Attendees of the National Confectioners Association’s (NCA) 2015 State of the Industry Conference included numerous companies that compete for market share and consumer dollars, but according to new NCA President and CEO John Downs, that’s just fine because competitors are also partners when it comes to overcoming industry challenges.
“This industry has an abundance of riches,” Downs said during his opening remarks on day one of the conference, which took place Feb. 16–19 at the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach, Fla. Downs touched upon the art and science of candy making, and the varying techniques and expertise that suppliers have.
Other speakers included Retail Insights Thought Leader Todd Hale and NCA Vice President of Industry Affairs Larry Wilson, who delved deeper into the state of the candy industry.
“For many industries, flat is the new up,” Hale said. The candy industry can aspire to more than just flatness, however. Confection growth is improving ahead of the industry sector as a whole, and while shoppers buy candy across many outlets, convenience stores stand out as a big driver of category growth.
Wilson noted that a recent trend to be aware of is the 30 percent of people who now report buying candy online, up from 24 percent in 2014 and 21 percent in 2013. The primary reason for online purchases is simple: Consumers are going after what they want that they don’t find on local store shelves. “They’re looking for specialty items,” he explained.
Regarding ways in which suppliers and retailers can reach more consumers, Wilson said that while market penetration is generally equal in all demographic groups, there is less demand for candy in non-white households, leaving room for improvement there. Additionally, today’s focus on health and better-for-you products “is not a passing fad” and while shoppers do feel responsibility for their own eating habits, they appreciate a helping hand, he remarked.
THE WAR ON SUGAR
Conference sessions spent time examining the future of the industry, as well as its past and present. While the last 12 months were a busy time for the NCA, the organization isn’t slowing down. The next year promises to be just as busy and even more important for an industry that is fighting for its place in Americans’ balanced, moderated diet.
“There’s a war on sugar and the battle line is drawing close to us,” said Peter Blommer, NCA vice chairman and president and chief operating officer of The Blommer Chocolate Co.
As certain parties have blamed confectionery products for the nation’s obesity crisis, the NCA has spent the last year acting as an advocate for the category by holding more than 300 meetings with members of Congress, highlighting the economic impact of candy and exploring the health benefits of products such as dark chocolate. At the same time, the NCA worked to answer all of its members’ questions about product labeling and the Food Safety and Modernization Act.
Blommer and Bob Simpson, NCA chairman and president and chief operating officer of Jelly Belly Candy Co., outlined what NCA members can expect during the next 12 months. Along with continued legislative and regulatory advocacy, the NCA will release a comprehensive research plan, a responsibility report on the confectionery industry’s sustainability efforts, a daylong media event and more.
NCA members are urged to support CandyPAC, the NCA’s political action committee, through which it will continue this year to advocate for the industry at the legislative level.
Along with all the business and political discussions at the conference, the NCA took the time to remind people what candy is truly about. “Candy is fun. It’s a treat,” Blommer said. “It’s simple and easy. It’s a moment of joy. It’s part of life’s celebrations. … It’s absolutely embedded in our childhood memories.”