Sweet Truth

Small is big at annual All Candy Expo, but indulgence still powerful force

CHICAGO -- Portion control, which has been working its way through the grocery store in the form of 100-calorie bags of cookies and smaller food packs, is now coming to one of the few remaining bastions of indulgence: the candy aisle.

Two of the world's largest chocolate companies, Hershey Co. and Nestle were promoting new stick versions of their popular chocolate bars at the 2006 All Candy Expo, the National Confectioners Association trade show, this week in Chicago. Also on the show floor were 100-calorie packs of Sunkist fruit chews from Simply Lite [image-nocss] Foods Corp. and other low calorie and sugar-free candies.

While low calorie and sugar-free candies have been gaining prominence in recent years, companies are now touting the calorie count to attract consumers who want to indulge themselves, but still want to feel healthy. Daniel Azzara, Hershey's vice president for global innovation and quality, told Reuters that the company has always had calorie-controlled versions of its candies. Now it boldly declares those benefits on the package.

"What's interesting to me is the idea that [now] it's actually labeled 100 calorie' on the front of the package and consumers see that as portion controlled," he said. "In reality, we've had a lot of snack size and Kisses and small pieces of chocolate for a long time."

Hershey's Sticks candies include chocolate and chocolate mint versions and are 60 calories a stick. The company is also selling other products in 100-calorie packages.

Nestle offers 90-calorie Stixx in Butterfinger and milk chocolate and dark chocolate Crunch flavors. The company started selling six-packs of the Stixx earlier this year and says it has reached 10% to 15% more outlets than the company had expected.

"The distribution levels in America are stronger than we had expected," Tricia Bowles, manager for division and brand affairs for Nestle USA's confections and snacks business, told Reuters. The company is also launching a two-pack version of the sticks, which would be sold at the checkout counter in stores, this year.

At the candy show, trends continue drive the new product releases, the NCA said. Top 2006/07 trends include:

Dark & Delicious. Dark chocolatesmade with the finest ingredients and high cocoa contentcontinue to dominate the marketplace with new creations like Ghirardelli Intense Dark Gourmet Chocolate Bars, Botticelli Choco-Omeg and Nestle Raisinets Dark. Gum Goodies. New gum sensationsfrom fruity flavors to innovative shapes and sizesinclude Ford Gum & Machine Co. Pomegranate Power, Farley's & Sathers Super Bubble Blast (chewy on the outside with a liquid center) and Cadbury Adam's Stride, the Ridiculously Long-Lasting Gum. Gourmet Everyday. Consumers continue to demand high-end chocolates and other sophisticated sweets. Debuting this yearChocolate Bowl Dark Almond Chocolates and Sweet Candy Co. Gourmet Taffy Twists. Fortified Sweets. Nutrient-charged jelly beans and flavored beauty strips deliver vitamins and skin-enhancing ingredients in the latest flavors. Hitting shelves soonN.I. Corp. Pure Beauty Strips with collagen and ceramide and Jelly Belly Sport Beans in fruit punch and berry blue. Sugar-Free Sweets & Healthy Treats. For the health conscious, there is a plethora of new twists on candies from sugarless creations to portion-controlled chocolate sticks and candy infused with natural fruit juices to 100-calorie packs. Simply Lite Foods' Sunkist fruit gummies with Vitamin C, Hershey Sticks (60-calories) and sugar-free Dove Dark are debuting at the show. Pumping the Palate. Super sour to fantastically fruity, the latest confectionery concoctions are bursting with flavor. Sour Jacks Sour Apples, Toxic Waste Sour Chew Bar and Topps Juicy Drop Pop Sweet! and Sour! are just few of the new products. Indulgent Delights. Inspired by everyday indulgences, manufacturers are fusing the flavors of espresso, home-baked apple pie and fruity smoothies into their candy creations providing additional tastes for everyday pleasures. Delights this year include Jim Beam Chocolate Bourbon, Necco Wafers Smoothie and Creme Savers Deserts in flavors like cinnamon bun and apple pie a la mode. Kiddie Creations. Candy designed for kids is evolving to become more interactive. New candy doubles as a treat and an activity; new products include Monster Memoskids can eat their own words with sweetened wafer paper and food coloring pens; Tung Toostasty tattoos for the tongue; and Candy Logscombining the fun of building and candy.

In 2005, 2,767 new confectionery products debuted in the candy industry, leading the food and beverage industry in introduction of new products.

Nearly one-fourth (23%) of candy sales are attributed to new products that have debuted in industry in the past 12 months, according to ProductScan data. Included in the breakdown of new products: Chocolate, 1,328; Nonchocolate, 1,301; Gum, 138.

Diet candies, chocolate and gum topped the 2005 Hot List, based on IRI data:

Diet candies continue to pull their weight in the industry with a 17.3% increase in sales over the last year. Consumers chomp away at the chance to chew gum. A leader in the industry, gum is still a top treat, but sugarless is by far the favorite with a 6.5% increase. Overall, gum sales rose 4.1% in 2005. Chocolate continues to be a big seller on shelves, but boxes, bags, and bars are favorites with an 11.1% growth spurt. Licorice candies are making their mark among candy sales with a 5.8% growth rate in the market in the last year. The confectionery industry ended 2005 1.8% ahead of 2004. Candy and gum ranked third among food categories in 2005.

And of course, candy sales cluster around key holidays. Halloween continues to be the largest candy-selling holiday, with Easter following close behind. Christmas and the winter holidays and Valentine's Day also finish high in sales for the confectionery market.