Licorice Lassoes Some Reinvention

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While licorice manufacturers are sticking to the gold standard of red and black varieties, nearly all have also branched out to deliver new flavor blends. This trend, along with premiumization, bite-size pieces and clean ingredient profiles, is driving innovation in this classic market segment.   

Licorice falls into the chewy candy sector, which over-indexes with younger consumers, according to research by The Hershey Co., and this population thrives on novelty, which can manifest itself in texture and flavor variety, with particular favor afforded to sour. Teens seek poppability coupled with many flavor hits per bag, as well as eye appeal, sharing potential and play value, all elements revealed in a Primary Research Group Inc. report. Many launches in the sector are meeting these preference demands.

Among adults, manufacturers cite licorice’s perceived healthier-for-you quality as widely appealing. “There’s the perfect licorice out there for everyone,” says Karin Vollrath, sales and marketing director at Gimbal’s Fine Candies.

In 2015, the sector generated more than $478 million in sales, holding steady against 2014 sales with 0.1 percent dollar growth, according to NCA. The segment represents about 2 percent of total confectionery sales and nearly 7 percent of non-chocolate dollar sales. Product introductions in 2015 generated nearly $30 million in new dollars, including successful launches of items focusing on bites, pieces and minis.

Licorice Factoid 2_300Flavor Blending Stirs Interest

With flavor mashups an overall category trend, blends that tap heavily in the sour range are growing in popularity among licorice consumers. Vidal Candies USA hit the trend hard with four new belt format products: sour blue raspberry, green apple, watermelon and tamarind. The tamarind flavor is particularly desirable among the Hispanic population, notes Mitchell Bernstein, national sales director. In fact, the company hired a west coast regional manager to deepen product penetration in that territory among the demographic.

But Bernstein admits to Candy & Snack TODAY that this type of innovation can be risky business. “In baseball, you get three strikes, then you’re out but with new products, there are no second chances.”

At the request of retail clients, Morris National Inc. developed Tangy Zangy Twisties in new flavors featuring blasts of sour, according to Rich Clemmensen, vice-president of sales and marketing. The multi-flavor varieties are: blueberry watermelon, raspberry lemonade and fruit punch.

In addition, the company’s Australian-style Capricorn brand is following the blending trend with a new cherry cola formulation “that enables a flavor explosion in your mouth,” says Clemmensen. “We’re trying to be different to get noticed using an old fashioned combo,” he explains.

“In baseball, you get three strikes, then you’re out, but with new products, there are no second chances.” — Mitchell Bernstein | Vidal Candies USA

Making a bold entry into the segment and also tapping the sour trend is Fini Sweets Inc. The family-owned, 40-year-old company based in Spain sells its products worldwide, but designed its latest licorice line specifically for the U.S., Mike Shinkwin, vice-president of sales, tells Candy & Snack TODAY.

The result is a sour rope with six sweet fruit flavors on the outside wrapping a sour lemonade core. The company’s Shock Tongues come in flavors including watermelon, green apple and grape.

After two years spent on R&D, Fini also is introducing Tornados in two varieties, one featuring a blend of six sour flavors fused into one bite, according to Shinkwin, and the other, Very Berry, blends white licorice with six berry flavors, adding a sweet note to the line.

Fini also is focusing on bite-size products with its Kollisions licorice, a mix of sour, fruity and filled pieces in different shapes. The company’s Hooplas, a two-in-one soft treat, has one flavor on the outside, another on the inside.

LicoriceBite-Size Broadens Base

In fact, downsizing a product can have bountiful rewards, some manufacturers have noticed, no matter how counter-intuitive it might appear.

With its new soft chew-style poppables, American Licorice Co.’s Red Vines line moved into bite-size with pieces that are half an inch long, according to Mia Newman, brand manager, Red Vines and Sour Punch.

“Doing something small can still move the needle a lot,” according to Newman, who reports the product is “flying off shelves.” Her explanation: “It’s just easier to eat.”

Panda Licorice Co. is also venturing into new territory with bite-size pieces, offered in traditional flavor profiles and beyond. The company now packs pieces filled with strawberry and chocolate, “the greatest innovation,” says Dite van Clief, owner of Euro-American Brands, LLC, which distributes Panda in the U.S. Also available is a pick and mix variety with candy-coated black and red bites.

Market leader Hershey also has an entry in the bite-size licorice ring with the expansion of the Twizzlers line. The company is launching Twizzlers Bites in watermelon and sweet and sour flavors.

Premium Options Push Sector

Stepping up to premium offerings is another way manufacturers are generating interest in products and expanding their reach. Tinkering with ingredients and packaging marks the beginning of the journey. With its Stix licorice, Darrell Lea Confectionery Pty. Ltd. is positioning the product as a deluxe item with its uncommon combination of strawberry and mango licorice surrounding a white chocolate filling. The bite-size product is sourced from Australia, driving home an authenticity claim, as well as meriting premium classification, according to Don Cook, president (U.S.).

“Just as we believe in premium chocolate, we believe in premium licorice, and we’re trying to get both the  trade and consumers to understand that,” he says. By combining chocolate with licorice, he says that, along with a new taste experience, there can be an updated product perception.

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“Licorice has traditionally not been positioned as a premium confectionery item,” he admits. Despite that challenge, he says Darrell Lea’s new marketing strategy involving a website and Facebook update as well as repackaging is aimed at changing perceptions.   

