Highlights from the past year of Sweet Insights


See the trends that helped drive growth in 2015

2015TrendsConfectionery has fared very well in recent years, both during the height of the recession and its aftermath — underscoring the importance of a little treat in good and bad economic times. Among more than 300 product categories across the store, confectionery is growing faster than 184 other categories, with 92 of those actually showing declines. Over the 52 weeks through November 1, 2015, confectionery is keeping in lockstep with the total store growth of 3.2 percent, with a dollar sales growth of 3 percent for combined chocolate and non-chocolate.

Some of the sales trends that drove the market growth in 2015 were:

  • Chewy candy — For several years, chewy candy has led the growth in non-chocolate with high single digit and even double digit growth. These gains are driven by significant levels of product innovation in terms of new and bold flavors (particularly in sour), fun shapes and packaging. Chewy candy is not only a growth leader, but also the largest sub-segment within non-chocolate.
  • Mints — In the past year, mints have seen consistent dollar growth around 4-5 percent, perhaps directly tied to the nation’s intrigue with spicy and flavorful foods.
  • Gourmet/premium chocolate — The premium segment has been on fire with double digit growth for several years now, and 11 percent for the most recent twelve months. This includes higher-end chocolate with organic claims, chocolate with very high cocoa percentages, but also products from countries such as Germany or Belgium. We also see a rise in the share of premium that focuses on GMO-free, fair trade, etc — even though this very much remains a niche segment to date.
  •  Fun and daring flavor combinations — Tied to the premium trend is a subtrend of creating and infusing fun and daring flavor combinations — particularly enjoyed by the Millennials. These are things like hot red peppers, bacon, lavender and ginger that give a new twist to an old favorite.
  •  The infusion of nuts/dried fruits — According to the NCA survey among 1,400 shoppers, 41 percent purchase chocolate with fruits and nuts when looking for better-for-you alternatives. Actual dollar sales back up these claims with chocolate infused with hazelnuts up 9 percent, almonds up 4 percent and dried fruits (a much smaller segment) up 56 percent.
  •  Minis featured in re-sealable packaging — Resealable packages have been tremendously popular with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of more than 10 percent across the globe. They allow people to a little treat and easily share with others. They also address the on-the-go convenience that is a rising requirement among shoppers. The retail value sales of shareable bags/boxes grew by more than $1.0 billion over 2009-2014, and is expected to continue to grow at a similar rate over 2014-2019.
  •  Dark chocolate — According to the NCA survey, 70 percent of shoppers will at least occasionally switch to dark chocolate as a better-for-you alternative to milk chocolate. Actual sales figures saw dark chocolate sales grow by more than 9 percent.  But even within dark chocolate, the market is slowly shifting from dark to darker: 57 percent of shoppers said they will shift up to a higher cocoa percentage when looking for healthier-for-you alternatives.

Seasons and Social Media Drove 2015 Confectionery Sales

annual_report_percentThe 2015 confectionery review revealed a great many insights to the category’s sales performance and category performance drivers. Confectionery is a powerful category for retailers regardless of the class of trade. According to IRi, confectionery is the fourth largest center-store edible category, generating $25.5 billion in the channels for which the company collects data.

Sales performance

In 2015, confectionery sales growth kept pace with total store growth, both at 3.2 percent. This constitutes a healthy gain over the past couple of years, where we saw 2.3 percent in 2013 and 1.9 percent in 2014. Each segment booked dollar gains, led by 3.7 percent for non-chocolate, closely followed by 3.1 percent in chocolate, with chocolate being by far the biggest segment of the three. Gum also contributed to the dollar gains, with a 1.0 percent growth.

However, dollar gains do not always tell the full story of performance due to the effect of price increases and it is important to understand true performance by means of looking at units and volume sales as well. Units were off by 1.6 percent versus last year – the highest number since 2012 and below the total store gain of 1.0 percent. At the segment level, chocolate saw decline in units in the tune of 3.2 percent, but much smaller decline in volume, indicating that shoppers moved to larger pack sizes. Likewise, gum saw slight declines in both units and volume, with shoppers also moving to larger pack sizes here. Non-chocolate, the second largest segment, saw a very slight increase in units, up 0.4 percent.

