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Four factors for success in sugar confectionery

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Edward Smagarinsky, Group Product Manager (Mogul), tna

The general upswing predicted for global confectionery over coming years – almost 4% CAGR between 2016 and 2024, according to Mordor[1]​ – disguises a far more complex market than appears at first glance. On a global scale, chocolate continues to dominate, and so sugar confectioners are fully aware there is opportunity for growth not only within their own niches, but by attracting more consumers whose desires for indulgence, convenience and exciting eating experiences are currently being met by chocolate makers.

The many faces of our industry

Within sugar confectionery too, the picture is mixed. While sugar chewing gum sales are dropping almost universally, sugar-free variants are enjoying continued success. And – contrary to the early expectations of some observers - hard candy is holding its own thanks to several factors, most particularly nostalgia, the drive for clean labels and expanding vegetarianism.

Even a cursory look at the confectionery press in 2020 shows the ruckus of innovation and enthusiasm that surrounds soft products. With broad appeal and seemingly endless options for creativity, it is small wonder producers are investing their time and money here. As a result, competition has sharpened dramatically. Success doesn’t come easily, as consumer demands multiply, differentiation becomes tougher and rivals fight for share of wallet. There are, however, four key aspects of soft confectionery production that can have a demonstrative impact on manufacturers – both own-label and brands.

1. Diversity

Creativity and novelty never go out of fashion, and in confectionery, they are no longer a “nice-to-have’’ option but more a license to operate. But even with substantial imagination and an unprecedented array of available ingredients, bringing new products to market quickly is challenging, and there is always room for improvement.

Starch moulding technology is proving a game-changer in the pursuit of constant “newness.” It enables manufacturers not only to create a huge variety of formats, sizes and shapes in gummies and jellies, it also permits the expansion of their portfolios to include products like liquorice, fondant cream and marshmallow foam. This opens up opportunities, particularly on the international stage, where consumer preferences vary among different confectionery types.

The depositing process delivers multiple opportunities to accommodate various product types and colours. Their pumps, which are available with a range of piston diameters and configurations, can handle different consistencies of syrup, and varying these pumps enables the production of single colour or side-by-side colours, as well as centre-fill, multi-layered and striped confections. As such, one soft confectionery line can become the source of dozens of product variants.

2. Finish

Research consistently shows that visual appeal is central to consumer purchasing decisions, and this is especially true in impulse buys like confectionery. And yet on occasion, insufficient attention is paid to the finishing touches to confectionery. It is true that we eat with our eyes, so improving appearance is sure to pay dividends, especially in today’s market where longer shelf life can adversely impact the product.

Technical advances in both ingredients and equipment mean producers now have more options than ever before when it comes to their product’s shape, colouring and finish. Even traditional sugar coating is advancing, thanks to the replacement of (potentially damaging) steam with tacking agents, applied precisely within specialised coating equipment. These assist with sugar powder or granule adhesion, which can now take place in a small tumble drum for more accurate application. But the combination of sugar with acids, notably citric and malic, presents even more exciting opportunities for flavour diversification beyond simply adjusting the amount and method of coating.

Oil coating is also undergoing transformation. Oil application with controlled spray action ensures reliable and repeatable coating, so maintaining overall quality while boosting appearance. Plus, in the healthy confectionery segment, new equipment makes it easier to control carefully the quantity, as well as the type of oil, for a better nutritional profile.

3. Throughput

It is clear how the latest starch moulding and coating equipment can stimulate a huge proliferation in confectionery products – shapes and sizes, layers and flavours, coatings and polishes. But a hike in options commonly has an impact on throughput, as the varying attributes of each product may require each type to spend longer (or less time) in one process, resulting in bottlenecks or deceleration of the whole line.

It is not only variable end products that demand flexibility; rapidly changing market trends and seasonality necessitate frequent scaling up or down of production. Here too, starch moulding equipment has made meaningful strides. Modern machines, for instance, stack their own trays, in some cases using robotic technology, which has put an end to slow stacking, manually or with hand jacks.

Similarly, full integration of the feeder, starch buck, depositor, stacker and pallet transport efficiently and seamlessly moves product through the mogul line. Demoulding speeds can also be raised with the incorporation of rotary dumping stations. With throughput so high in one area of the line, it is important to ensure both up and downstream equipment can perform at the same level. For this reason, demand is rising for continuous on-machine finishing systems, which synchronise perfectly with modern moguls.

4. Productivity

Closely linked with throughput is productivity – ensuring the line is running as efficiently as possible for as long as possible, even when changeovers are frequent. The factors that can have a huge bearing on this are hygiene, maintenance and safety. And here too, confectioners can benefit from solutions that minimise downtime.

Hygienic design not only reduces the need to stop production for cleaning, but also optimises food safety and quality. Food grade stainless steel construction with easy access combines smooth, defect-free surfaces (to prevent residue build-up) with quicker and simpler cleaning. Stainless steel also holds advantages in the cleaning of depositors – a process especially important at the times of recipe or product change. They enable the pumping of hot water into depositing pumps, which are then activated to clean the pistons and all internal channels, without the removal of components. Residue simply dissolves in the hot water, saving manual effort, time and the use of chemicals.

Similarly, ensuring equipment is intrinsically safe can also maintain optimum productivity. In soft confectionery, one of the biggest risks to operator and plant safety is the handling of dry, uncontained starch. Checking that equipment complies with the legislation applicable in the country / region of its operation, for instance IECEx and ATEX in Europe or HAZLOC in North America, gives assurance that stringent safety requirements are being met and productivity can be maximised.

Summary

Today’s soft confectionery market undoubtedly presents many opportunities for growth – but competition now is stiffer than ever before, and rapidly-evolving consumer demands mean there is no room for complacency, guesswork or mistakes. Just as critical to success as flavour and format are product characteristics and manufacturing parameters that can be significantly enhanced with the right choice of equipment. Decisions relating to this can offer a valuable boost to those looking to maximise their chances of long-term success.

[1]​ Mordor Intelligence: Candy Market - Growth, Trends, and Forecast (2020 - 2025)https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/candy-market

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