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How to Grow the Candy Category in 2021

Danielle Romano

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A tumultuous 2020 shook up the food retail space as the global COVID-19 pandemic dictated where and how consumers engaged with food and beverage.

During the National Confectioners Association's (NCA) annual State of the Industry Conference, held virtually on March 9, the trade organization delivered insights on how the coronavirus prompted changes in shopping behavior, such as fewer trips, larger baskets, store switching, and record online shopping.

"This is our chocolate and candy industry family reunion. After all, COVID-19 kept us apart, but chocolate and candy kept us together," NCA President and CEO John Downs said in his keynote speech. "We are competitors on the shelves, but united in finding solutions. In this time of chaos, we exceeded our customers’ expectations. This past year has been accelerated resilience for all of us, and resilience is the word I use to describe our industry. When the going gets tough, the tough eat gummy bears."

The virtual conference served as a backdrop for the release of NCA's Sweet Insights: 2021 State of Treating report, which is based on consumer studies conducted by NCA and 210 Analytics in September and December 2020 among 1,500-plus shoppers aged 18-75.

Presented by Anne-Marie Roerink, founder of 210 Analytics, the 2021 State of Treating report revealed that despite the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 confectionery sales topped $36.7 billion, with chocolate experiencing 4.2 percent growth and non-chocolate confectionery experiencing 2.9 percent growth. 

Adjusting to a new normal, 61 percent of consumers said they changed their confectionery purchases. This was reported by 47 percent of baby boomers, 68 percent of millennials, 57 percent of Gen Xers and 76 percent of Gen Zers. When it came to how these consumers shifted their confectionery purchases, 44 percent said they bought different pack sizes, 40 percent bought different items, 41 percent bought different brands, and 36 percent bought at different stores.

Household penetration, at 98.4 percent, was unchanged in 2020. However, as consumers waited more days in between store visits, product trips were down 6.3 percent. Consumers, though, loosened their wallet strings with spending per trip jumping 7.6 percent.

Because of the shelter-in-place mandates put into effect early on in the pandemic, convenience stores benefitted from consumer mobility and saw a 1.7 percent increase in chocolate sales and a 4.4 percent increase in non-chocolate sales last year.

Growing the Category in 2021

After sharing the findings of the 2021 State of Treating report, Roerink provided State of the Industry Conference attendees with strategies on how to grow the confectionery category this year.

Her 2021 hit list includes:

  • Compete in e-commerce by delivering a true omnichannel experience;
  • Leverage and grow cross-merchandising and purchasing;
  • Underscore candy's role in emotional well-being;
  • Proactively plan for economic pressure;
  • Reinforce new behaviors and capitalize on new buyers;
  • Build brand awareness and affinity;
  • Retool the front end of stores; and
  • Be transparent because sustainability drives interest and dollars.

The full 2021 State of Treating report is available here.

Based in Washington, D.C., NCA is the trade organization that promotes the unique role of chocolate, candy, gum and mints in a happy, balanced lifestyle and the companies that make these special treats. Through advocacy and regulatory guidance, communications, industry insights, and retail and supply chain engagement, NCA helps create an environment that enables candy makers to thrive. Its membership is made up of manufacturer, broker and supplier companies.

About the Author

Danielle Romano

Danielle Romano

Danielle Romano is Managing Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2015. Danielle manages the overall editorial production of Convenience Store News magazine. She is also the point person for the candy & snacks and small operator beats.

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