Hershey added Triple Chocolate to its Cookie Layer Crunch line of sweet snacks — featuring layers of chocolate creme, chocolate cookie bits and milk chocolate. The product comes in bars or pouches, the Pennsylvania-based company said in a news release.
Ed Edson, Hershey's senior brand manager, said Cookie Layer Crunch has "become our company’s biggest launch in over 10 years" and from a retail sales perspective, is in the top 2.5% of all significant [candy, mint and gum] launches in the past five years. "We have a lot of confidence for Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch, Year Two," he wrote in a blog post.
The new item joins the rest of the Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch lineup, which launched in December 2016 with Caramel, Vanilla Creme, and Mint flavors. As of November 5, 2017, retail sales hit $100 million.
Edson told Food Dive that at the heart of everything Hershey does is "the desire to delight customers," and that the recent Triple Chocolate product launch is no different. "[Cookie Layer Crunch] as a platform has been designed to bring Hershey's into the multi-textural landscape," he said. "Younger consumers and millennial consumers are looking for more multi-textural snacking experiences. ... What's better than chocolate? Chocolate on chocolate on chocolate."
This development and marketing strategy is clearly winning over consumers, and the company's most recent earnings report showed snack products continue to be the sweet spot for Hershey. Net sales growth in the third quarter was driven by a 1.6% bump in its North American segment, particularly brand innovations such as Cookie Layer Crunch and the launch of Hershey's and Reese's Popped Snack Mix and Chocolate Dipped Pretzels.
Food Dive asked Edson whether this new product should really be considered candy, or whether the company is going for a snack-like hybrid. "We actually call it our snack section," he said. "It's blending the snacking elements and the crunchability and munchability with a really indulgent Hershey chocolate wrapped around it. It's somewhere in between there."
In an investor presentation earlier this year, Michele Buck, Hershey's CEO, said that despite growing demand for healthy foods, consumers are still hungry for indulgent sweet and salty snacks. The Pennsylvania-based company has the nation's second-largest share of the snacking market at about 7.5%.
While Hershey has branched out into healthier, on-the-go snacks through its 2015 purchase of jerky maker Krave — known for trendy flavors like grilled sweet teriyaki and garlic chili pepper — and barkTHINS, a maker of chocolate pieces with nuts, seeds and fruit, a year later, it has not given up on the sweets that made the small-town company famous. This latest product, along with the launch of its Hershey's Gold, its first candy bar in 22 years, are two recent examples.
Edson noted that the timing of the two new products was "quite deliberate" and designed to enhance consumer loyalty and also to consolidate the brand's appeal among new demographic segments such as millennials and young families. They are not only convenient, portable snacks, but they tap into the public's love of chocolate. Another factor has to do with the retail venues that sell Hershey products.
"The reason we launched in December is ... we put retailers front and center of everything we do. It's the time when retailers are resetting their confectionary aisle, so this aligns really well with what they're doing," he explained.
Consumer response to the new Cookie Layer Crunch line has exceeded Hershey's expectations, and Edson called reaching the $100-million sales mark "a pretty amazing accomplishment for the team." The company doesn't know yet how well the new Triple Chocolate product will do since it just hit stores this past week, but so far the caramel and chocolate is having the strongest performance, although he said mint is also performing above expectations.
To differentiate itself from the sea of confectionary competition out there, Edson indicated Hershey plans to "lean heavily on our iconic equity" and leverage its bold packaging design and a segmented merchandising approach to attract more attention inside stores.
"When we develop large-scale platforms, we design packaging to leverage that experience," he said. "There are individual bars that we sell at the front end of retailers and at convenience stores for 69 cents to $1.50 and pouch items for about $3.69 designed more for everyday consumption, and we developed them in multiple packs. If you want a quick snack for someone on the go, we have items for that, and if you want a pouch for home use, we have that."
As it creates snack products centered on popular chocolate brands such as Hershey's and Reese's, the company can maximize the chances that its brands will be eaten outside of traditional dessert and indulgence periods — and that they will be driving sales. Hershey also has been rumored as a potential acquirer of Nestle's U.S. confectionary business, which includes popular brands such as Butterfinger, BabyRuth, SweeTarts and Nerds. Look for Hershey to innovate even more between now and 2019, when the iconic American company celebrates 125 years in business.