The Candy Elite

February 1, 2004
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The Candy Elite

They are of another class and they are rapidly multiplying — are you properly showcasing these quality confections?
Upscale candy is everywhere. It continues to be one high-end item that consumers don’t want to cut back on — in fact, just the opposite — they are cutting back on bigger, expensive luxury items and splurging more on good quality chocolate and confections. Packaged like expensive jewels in colored foils, then elegantly boxed or tinned or bowed or laced up — they have become the perfectly pre-wrapped gift for everyone, even oneself.
The first order of business should be some familiarity with this lavish assortment. It will quickly become obvious: This is not your kid’s candy.
What it is — a work of confection art: Long rectangular marshmallows, coated in chocolate, drizzled in holiday-coordinated icing and situated on a high-quality wooden stick, wrapped in cellophane with a matching bow; white chocolate wafers (that resemble waffles) sandwiching caramel crème, individually wrapped in gold cellophane, packaged in a waffle-shaped mini-hat box; thick, high-cocoa-content chocolate barks topped with coffee beans, toffee chunks or peppermint candy shavings, shaped into a large rectangle or square, then wrapped in clear cellophane and perfectly fitted with a matching nostalgia tin to nestle in.
Then there’s logo taffy; marshmallows completely covered in sprinkles and packaged like truffles; freeze-dried raspberries blended into marshmallows, caramel/nut clusters packaged like truffles; eggnog white chocolate squares; European “drinking chocolate,” liquor-filled chocolate balls; and lollipops, jelly beans and hard candies flavored for the adult set with varieties such as hazelnut coffee, double latte, Aztec mocha, spicy amaretto, raspberry espresso, orange marmalade, bittersweet peppermint, and mulled apple cider. And that’s just a small taste of what’s emerging.
Imperatives
While a few upscale makers are gracing the mass market with some wonderful less-expensive versions of their candy (typically forgoing fancier packaging), others are simply selling their traditional higher-priced treats (fancy packaging and all) to any retailer that is willing to take on the better margin. The challenge for these retailers (from supermarkets to meat markets to drugstores to home stores) is this: Do they know how to boutique it as the special gift item it is? For it certainly doesn’t belong in the regular candy aisles (if indeed, the store even has candy aisles). The bottom line literally is: Do they know how to showcase it against non-food items in their stores? Indeed, many are just starting to learn (taking their cue from fancy gourmet and department stores) — and not a moment too soon for the more discriminating American sweet tooth.
Consumers
It should come as no surprise that the baby boomers have inspired more action in this category. While they were always a consumer group of great spending and self-spending, they have now matured into wanting quality items that are of greater value — but not necessarily of substantially greater price. Like the rest of the country, they are watching their dollars more carefully, but since candy is relatively inexpensive when compared to other luxury items, they will spend there — as long as it’s something novel and high quality. Thus, product innovation is kept at an all-time high for premium/gourmet candy.
Another influence in the category that is strongly led by baby boomers: A significant distribution of retro and nostalgia items, especially in the packaging (such as tins and hat boxes).
Marketing
Gourmet candy reinforcement is in high gear from upscale manufacturers. They know this category would be nowhere without its marketing and packaging — so no doubt, these aspects will continue to be well fed.
It seems like packaging couldn’t get any more innovative — although of course it probably will — next year. Right now, tins and hat boxes prevail. There is consistency in themes and in the “look and feel” throughout the seasons. Major design trends in packaging include: Simple, clean, bold graphics; artisan-style with handwritten lettering; a natural rough look; and memory retro/nostalgic (think Laura Ashley paisley and stripes).
We’re also seeing nutritional concerns reflected in this category. Functional, sugar-free and low-carb options are proliferating. Many European-style chocolates have product benefits right on the package (for example: high in fiber, helps metabolism, etc.). Many chocolate companies have added “GMO free” on their ingredient labels.  And marketing “chocolat d’origine,” or chocolate identified by its country of origin, is also a big push. In addition, chocolate makers report that more and more consumers are interested in knowing the exact cocoa content of the chocolate they purchase, so that is reflected on some labels as well.
Beyond packaging, there’s another good marketing force: Many of these makers also have catalogs to reinforce purchase decisions. Experts say it’s a nice connection and good way to promote the entire category now that the segment is cropping up in multiple retail channels. Catalogs also reinforce the upscale quality and pricing and are typically premium (as in paper, artwork and design elements) themselves.
Marketers in this category are used to dealing with the upscale retail channel, and so they typically are very willing to offer added services to their masterpiece candies, i.e. to price it differently; affix a proprietary logo; ship it in a special carton, create upscale display shippers, etc. Industry observers say the trade is getting much more efficient at this, not to mention using technology such as EDI, and are thus, more prepared to come in and cater to other retail markets.
Outlook
And for an option that is truly in a new realm, imagine chocolate or high-quality confections that you wear: Candy makers already have, and thus, it is predicted to be the next wave in gourmet candy. Combining candy with ideas from the accessory world — this totally wild trend is still on the drawing board, but might include items such as wrist bands that house a case that resembles a watch, but is actually filled with mints or mini candies; lipstick cases that swivel up edible chocolate; leather hip belts that hold gum. The idea is to use the latest apparel and accessory technology to leverage more candy for those that like to have a small treat every day. Please note: While it may later catch on with teens and tweens, these initial ideas are highly upscale and will be targeted to confection-loving adults.
And it is these adults — with their more mature and sophisticated palates — who can be expected to ensure that sales in the premium confections category will continue to outpace the mainstream.

Merchandising Musts
Showcase, spotlight, highlight, segregate.
This upscale candy category doesn’t do well when it’s positioned as a treasure hunt. Consumers often will not go looking for specialty candy, mostly because they don’t know exactly what exists. So retailers want customers to literally walk into the store and stumble upon these premiere displays.
Some successful retailers are even positioning chocolate boutiques near complementary specialty items such as coffees, gourmet desserts or fresh-baked goodies.  Others are calling attention to the gift aspect of the category and inter-mingling it on displays that include non-consumable items. Either way, fancy presentation is key to sales. Rustic wood tables, overhead wire baskets, gilded trays — are all being used to call attention to the products.
Demo, Demo, Demo.
Especially if this is a new category for a retailer, in-store sampling and tasting demonstrations must be incorporated into the merchandising of gourmet candy. Experts say the best times are two to three weeks before popular holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

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