Strike a balance

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Strike a balance

By Dana Cvetan, - 04/07/2016

Americans continue to worry about their health, and candy’s no health food. However, indulgence is an important part of life, and retailers could profit by adjusting both the product and the message when it comes to own-brand candy and chocolate.

“Even though there’s a lot of press about sugar and obesity, the consumer continues to want to self-indulge. For many [that means] maintaining a healthy-versus-indulgence balance,” says Barry Rosenbaum, president of Hicksville, N.Y.-based Nassau Candy.

But Virgil Rubini, vice president of Axenta Intertrade Corp., Montreal, agrees that a “gray shadow” now hangs over sugar.

“And yet, candy is not going away,” he says. “We focus on the pleasure of candy and how it makes people happy.”

Better-for-you rules

One of the most influential trends within the candy and chocolate segment is toward products with more healthful attributes, particularly in chocolate, Rosenbaum observes.

“Anything with a nut in it — almonds being the best example — is a hot topic,” he says. “Dark chocolate is a hot topic.”

Chocolate with fruit, as well as non-GMO chocolate and candy, are also increasingly popular.

“We’re seeing double-digit growth in our chocolate business by focusing on these trends,” Rosenbaum declares.

Interest in natural and more healthful products has grown because consumers want to both indulge and feel good about indulging, says Tina Lamontagne, vice president of sales for Sherbrooke, Quebec-based Chocolat Lamontagne Inc. Chocolat Lamontagne combines natural fruits such as blueberry, acai-blueberry, pomegranate, mango and cranberry with dark chocolate. The shelf-stable confections contain no added sugar, as well as no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

“Anything that is delicious and/or healthy, companies will cover in chocolate,” says Mike Dion, broker for West Hempstead, N.Y.-based wholesaler ABS Marketing Group LLC, and a 24-year veteran of The Hershey Co. “We are seeing a growing trend in chocolate-covered fruit” such as cherries and cranberries, he adds.

“Bean to bar,” using better-quality and better-controlled cocoa beans for higher-quality chocolate, is another important trend, says Jeffrey Luidvinovsky, CEO of Loco Brands, Hollywood, Fla.

Related to that trend is the single-origin or single-farm trend — harvesting from a specific area/region and not mixing that harvest with cocoa beans from other regions.

“We have our own single-origin, single-farm chocolate bar,” Luidvinovsky adds.

Consumers also are asking companies to be clear about what’s in the product. They want fewer artificial ingredients and higher percentages of cocoa, Rubini says.

But candy is still about fun, reminds Alan Skorski, president of ABS Marketing Group, distributors of Megaload and private label candy.

“Today, funky combinations are the wave. We are seeing chocolate-covered beef jerky [and] bacon bits,” he says. “I frequently get asked, ‘What made you think of putting a chocolate chip cookie or a sandwich cookie on top of a peanut butter cup?’ For us, thinking outside the box, combining America’s favorite snacks and blending them, is another example of making chocolate into a funky item.”

Diverse cultural influences are also bringing excitement to the category, with edgier products in combinations such as dark chocolate with lime, lychee fruit, specialty teas or coffees, Rubini points out.

On the horizon

Crispy-textured, chocolate-coated freeze-dried fruit could be a big category trend in the future, Luidvinovsky declares.

“Freeze-dried fruit retains all its nutrients and vitamins. The natural flavor of the fruit is present,” he explains.

Loco Brands will launch freeze-dried fruit covered in Belgian chocolate in time for back-to-school season this summer, he adds.

Rosenbaum identifies pumpkin and coconut flavors, as well as almond butter chocolate candy fillings, as emerging trends.

“With more articles coming out about the health benefits of chocolate, chocolate-covered ‘something healthy’ will continue to grow,” Dion adds.

Healthful and innovative store brand candy that tastes amazing is a good approach for retailers, Lamontagne declares.

“Setting yourself apart from the national brand products will make your store brand products interesting and unique,” she says.

Make the packaging speak

But retailers could hurt a great store brand chocolate product by skimping on packaging imagery or quality, Lamontagne warns. Consumers will often choose a product because of its attractive packaging.

“Let your packaging be the voice of your product and gain market share. Create some excitement around the product by creating an image that reflects the ‘better-for-you’ feeling,” she advises.

The most important thing about packaging is that it be impactful, Rosenbaum stresses. Consumers like standup gusseted packages that are resealable, he notes. And labeled clear tubs convey a fresh feeling. Consumers like that they can see the product inside the tub; it is a reassurance of product quality.

“A clean design with claims appearing on the packaging will appeal to consumers,” Lamontagne says.

Larger packages are easier to sell because they pop out on the shelf to catch the eye and also convey better perceived value, Rubini adds.

Portion control is becoming important in candy packaging, too, because it helps consumers indulge in moderation, Rubini says.

While king-sized bars are here to stay as a “more bang for your buck” purchase, Dion says, the major brands are coming out with resealable standup pouches with bite-sized offerings inside. The pouches allow consumers to “snack a little now, snack a little later,” he says.

Emerging trends also include smaller grab-and-go packages for impulse purchase, Skorski says.

“Because they are small and turnaround will be quick, retailers can find space for them more easily,” he explains.

Smaller chocolate bars (1 ounce or 1.5 ounces rather than the traditional 4 ounces) are a trend for checkout sales, aimed at consumers who crave an occasional indulgence of high-quality candy in moderation, Luidvinovsky says of the grab-and-go trend.

And when it comes to labels, Luidvinovsky advises that retailers make them clean, with call-outs for attributes such as non-GMO, gluten-free and real fruit.

Position to dazzle

While own brands’ purpose is to offer consumers a good deal, Skorski advises retailers to convey the message that their products are inexpensive, rather than “cheap.” The products should be placed adjacent to the national brands to convey that the retailer is offering the same quality, but at a better price. The consumer then has the option of “better price” or “name brand,” he says.

And retailers shouldn’t be afraid to engage in flashy merchandising that wows the shopper. Rubini relates the story of a Florida specialty chain that renovated its candy aisle with whimsical decorations hanging from the ceiling and shelves repainted in bold colors.

“It felt like a candy store,” he says. “It really drew people in — they really wanted to walk into that aisle.”

The checkout counter is a tailor-made opportunity to showcase store brands, too, and retailers should take advantage of it, Luidvinovsky asserts.

“The natural groceries like Whole Foods do this, but many mainstream groceries have not adopted the practice, and they should,” he notes.

Do consider the health and wellness trend in own-brand chocolate and candy development.

Don’t be afraid to engage in a bit of flashy merchandising that excites shoppers.

Do call out desirable attributes such as real fruit.

Don’t ignore the trend toward portion control.