What the confectioners are often seeking now are pumps that can work within a system to offer more control.
"Going back a few years everyone wanted to know 'How much can I pump?' Now we are seeing a lot of folks who ask 'How little can I pump?' " Kirk says. "We can go down to the very low levels and be very accurate. We can go anywhere from fractions of a gallon per minute to up to 30 gallons per minute."
Pumps that operate without mechanical seals, with so-called knife-edge seals, operate with lower loss of product, Kirk says. Reducing shear on product is important because shear degrades the product, and manufacturers ultimately settle for a lower quality threshold.
One square inch of shelf space
Candy is a treat, and often sold as an impulse item. That's why much of it is sold close to the checkout in nearly every retail channel.
A new product from Hershey takes that kind of positioning to the next level. The Pennsylvania-based giant describes its Hershey's Bliss line as "one square inch of specially crafted milk chocolate." The bite-sized indulgent products in the Bliss line sell for less than 70 cents and are merchandized on the check-out counter in drug store sand convenience stores.
Hershey's rival Mars Inc. recently introduced a coconut-flavored Three Musketeers bar, and according to a review on a consumer website, that rollout was part of a trend in which Mars has added a coconut version to a number of its top selling brands, including Twix and M&Ms.
Both of the leading confectioners use spin-off line additions with iconic brands to keep consumers interested. Throw in seasonal flavors, colors and shapes, and the number of different product SKUs produced is baffling.
For the most part, it works. A recent Mintel Group report indicates that the U.S. chocolate confectionery category enjoyed "modest year-over-year sales growth through the recession to reach $18.6 billion in 2011." Overall, there was a 16 percent increase in dollar sales, thanks to "a combination of innovation and price increases," the research firm noted.
Growth slowed in 2011, however, and Mintel says this "opens the market to private label manufacturers that can benefit from consumer interest in saving money."
As for the future, the market will need more SKU proliferation and more merchandizing in order to grow, that Mintel report says.
"Leading companies expanded their mainstay product lines by way of new formats and flavors in order to sway loyalists to try new things. Such tactics are key, given the saturation point of the market. With 92 percent of respondents to Mintel's custom consumer survey consuming chocolate themselves, growth in the category will require boosting purchase occasions, rather than growing a greater consumer base."
Bringing continued variety to the category will mean that food processors will have to continue to bring more technology and more efficiencies into those confectionery plants, whether they make a mile-long candy bar or a variety of SKUs that rivals the stars on a summer night.