CHICAGO — Spring was a challenging period for candy—and many other categories—as consumers abided by stay-at-home orders and primarily stuck to grocery basics. All major candy categories took a hit in convenience stores in March and April, according to IRI dollar-sales data shared by Perfetti Van Melle USA, with gum and mints down about 50% vs. the previous year and chocolate and nonchocolate candies down 14%.
The good news is that “the category has rebounded well and is currently up about 8.7% from pre-pandemic sales while the category as a whole is down 2.9% over last year,” says Spencer Webb, category manager at McLane Co., Temple, Texas.
While chocolate, mint and gum sales have recovered somewhat since May, “nonchocolate sales remained strong throughout the pandemic, showing growth over prior year of 5.2%,” Webb says.
Within nonchocolate, one segment really stands out: “Gummy and fruity chewy [candies] continue to drive this segment with the majority of the dollar share,” Webb says. “Through May, both gummy and fruity chewy were up slightly over 1%, while nonchocolate (as a whole) was down 1.5%.”
“Though impacted by the effects of COVID-19 and the subsequent decrease in overall trips to the store, our research shows that fruity confections sales have grown in recent months as states continue to reopen,” says James Dodge, vice president convenience, Mars Wrigley U.S., Hackettstown, N.J. “This is especially true to c-store, with data showing that confectionery sales recovered in markets where stay-at-home restrictions were lifted earlier.”
This trend reflects what Kum & Go is seeing in its stores, according to Stephanie Poitry, category manager of candy at the West Des Moines, Iowa-based chain. “We had declines mid-March through April with strong recovery May forward,” she tells CSP.
“Yes, nonchocolate is definitely recovering nicely,” says Julia Kops, senior category analyst, Perfetti Van Melle USA, Erlanger, Ky., and gummies are leading the charge. They currently are “the fastest-growing confectionery segment in convenience, up 7% vs. a year ago,” Kops says, citing IRI data.
In fact, Tim Lamanno of Haribo says the gummy segment accounts for 87% of nonchocolate category growth within convenience stores, also citing IRI data for the 12 weeks ending Aug. 9. “June and July, we actually set records for sales in c-stores,” he says.
The resilience seem to rest in a desire for reassurance in the midst of uncertainty.
“During the pandemic, consumers are looking for comfort and indulgence, and nonchocolate candy hits the mark,” says Stefanie Nolby, consumer insights manager at General Mills Convenience & Foodservice. “Gummy items satisfy a craving as well as offer consumers something to savor and enjoy.”
That’s a significant advantage for c-stores, where gummy candies are the biggest form of nonchocolate sales, says Kops. “But the biggest growing segment [within gummies] is individually wrapped chewy candy, which is growing 20% vs. a year ago,” she says.
“In summer months, especially this summer, sales of stand-up bags have been consistent sales drivers.”
Category experts agree that consumers increasingly seek out sour and unexpected flavors of the chewy candies.
“We’re seeing flavors that are ‘extreme’ or sour continue to be popular, as well as unique shapes,” Nolby says. That explains the recent launch of General Mills’ Fruit Gushers Super Sour Berry.
Similarly, Ferrara USA recently launched Trolli Crunchy Crawlers, candy-coated gummy worms that provide a crunch in addition to the chewy worms. “We know that consumers are seeking sensory excitement in the category,” says Dave Foldes, senior brand marketing manager of Trolli at Ferrara.
Meanwhile, Poitry of Kum & Go says she’s seeing success with larger pack sizes, something that predates the pandemic.
“Nonchocolate has performed very well for the last 12 months in both instant consumables and large multiserve packs,” she says. “Especially this summer, sales of stand-up bags have been consistent sales drivers.”
Lamanno agrees more pack sizes can make a difference as consumers try to shop less frequently to avoid COVID-19 germs.
“It’s a distribution game in c-stores,” he says. “Make sure retailers have the proper assortment. … Then monitor what’s truly selling and capitalize on consumer shift in preference.”
Dodge of Mars Wrigley recommends multiple placements of best-selling candies “throughout the checkout queue, merchandising with must-have, high-impulse products.”
Adds Webb of McLane Co., “The best advice I could offer ... is to maintain focus on core items, as well as use promotional activity to help drive incremental sales.”
To that end, Nolby suggests merchandising gummy candies with beverages. Drinks drive the most traffic into c-stores, she says, and customers “often purchase beverages and these snacks together.”