The National Confectioners Association (NCA) has launched a new data-driven research report into consumer trends, shopper insights and sales results, claiming it to be the first of its kind as it dives deep into the special nature and relationship of chocolate, candy, gum and mints in the American household.
Sweet Insights: State of Treating 2020 report is part of a new strategic plan called Thrive in 2025, which will set out new goals for the NCA, including strengthening itS advocacy and communication capabilities, identifying the disruptive trends of the future and developing positive and meaningful thought leadership, said John Downs, NCA president and CEO.
Chocolate and candy have 99% penetration in American homes with more than $37bn sales annually and expected to grow by 2.4% by 2024, the report, produced by the NCA and 210 Analytics, stated.
Downs also announced that the organisation will be rolling out ‘National Candy Month’ in June to create a fifth season beyond the big four – Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas – aimed at plugging the slump in sales over the summer period.
The initiative has been running as a stakeholder-event in Washington for the past three years by the NCA to raise awareness of the candy industry in the Beltway.
“The NCA can create the framework and the buzz around it and our manufacturers can work with our retail partners and create something where there is a little bit of a gap in the summer sales, between Easter and Halloween,” said Downs.
He said there is an argument to make it “another candy moment”, and the NCA has started to have discussions with its partners to launch Candy Month on a national scale in 2021.
Always A Treat
The NCA has been driving the Always A Treat narrative for the past several years, and the strong emotional wellbeing connection to candy and chocolate that people have.
“Now, there is this intersection that has happened between us driving the narrative and us riding a narrative related to the demographic destiny of what is happening in the US,” said Downs.
“The key word is about relevance and recognizing that emotional wellbeing is connected to physical wellbeing and it’s kind of our ‘sweetspot’. Vegan, plant-based, organic is on consumers’ radar screens, and it’s the right thing to do in terms of innovation, not only just in product and flavors but in all areas – sustainability, food safety, responsible traceability - are all important,” he said.
Downs said he is proud of the industry’s commitment to “meeting consumers where they want to be met and providing them with information, options and support as they enjoy their favorite treats.”
Values and moods
Unpicking the data in the report's research, Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president, client insights, at IRI, said the NCA needs to recognize the shift in consumer behaviour. She was joined on stage by Michael Sansolo, author and columnist, who said millennial and Gen Z consumers are taking full responsibility for their choices – they don’t need the government, companies, brands to tell them what they should be doing – they will set the parameters of their diet, when it comes to food. The confectionery industry must be engaged with consumers and be aligned with their values and moods, Sansolo said.
While online candy sales is poised for growth, the data revealed a slight volume decline across all categories in consumption due to price increases in 2019. The solution: capture more sales by being more closely aligned with consumers habits.
Younger consumers are demanding flavors ‘I like’ and brand recognition remains strong. Along with relevance, variety is also key and Wyatt said the report can act for a ‘recipe for growth’ for the confectionery industry, if NCA members pick up on four key mega-trends:
- Wellbeing – consumers, while expecting chocolate to contain sugar, are demanding better information on packaging including calorie counts, and whether the product is organic, gluten-free or vegan.
- Social responsibility – 62% claim the way a company or brand behaves will have an impact on their purchases.
- Environmental sustainability – sustainable sourcing, does the product harm the planet? What about waste? Deforestation? Are some of the questions consumers are asking, and brands need to be able to answer.
- Transparency/traceability – 'how has my bar of chocolate been made? Have people at the beginning of the supply chain, the cocoa farmers, been paid? Have any children been forced to work on the farm?' Brands that can offer full transparency and traceability, through a QR code on the packaging for example, are likely to be more popular, particularly with Gen Z and millennial consumers.
“Retailers are working with us to make sure that we are delighting their shoppers’ everyday – on the shelves or virtual shelves in every place they shop – and the State of Treating report proves just that,” Downs concluded.