MIAMI — The National Confectioners Association's (NCA) annual State of the Industry Conference regularly brings together retailers, suppliers and members of the trade organization. But in the ever-changing candy industry, the issues under discussion are forever shifting.
From nutrition to marketing strategies to future political impacts on the category, this year's conference attendees had a lot to talk about.
Overall, the candy category is very healthy, and its segments are solid and stable, according to John Downs, president and CEO of the NCA. In 2015, the $35-billion industry had yet another positive year, growing non-chocolate candy by 4 percent and chocolate by 3 percent.
Candy offers an "incredible contribution" to the economy, Downs said. These American products, produced by American workers, fuel local businesses every day, which is something the vast majority of the American public have in common regardless of their other beliefs.
"Democrats and Republicans — they all love candy," he remarked.
Three key takeaways from the 2016 NCA State of the Industry Conference, held Feb. 28 through March 2 at the Trump National Doral in Miami, were:
1. Transparency Is a Must
In recent years, major candy suppliers like Mars Chocolate North America have begun increasing their transparency level through actions such as printing caloric information on the front of candy wrappers. This is just the beginning for the category. Numerous suppliers are now taking steps to more easily give consumers the nutrition and ingredient information they seek.
The NCA itself has even launched a "Your Candy, Your Questions" portal on its website, www.candyusa.com, where consumers can learn about the ingredients used in candy, such as sugar and coloring.
According to Downs, transparency is no longer an option; it's a basic consumer expectation.
"Candy is an honest, affordable, transparent treat. We are providing consumers with the information, options and support they need to make the choices that are right for them," Christopher Gindlesperger, vice president of public affairs and communications for the NCA, told CSNews Online. "Our front-of-pack labeling program puts calorie information right at consumers' fingertips. We make a wide variety of options — available in packages ranging from fun size to share size — that can add a little fun or enjoyment to any occasion."
2. Consumers Are Changing
The most popular candy brands may have built themselves on decades of consumer sentimentality, but the market is changing along with the nation's demographics.
"The bigger group will consume the most confectionery products," explained speaker Ken Gronbach, a futurist and demographic expert. This will affect things like popular flavors, as well as change how suppliers advertise their brands to consumers.
Members of Generation Y, or millennials, hold green, humanitarian values and believe in fairness, transparency and integrity, Gronbach said. This generation's mothers are very sugar conscious and care about health, but they aren't against treats.
In coming years, Latinos will have a significant influence on the country, and the influence of African-Americans will similarly increase as they advance socio-economically. Overall, 37 percent of the U.S. market is made up of minorities — something suppliers and marketers cannot overlook.
3. The Obesity Issue Matters — But Not How You Think
Obesity remains a major societal concern, but multiple conference attendees agreed this isn't necessarily bad news for the confectionery market. Consumers want healthier options, but they also still want candy.
"There is a war on sugar, but there isn't a war on candy," Downs said.
NCA research shows the average U.S. consumer eats confectionery items twice a week, and the category makes up less than 2 percent of their caloric intake. Rather than abolish sugar from their diet entirely, consumers recognize candy is — as the NCA positions it — always a treat, with the emphasis on treat.
For the most part, anti-obesity critics have focused on the nutritional content of food and beverages consumed on a daily basis. This doesn't mean that candy suppliers and their retailer partners should hide from the issue, but it does mean they have less to fear.
"The best days for the confectionery industry are ahead of us, but you must control your brand," stressed Gronbach.