- A record $36.9 billion in candy sales was tallied at U.S. retail and book stores, airports and vending machines in 2021, the National Confectioners Association reported in its annual State of Treating report. In total, confectionery had a 98.4% household penetration rate last year, which did not change compared with 2020.
- All major forms of confections saw their dollar sales increase in 2021. Non-chocolate treats had the largest growth, increasing 14.5% over 2020. Chocolate candy grew 9.2%, while gum and mints saw 3.8% growth.
- As consumers settled into the pandemic lifestyle and were able to start resuming more normal patterns in 2021, more sweets were purchased, reversing the trend of the slight dip in candy sales reported in the NCA's 2020 report.
Consumers have had sweets to help them get through the pandemic. And in 2021, they not only enjoyed more candy, but also settled into different buying patterns to fit a lifestyle in which things were getting back to normal. On the whole, last year's increase in candy sales makes sense. After all, the study found, nearly eight in 10 consumers said that it's OK to occasionally treat themselves with some candy.
The return to relative normalcy is reflected back in what consumers bought. After a year of people largely isolating at home in 2020, gum and mint sales rebounded last year. Unit sales of breath mints were up 5.8%, while price increases in gum helped improve dollar sales figures, the NCA report says.
Seasonal candy also showed big gains last year, with 13.5% year-over-year growth in dollar sales as retailers dedicated more shelf space to these treats than in 2020. Eight in 10 consumers want these seasonal treats, according to the report. The overwheming majority of Americans — 80% to 90% — use candy to celebrate Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween and winter holidays. Halloween drove the largest increase in seasonal candy last year, likely because most trick-or-treaters were advised to stay home in 2020. According to the report, dollar sales of Halloween-themed chocolates were up almost 50% in 2021, while non-chocolate candies were up 25.8%.
Other societal changes from 2021 also showed up in candy purchases. As inflation issues and supply chain problems began to escalate at the end of 2021, more than seven in 10 consumers changed their candy purchases, according to the study. More than 70% of those who made changes had wanted a different package size or product type, or the item they were looking for was out of stock.
The study found that higher prices made 17% of consumers shift what they bought, but almost the same amount — 16% — actually bought higher-end candies for a luxury treat. Premium candy becoming more widely available could have been a significant factor in this shift. In 2021, Belgian luxury chocolate company Godiva concentrated on bringing its candies to more than 90,000 retail stores nationwide, a move that increased the company's sales 37% in a single year.
And as confectioners and ingredient manufacturers get more interested in low-sugar or sugar-free treats, consumers are as well. A total of 44% are interested in trying them, the study found. More of these lower-sugar candies found their way to shelves in 2021, and sugar-free chocolates especially saw a boom. Dollar sales of these chocolates grew 34.3% in 2021, with unit sales up 21.4% and volume sales up 24.2%. Hershey has especially invested in this trend in the past year, with its push toward better-for-you candies, acquisition of low-sugar premium confectionery brand Lily's and investment in rare sugar developer Bonumose, including funding its new R&D center.