- Data from the National Confectioners Association shows that overall sales of chocolate and candy have increased 3.8% between March 15 and Aug. 9 of this year. This increase in indulgent purchases was more prevalent with chocolate where sales increased 5.5% and in premium chocolate, which outpaced the rest of the category with sales spiking 12.5%.
- The grocery channel experienced particular gains as more consumers turned to retail. Overall all candy sales rose 16.6% with chocolate up 17.9%, premium chocolate increasing 21.4% and non-chocolate growing by 13.5%.
- The trade organization told Food Ingredients First that candy plays an integral role in emotional well-being for 75% of U.S. consumers and 91% of young parents.
People are finding solace and joy in candy during these uncertain times, but American’s love of sweets – and especially chocolate – is not news. The U.S. chocolate market was already expected to surpass $20 billion by 2025, according to research from U.K.-based firm IndexBox. Then the pandemic arrived, and Americans’ affair with candy sweetened intensely.
In the annual Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council, more than half of respondents said they were eating less healthfully as of June. Cravings leading the way for purchases in recent months is supported by Mondelez International data from April showing that 25% of consumers indulged in chocolate.
Candy too has seen a boost, but chocolate is ahead of the pack in terms of consumer preference. It also has the added advantage of providing some health benefits, according to a host of studies in recent years. While medical professionals note that chocolate is still a high-calorie food that should be eaten in moderation, consumers have latched onto the positive aspects of this treat. Dark chocolate, in particular, is predicted to grow at a 7% compound annual growth rate to $3.5 billion by 2024, driven in large part by its healthy halo, according to Technavio.
Several companies have marketed and innovated products around chocolate's health characteristics. Mars highlights its Cocoapro brand, which uses a proprietary process to extract the maximum amount of chocolate flavanols that are linked to heart health. Hershey owns Brookside, which touts its no artificial flavor or color chocolates that feature antioxidant rich blends like acaí and blueberry.
For several years, the trend toward premium chocolate has been growing and manufacturers have catered to this market with organic, free-trade, paleo and functional options on store shelves. Both large players in the U.S. chocolate market — Hershey, Mars, Ferrero and Nestlé — and smaller companies – Hu, Theo and Nootropic — have been developing premium products to catch the consumer's attention and latch onto the latest trends.
However, as the pandemic drags on and national unemployment numbers remain high, the emphasis on premiumization, which often equates with pricey selections, may be a tough sell. To prepare for such a scenario, companies can rely on familiar brands that have accompanied consumers for decades. Mondelez International demonstrated consumers’ affinity for familiar grocery store items when it saw shoppers gravitate toward brands that "people know and trust and love" on its e-commerce platform. Many of the company's brands play in the sweets segment, including Cadbury.
With the holiday season just around the corner, where consumers traditionally purchase more sweets, the candy and chocolate segment will likely continue to see a boost in sales, even if traditional celebrations like Halloween are stunted by the pandemic.