Innovation continues to be key to the category’s success. In total, these items generated $2.3 billion in sales and sold nearly one billion units. This makes confectionery a leader in innovation and a pacesetter for new item sales across the store.

Convenience stores had a very strong year in 2015 with above-average gains in dollars and units across all segments. They grew total dollars by 5.7 percent, with a big contribution from non-chocolate, at +8.5 percent.

Seasons continue to be very important to the category’s success, bringing great levels of incremental sales to the table. All seasonal periods generated growth over the prior year: Valentine’s Day +2.3 percent; Easter +1.8 percent; Halloween +1.4 percent and End-of-Year +5.3 percent. The performance of seasonal items, those that are unique for the season because of the color, shape, flavor or packaging, varied widely and were particularly strong for Halloween, with seasonal chocolate up 47.8 percent.


Price increases and subdued merchandising had a big impact on the 2015 sales performance. Retailers pulled back on the number of combined features and displays, price-only reductions and other forms of merchandising, but did increase the number of candy promotions. Candy promotions did well in numbers with a 3.5 percent increase year-over-year. Importantly, the share of snack ads did not grow as fast and that led to candy’s promotional share of voice being higher each quarter compared with 2014. In terms of timing, about six in 10 of the ads ran during the big four candy seasons, and this share declined a little from 65 percent with candy promotions a little more spread out during the year. In terms of quality, large picture ads improved and retailers placed more ads on the front cover, but the overall quality declined a little with more ads moving to the circular interior pages and featuring text-only. Drug stepped up their number of ads and actually accounted for the majority of ad blocks in 2015, taking over from grocery. In terms of social media, reflecting ads that ran on Facebook and Twitter, the emphasis is on the seasons as well. Here we see that just two seasons, being Halloween and the End-of-year holidays take up more than half of all social media candy promotions. This provides great opportunity for increased social media outreach during Valentine’s Day and Easter.


Looking at the total retail sales beyond outlets measured by IRi, NCA estimates for total sales in 2015 stood at $34.9 billion, with chocolate taking up the largest share, at $21.1 billion. NCA, in cooperation with Euromonitor, predicts the total confectionery market will reach $38.1 billion by 2020. Drivers of growth for 2016 include the continued introduction of new items; premium chocolate (which grew 15 percent in 2015); shareable packages; value packs; seasonal execution to leverage seasons to drive everyday sales; dark chocolate, infusions of fruit and nuts in chocolate and vitamins, real juice, natural colors and flavors in non-chocolate; and fun and daring flavor combinations.

For 2016, NCA projects sales to grow 2.3 percent, with continued gains for all the seasons.

Licorice… a new twist AND an old favorite

licorice-sweetsIn 2015, licorice generated more than $478 million in sales, holding steady against 2014 sales with 0.1 percent dollar growth. Twists are the most common licorice type and account for $275 million in sales. Licorice continues to be a niche segment with a smaller but loyal fan base and represents about 2 percent of total confectionery sales and nearly 7 percent of non-chocolate dollar sales. Industry cooperation drove strong promotional execution with incremental sales gains of 21 percent, despite a 4 percent increase in retail prices.

While the top 10 items account for nearly 50 percent of sales, it takes more than 80 items to account for 90 percent of sales — reflecting many niche offerings and consumer preferences within the segment. Assortment reflects both portion-controlled items of 3 ounces or less for a little treat or reward, and value packs to address consumers’ continued quest to save on their favorite candy. Additionally, the segment also brought quite a few new items to the market in 2015 that generated nearly $30 million in new dollars— including successful launches of items focusing on bites, pieces and minis for sharing enjoyment. Be sure to check your May/June issue of Candy and Snack Today to read a complete report on licorice trends!