NATIONAL REPORT — The confectionery industry is facing a once-in-a-lifetime period of uncertainty, as it is not immune to the pressures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers' candy buying behavior is reflecting heightened price sensitivity on one hand and, on the other, desiring moments of comfort and escapism.
This is something convenience store retailers need to understand and respond to — be it by offering experimental flavors that encourage affordable moments of indulgence, or offering traditional flavors that remind people of simpler times.
A recent webinar entitled "Seasonal Candy in the Time of COVID-19," hosted by Candy Industry Magazine and sponsored by Cargill and Ferrera Candy Co., explored how the confectionery industry will likely be impacted by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, and what effect it will have on consumers' attitudes, behaviors and shopping habits.
"I think it's fair to say that events of the last couple of months have hit the industry hard and forced a lot of companies to reevaluate their strategies," said presenter Mike Hughes, director of insights for FMCG Gurus, a global market intelligence agency that specializes in consumer, category, packaging and product insight analyses.
Customarily, consumers' confectionery consumption habits change on a seasonal basis. According to a recent FMCG Gurus survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers, 94 percent of respondents said they purchase confectionery products, with 58 percent expressing that their buying habits change throughout the different seasons of the year. Sixty-four percent said, though, that these habits will change now as a result of COVID-19.
"What this means is that consumers will be driven by risk of items; they will be less willing to purchase items they don’t know about; and they may be less willing to try experimental flavors and turn to tried-and-true flavors for comfort," said Hughes. "FMCG Gurus predicts this will drive sales of traditional flavors, so how these products are marketed will be crucial."
According to additional findings from the survey, consumers say they are most likely to:
Seek out experiential flavors when buying confectionery in the spring;
Seek out traditional flavors when buying confectionery in the winter; and
Be most willing to trade up to premium products when buying confectionery in the fall.
adapting to A NEW NORMAL
Now more than ever, consumers are facing uncertainty about everyday life, such as the state of the economy and long-term job security; food safety and the origin of products; the adverse effects of restrictions on physical and mental health; and concerns about contracting the virus, as well as the safety of their loved ones.
Survey respondents admit that COVID-19 is going to have an impact on their confectionery buying habits. FMCG Gurus has identified three key areas of impact:
1. The Experience
As the coronavirus creates a scenario whereby consumers are simultaneously concerned about their health and their ability to handle everyday living costs, they will desire moments of non-essential indulgences for escapism reasons. This will be driven by increased feelings of anxiety and stress.
"As consumers trade down on foodservice occasions such as trips to restaurants and bars, they'll be looking to replicate consumption experiences in the comfort of their own home," Hughes explained. "This will drive demand for bulk and shareable products, as well as indulgent and premium products."
According to the survey, 51 percent of consumers say they will trade-up on confectionery to compensate for reduced expenditure elsewhere, and 52 percent say they will seek confectionery products suitable for "big nights in."
Additionally, in the last month, 79 percent said they purchased more comfort food such as ice cream and confectionery. Forty percent said they purchased more chocolate as a result of COVID-19, while 28 percent said they purchased more sugar confectionery.
2. Back to Basics & Risk Avoidance
Consumers will turn to nostalgic products that remind them of the past and simpler times, driving a demand for traditional flavors that offer moments of comfort.
Sixty percent of survey respondents said they will be more likely to seek out confectionery products they know and trust, and 41 percent said they will be more likely to seek out confectionery products that remind them of the past.
According to FMCG Guru's findings, consumers today are also demonstrating ethnocentric attitudes with favorable perceptions of homegrown brands that practice values and policies that closely align with their views. Fifty-eight percent of consumers said they will be more conscious about purchasing new types of confectionery.
"Consumers will be more price-sensitive when it comes to confectionery or looking to trade down. However, they will be more risk-adverse, seeking out products that they know and trust and that offer comfort," Hughes noted.
3. Maximized & Defined Value
Consumers are willing to shop multiple places to get what they want. With stay-at-home orders in place, they are already utilizing multiple channels and showing less value to brand loyalty in this time of uncertainty.
However, they aren't searching for the cheapest price possible; instead, they are focusing on retailers and products that offer the maximum value and meet their need states, according to Hughes.
More information on the "Seasonal Candy in the Time of COVID-19" webinar is available here.