By Deborah Cassell
Executive Editor
Candy Industry
Retail Confectioner
casselld@bnpmedia.com

getting fresh: Comatose commentary

As I write this, I am still suffering from a food coma – that unpleasant state of being reached only after stuffing one’s face with everything edible – induced by my company’s holiday party earlier today. Having hosted my own annual holiday party this weekend and attended two heavy holiday dinners just last week, I fear for my ever-expanding waistline, not to mention my clarity of thought as I face a pre-holiday print deadline (this Friday) that looms larger than the side dishes I topped  on my plate just hours ago.

It was while recovering from this afternoon’s potluck (including a dessert bar of cakes, cookies and doughnuts – oh my!) that I received a startling press release from Mars. Although its contents should come as no shock to someone in the communications biz (i.e. me), I was nonetheless a little frightened by the bottom line: College students would rather give up their significant others than spend seven days without cell phones, Internet, e-mail or text messages.

This conclusion came as part of a TWIX survey of 1,000 college students about what they consider most important when taking a “pause” from studying. Specifically, research reveals that nearly two out of three participants (63%) would choose technology over a relationship, compared to 20 years ago, when 65% of Gen X co-eds would gladly have swapped their computers for love. (The study also claims that kids no longer need the campus library, face-to-face conversations are out of vogue, the post-grad job search is a primary concern, and students are more likely to go online than watch TV during their free time.)

“TWIX has always been about giving people a moment to pause and chew things over, and there’s no time more important to take a pause for college students than during finals week,” notes Michele Kessler, vice president of marketing, Mars Chocolate North America. “As the authority on all things ‘pause,’ TWIX was the natural brand to explore how the ‘on the campus pause’ has evolved since the ‘70s. And students today are definitely taking the ‘moment’ in new and surprising ways.”

Although this should not be news to me, I am surprised. Not that I don’t love my cell phone. On the contrary, I’ve often wondered what I’d do without the ability to contact friends and family at a moment’s notice. (Editor Bernie Pacyniak may argue the necessity of this gadget, as he does not own one; I am both baffled and impressed by this fact.) And I have not been without a laptop in 10 years. (I do, however, remember life before the Internet; it’s a foggy memory, at best.)

As a journalist, I have come to rely on technology, to be sure. Without a computer, I would be lost, if for no other reason than to type, as my handwriting is shot from lack of use (unless you count those little yellow Post-Its all over my desk, but they’re practically illegible). I sometimes wonder why they even bother teaching kids penmanship – a lost art – anymore. (But I’m glad they do.)

Still, as we head into the holidays, a time to be shared with family and friends (in the flesh, I hope), I’m a bit troubled by all this emphasis on virtual living.

All survey results aside, today’s release from Mars did leave me with one lingering thought: I could really go for a TWIX right about now. (Coma? What coma?)

Happy Holidays!

Snack bar sector slowing down?

After years of sustained growth in the United States, an Innova Market Insights report states that the $2-billion snack/cereal/energy bar sector is slowing down, akin perhaps, like so many of the consumers who purchase the bars.

In its analysis of the segment, Dutch-based Innova Database reports that snack/cereal/energy bar sales through supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandisers showed only slight growth in the first half of 2009, although nutrition and intrinsic health bars, including energy bars, performed better than breakfast bars and rice snack squares.

“Within the nutrition bars market, traditional-style energy bars are having to compete with a range of other health-oriented bars, not only those positioned on a general or multi-benefit platform, but also on a range of formats that are currently very much in vogue, including wholegrain, high-fiber, weight management, digestive health, free-from and natural,” says Lu Ann Williams, head of research for Innova Market Insights.

She emphasizes that “with the high levels of product activity apparent in the bars market in recent years, it may be that saturation point is approaching, with market maturity and segmentation reaching a point where further innovation opportunities are going to be more limited, possibly causing further shakeouts in the market and creating an even more challenging environment.”

Case in point: Kraft Foods recently sold its Balance Bar nutrition bar business to a private equity firm, saying its interests currently are focused in other areas.

Innova’s database shows that more than 1,600 cereal bars were launched in the first 11 months of 2009, up from the same period in 2008, but well down on the total of more than 2,000 bars launched during the same period in 2007.

The majority of launches had a health positioning, particularly in the United States, where more than 90% of the launches offered some benefits, compared with just slightly more than 80% in Western Europe.

For more information, visit www.innovadatabase.com.

7-Eleven picks up New England Pantry c-stores

Dallas-based 7-Eleven, Inc. has acquired New England Pantry, a company that operates 58 convenience stores under the White Hen Pantry brand. The move significantly expands 7-Eleven’s presence in the greater Boston area, bringing the number of outlets the mega-chain operates and franchises to more than 170.

“This acquisition significantly strengthens our convenience offering in greater Boston,” says Bob Cozens, vice president for 7-Eleven’s Northeast Division. “White Hen Pantry has a 40-year history of providing good customer service and high-quality products to consumers in the Boston area, and we want to continue that tradition.”

Andy Brothers, who has served as ceo of the New England White Hen Pantry stores, has joined 7-Eleven’s management team and will support the transition. Brothers and the New England Pantry management team will continue to work out of their Norwood, Mass., office.

The company anticipates that stores operating under the White Hen Pantry brand will begin converting to stores under the 7-Eleven brand in 2010. 7-Eleven operates, franchises or licenses some 8,000 7-Eleven stores in North America.

For more information, visit www.7-Eleven.com.

Endangered Species Chocolate embraces Rainforest Alliance certification

Beginning in January, all 1.4-oz. bars of organic Endangered Species Chocolate will be Rainforest Alliance certified and part of Whole Foods Market’s Whole Trade Program. All remaining Endangered Species Chocolate products will become Rainforest Alliance-certified during the second half of 2010.

“Endangered Species Chocolate is proud to be Rainforest Alliance-certified,” says Wayne Zink, the company’s ceo. “This and the fact that our Rainforest Alliance products are part of Whole Foods Market’s Whole Trade program lets the conscientious customer know we are serious about providing products produced in harmony with the planet.”

In addition to taking an environmentally responsible tact in raw goods sourcing, Endangered Species Chocolate has initiated a company-wide campaign to green its operations.

Most recently, the company shifted its energy source to 100% renewable wind energy. Efficiency improvements to its HVAC and electrical systems as well as a reduction in warehouse lighting will decrease energy consumption by 40% in 2009. The installation of an efficient Hobart flight style washing machine has reduced water consumption by 500 gallons per day, also reducing hot water heating needs. Material scrap has been reduced to less than 2%.

For more information, please visit www.chocolatebar.com.

sweet of the week: Newtree chocolate bars

In anticipation of the upcoming International Sweets & Biscuits Fair (ISM) to be held in Cologne late January, Brussels-based Newtree has created three new 80-g. chocolate bars that combine new flavors, textures and functional benefits. Each variety – Intense Milk Chocolate with Bourbon Vanilla; Dark Biscuit with Golden Flaxseeds; and Roasted Almonds with Golden Flaxseeds – contains three times as much fiber as and 30% less sugar than ordinary chocolate. The Dark Biscuit and Roasted Almond flavors also are an excellent source of Omega-3. This new gourmet range provides the “perfect balance between taste and well-being,” the company says. For more information, visit www.newtree.com.