Finding the Upside to Anti-candy Rhetoric

Mary Ellen Kuhn
For a while now I’ve been a fan of a Newsweek column called “My Turn,” the magazine’s vehicle for allowing ordinary folks to have their say—often rather eloquently—about matters of personal importance. One evening this spring I turned to that section of the magazine and saw a headline that gave me pause. “Giving Kids Candy Is Anything But Sweet,” it read, followed by this secondary headline: “Parents who want their children to eat healthy are fighting a world eager to fill them with sugar.”
The essay was written by a Midwestern dad named Dave Beasley. In the piece, Beasley takes issue with the candy givers in his kids’ lives—including, but not limited to, a kindly school bus driver, a well-meaning coach and parents who overdo it on birthday treat bags. Beasley’s conclusion is a stunner. “What I’m really venting about here,” he writes, “is the health of our children. We educate them about the dangers of drugs, smoking and drinking, yet we’re still freely handing out sugar.”
Whoa! A light bulb went off in my head as I read his conclusion. I now had a clearer-than-ever-before view of the kind of extremism our industry is up against. Here’s an apparently ordinary suburbanite who is comfortable drawing an analogy between controlled substances and candy.
Clearly Beasley’s views do not represent mainstream thinking. But that doesn’t mean that we as an industry should not acknowledge and respond to them—and not by getting on the defensive. I’m talking about something more significant and substantive—using extremism as a springboard to better position, market and merchandise confectionery products.  
• For one thing, I think there’s a clear opportunity for more value-added functional products—be it in the form of calcium-enriched chocolate targeted to women and children or a protein-enhanced candy bar designed for athletes.
• I’d also like to see more portion-controlled products. The 100-calorie pack Kraft unveiled for cookies and crackers is a great idea and a real contribution to public health. Let’s face it, many of us are not that great at portion control, so there’s a need for this sort of thing—not to mention the fact that there’s also nice margin potential here.
Such products should be flagged at point-of-sale, for sure. Who knows? Maybe someday we will even make a 100-calorie section part of candy plan-o-grams.
• Hershey Foods Chairman Rick Lenny has been talking about American consumers’ fondness for snacking since coming on board at the company four years ago. He’s got a great point. Shouldn’t we be experimenting with the idea of positioning candy as more than a mere treat? How about a  “snacking solutions” section at retail that includes appropriate candy SKUs?
Finally, however, even as we develop new-generation candies and experiment with merchandising strategies, it’s important to unabashedly celebrate the simple pleasure that candy affords—even if the Dave Beasley’s of the world don’t agree.