more than 450 manufacturers to preview new products and determine the hottest trends for the coming year for some 15,000 attendees from 69 countries.
Master Chocolatier Joseph Schmidt of San Francisco-based Artisan Confections delighted attendees with an awe-inspiring display of chocolate-art design. His extraordinary works of art included chocolate flowers, chocolate vases and paper-thin chocolate bowls, all decorated in breath-taking detail.
Nearly 30 percent of U.S. confectionery retail sales are generated by products less than two years old. So, in 2007, 3,261 new confectionery and 4,168 snack products debuted, according to Datamonitor’s Productscan database.
In the past 52 weeks, confectionery sales increased 3.4 percent in all trade channels reported (food, drug, convenience stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart), according to IRI. Sales were led by the gum category (up 11.8 percent). Sales also surged in the sugar-free category, which posted a 20 percent increase. Chocolate figures increased 2.6 percent, while non-chocolate candy sales declined by 0.2 percent. Licorice was up more than 10 percent, and the soft and chewy category rose 6 percent.
“Nearly all American households – 97 percent to be exact – purchase confections,” said Carolyn Hendriksma, Hershey Co.’s senior director of U.S. insights and advanced analytics. She shared the podium in a discussion of consumer trends with Jill Manchester, vice president of immediate consumption at Kraft Foods. “Consumers buy candy or chocolate every 18 days, and 60 percent of purchases are unplanned.”
“Confectionery products account for 34.4 percent of snacks purchased by consumers in the U.S. marketplace,” added Manchester. “Salty snacks constitute 22.8 percent of the snacking marketplace, and the $2.1 billion segment is growing at a rate of 3.6 percent led by Frito-Lay and private label brands.” And she added, “People are looking for more nutrition in their snacks.”
Exhibitors went ga-ga over gum with benefits. According to a study by Nielsen Co., functional products such as gum with whitening offer big growth potential. Innovation (healthier, longer-lasting and unique flavor pairings) is sticking, and it’s becoming more acceptable to chew gum in public.
Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. – which is being acquired by Mars Inc. -- rolled out Eclipse gum and mints, which include magnolia bark extract, a natural ingredient that helps kill the germs that cause bad breath. Cadbury Adams LLC rolled out Trident Xtra Care, formulated with Recaldent, to help replace lost minerals in teeth and protect them from decay and erosion.
Personalization was another hot trend. One of my favorite offerings is not a traditional retail product; you have to order it online. Mars Snackfood U.S. takes its already popular special-order M&Ms beyond messages or custom colors. Now you can have your own picture (or photo of your kids or pets) custom-printed on M&M's chocolate candies. And you can add a short message on the other side.
I took samples to a class of 450 seventh- and eight-graders and they literally fought over them. They say they will use them for their proms, weddings and other important occasions. Upload a photo at MyMms.com, create a message and choose from about 17 colors.
Customization was the message from The Hershey Co. as well. You can now create your own chocolate Kisses from a collection of messages, and soon you will be able create original messages.
Although healthy snacks -- such as granola bars, fruit snacks, baked snacks and 100-calorie packs -- is a much smaller category, it is growing faster than regular snacks. Sugar-free, all-natural and portion-control products are becoming more popular. The health benefits of dark chocolate, for instance, now are part of consumer consciousness. And responsible sourcing is more evident.
Energy-enhancing confections and snacks also were popping up at the show. So was flavor fusion -- savory and sweet combinations, sour and tropical fruit, chocolate and fruit. Overall flavors of the moment seemed to be blueberry, cranberry and banana and the healthy pomegranate (Chicago’s Tootsie Roll soon will be introducing pomegranate-flavored pops).
Younger consumers can look forward to more intensely sour powered treats to pucker their mouths. Nestle’s Wonka Tinglerz, a poppin’ tinglin’ popping candy, will debut this fall. And the boys who will be boys can bring to class lollypops filled with bugs from the Hotlix Co., Grover Beach, Calif. The candies are filled with edible mealworms, crickets, butterflies and, my favorite, scorpions.
Some of our favorite All Candy Expo 2008 offerings include:
Fun for the tongue
Delivering a juicy explosion in every bite, Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Snackfoods US’s Starburst GummiBursts let you enjoy the original fruity flavors of Starburst with a liquid filled twist. Four fruity flavors include: strawberry, cherry, orange and lemon.