Staying Tuned to the Challenges and Contradictions of Candy Retailing
Mary Ellen Kuhn
About this time six years ago I was pondering the wisdom of accepting the job I now hold as Confectioner’s editor. I had a few reservations. After a decade spent covering the full spectrum of food industry issues, I was concerned that reporting on only one segment — albeit a sweet one — would be too limiting.
Little did I know! Not only is the confectionery business immensely intriguing, but the fact that candy is distributed across such a broad array of retail channels — way more than your average food or beverage product — makes the process of covering it continually challenging. Then there’s the way that the category itself continues to evolve. After almost six years of watching this business pretty closely, I’ve got a few thoughts about the trends and issues that will be affecting all of us in the months ahead. So here goes.
The line between sweets and snacks will continue to blur. I hear that a number of chocolate/cookie hybrids are in the pipeline for rollout in the next couple of months. And given developments like Hershey’s acquisition of Mauna Loa late last year, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see more candy and nut combos on supermarket shelves in the future.
More and more candy makers will “get it” on the matter of healthful product positioning. At the recent NCA & ECRM EPPS Candy Marketplace, it was great to see that Simply Lite Foods’ new line of fruit chews and gummies comes with portion packs. Ask almost any dietitian; portion control is the way to go for truly healthful eating. Snack makers already are mining the opportunity for 100-calorie packs in a very big way, and our industry should be doing something similar.
Channel complexity will intensify. As if this business of “channel blurring” could get any more complicated! I’m pretty sure that’s where we’re headed, however.
Take the much-pressured supermarket channel alone. Within recent weeks we’ve seen news of chains like Marsh and Wegmans moving their expansive and beautiful “lifestyle” stores into new markets. At the other end of the spectrum, Food Lion has announced the opening of its third Bottom Dollar store. (Love that name!) The stores offer bargain-priced products in a no-frills, but upbeat and inviting environment. Supervalu plans to debut a value-priced organic foods retail outlet in Indianapolis in January, which is certainly an interesting niche given that value pricing has not traditionally been associated with organic foods.
The good news about all this: it means new opportunities for retailers and vendors to merchandise well-targeted niche products. The challenging part: vendors will need to be even sharper and more flexible in order to effectively position products for the increasingly complex array of retailing venues. As I’ve learned over the past six years, this is not a simple business.