Gimbal’s is represented in the premium market with All Natural Licorice Scottie Dogs, made with top quality ingredients including real licorice root and pure anise oil, according to Vollrath. It’s one of the few licorice candies produced using a starch moulding process rather than extrusion, she reports. “The result is that it has a very tender bite allowing for immediate and uninhibited flavor release.”

‘The market in the U.S. is very different from that in Europe. Lots of flavors and textures are what’s popular here.” — Gerrit Verburg | Gerrit J. Verburg Co.

While the classic flavors continue to reign, some manufacturers have unearthed others that stray far from convention. For example, Gerrit J. Verburg Co. has an item featuring licorice on the outside and a hot pepper-flavored soft gel on the inside.

“The market in the U.S. is very different from that in Europe,” Verburg says, explaining: “Lots of flavors and textures are what’s popular here.”

However, he also reports sales of mildly salty licorice that is popular in Europe have seen a sales surge here in the U.S. recently, up 200 percent in the past year. He maintains that as consumers are becoming more familiar with international flavor profiles, the product is gaining appeal. “People are discovering it and becoming repeat customers,” he tells Candy & Snack?TODAY.

Also staking new flavor territory is Lucky Country USA, which launched soft-eating chews in lemon meringue, southern peach and fire stick cinnamon recently. These introductions are part of an entirely redesigned brand architecture resulting from new ownership by Darrell Lea, according to Nicole Bethmann, COO.

Clean Profile Sweeps Market

Another source for product distinction and appeal is touting both what lies inside, and what doesn’t. In the case of Panda, having only four ingredients — all of which qualify as natural, according to the company — allows it to seize association with a clean profile, says van Clief. “That’s our strength and we’re sticking to it,” he reports. Packs also have call outs noting no preservatives, GMOs, or artificial colors and flavors.

Gimbal’s clean ingredient list on its Scottie Dogs is a definite selling point, notes Vollrath, along with the fact that the company’s facility is free of the major eight food allergens — milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. The company also promotes its use of “real licorice root and pure anise oil” on its packaging.

The Lovely Candy Co. is another manufacturer that heavily emphasizes its “high level clean ingredient profile,” says Mike Nakamura, CEO and co-founder. Using “consciously crafted” as a brand slogan, the products also are free from GMOs, high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients.  

Innovation Leads To Gluten Free

As an added layer to its clean ingredient profile, Lovely Candy set out to offer a gluten-free licorice and thereby corner the market since such a product didn’t exist, according to Nakamura. The company attacked the challenge that such a formulation presented, acknowledging the difficult chemistry involved since the number one ingredient in licorice is wheat, he tells Candy & Snack TODAY.

“It’s a high starch product so we use different thickeners,” he says, adding each flavor requires a different formulation. “We wanted to offer a full palette of options.”

He says he’s pleased with the results, noting “mouth feel is important, and it needs to act, taste and feel like traditional premium licorice.”

Marketing Pushes Relevancy, Visibility

“One of the biggest challenges of the licorice segment is continuing to be relevant in the mind of consumers,” points out Anna Lingeris, Hershey senior manager, communications. But company studies have revealed that a key component in licorice consumption and brand loyalty is the age when the brand was initially consumed.

“Research shows that one of the most prominent reasons for licorice brand loyalty is the brand the consumer grew up eating,” Lingeris tells Candy & Snack TODAY, noting loyalty can last a lifetime.  

To enhance both relevancy and visibility, Hershey is investing in a marketing strategy that involves connecting with consumers where they are, and this summer, the company anticipates many will be seeing Fox Studio’s highly anticipated release, Independence Day Resurgence. The companies have partnered on a promotion with special Twizzlers packaging featuring movie tie-in graphics, along with in-store, digital and customized support.

“Doing something small can still move the needle a lot.” — Mia Newman | American Licorice Co.

American Licorice also is adhering to the marketing strategy of converging with consumers on their turf for Red Vines and Sour Punch promotions, according to Newman. Evidence of this tactic lies with the company’s recent sampling at the spring 2016 Stagecoach country music festival outside Palm Springs, CA.

Additionally, a photo booth was available featuring a stagecoach background, the Red Vines logo and the take-away thought: “Red Vines . . . at tailgate, at work, at social events.” The company also will conduct sampling during PAC 12 football games and at L.A. Kings hockey games later this year.

Other companies have stretched in new directions, taking promotions into untapped territories for their products.

For example, Darrell Lea has designed its upcoming sweepstakes to win a trip to Australia as a means of generating excitement and positive associations with the product, Cook tells Candy & Snack TODAY.

Licorice

At Lovely Candy, marketing with “discovery box” subscription services, where consumers receive boxes each month with surprise contents for sampling, has been a new and effective method, according to Nakamura. “It does result in converting trial customers into paying customers, something we know because we see a spike at retail and we read it online,” he reports.

He also has worked to raise the company’s profile through advertising in magazines devoted to gluten-free content and by marketing with promotions including samples at consumer expos, in-store floor displays with $1-off instant coupons and downloadable offers delivered by email.

Overall, one noteworthy strength in the sector is that licorice holds up well during the summer months and doesn’t melt away.

So, too, are manufacturers withstanding the heat of competition and not shrinking from opportunities to innovate and present consumers with unique options alongside traditional favorites. CST