Fini Sweets is no stranger to the U.S. chewy candy market.
The Spanish company, known for creating a rainbow of wacky, boldly-flavored gummy and licorice treats, has been selling bulk here for the last two decades. But last year, the company took it a step further. It launched a line of branded products specifically tailored to consumers in the United States.
“Our way to win is to bring innovation and high quality products to our consumers and incremental growth to retailers,” says Mike Shinkwin, v.p. of U.S. sales. “When our consumers and retailers win, we win.”
Attention to quality and creativity is key in a multibillion-dollar market that continues to grow. The non-chocolate chewy candy market pulled in $3.36 billion over the last 52 weeks ending March 19, 2017, according to IRI, a Chicago-based research firm. That’s up 4.87 percent from a year ago. Unit sales surpassed the two-billion mark during the same period, representing a 4.6 percent increase.
Skittles led the segment as the top-selling chewy candy over the last year, posting $334.5 million in sales, IRI data show. That, along with Life Savers and Starburst, pushed Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. to the top of the category, with $888 million in sales during the same period.
Other classic brands such as Sour Patch Kids, Haribo Gold Bears and Swedish Fish rounded out the Top 10. Keith Domalewski, director of marketing, consumer engagement and insights for Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born, Inc., says that’s not a surprise.
“Many of today’s top-selling chewy candy brands have been around for a long time, as consumers appreciate the quality, consistency and even nostalgic value of these products, which is why our brands have remained so successful,” he says.
Just Born, a leader in sugar theater-box candy, manufactures Hot Tamales and Mike and Ikes. Both brands cracked the Top 20 monitored by IRI, respectively earning $48.7 million and $65.5 million over the last year.
But that doesn’t mean consumers are content with just their favorites.
“While consumers often have a favorite candy brand or two, they also seek variety,” Domalewski says.
Enter innovation. Domalewski pointed to the Mike and Ike Mega Mix, a 10-flavor product introduced last year, and specialty flavors designed to invoke “childhood memories” such as Sundae Sweets, Cherry Cola and Buttered Popcorn.
“The latest candy trends involve developing fun and festive flavors and thinking outside the ‘candy box,’” he says.
Sour continues to gain traction as a popular flavor, particularly among young people. Pairing it with a chewy texture is much like pairing peanut butter and jelly — a no-brainer. Just Born has made Mike and Ikes Zours for years, but the company recently launched two new sour items under the Mike and Ikes brand: Sour-Licious Fruit Punch and Sour-Licious Green Apple.
Fini’s U.S. line also features several sour items, including Kollisions, a mix of sweet and sour licorice; Shock Tongues, sour candy belts in a variety of flavors; and Sour Tornadoes, which has six flavors twisted together on the outside and a sour filling inside.
Shinkwin noted young people look for sweets that push boundaries, but they should be offered alongside traditional favorites.
“Through our proprietary research with teens, we’ve also been able to identify several archetypes that teens look for in candy,” he says. “While specifics are confidential, suffice it to say that launching a ‘tropical’ version of your original product is not enough to get today’s teens excited.”
Ferrara Candy Co., which manufactures heavy-hitting chewy candy brand Trolli in the United States, seems to follow a similar creed. Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers, a standard in the sour gummy worm arena, pulled in $109 million over the last year, putting it the Top 10 brands, IRI data show.
But earlier this year, Ferrara partnered with 7-Eleven on a campaign targeted to social media-savvy young people. They introduced what the company deems a “weirdly awesome” collaboration: Trolli Sour Brite Sloths and a Trolli-branded Slurpee in Pineapple Lime.
Playing off the Internet popularity of the slow-moving creatures, Ferrara developed gummies with hooked, linkable arms to be sold exclusively at the convenience store chain. The gummies, and their braces-wearing, “weirdly awesome” mascot, are featured on platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
“Trolli is thrilled to be collaborating with 7-Eleven to combine the most Weirdly Awesome animal in the world with Trolli’s perfect combination of sweet and sour candy, delivering a one-of-a-kind Slurpee experience,” says Jill Manchester, Ferrara senior v.p. of marketing and brand innovation. “In our Weirdly Slothsome world, Sour Brite Sloths love Slurpee drinks, especially our new lip-smacking Pineapple Lime flavor.”
Innovation is only part of the equation, however. Having retailers that are open to offering unique items alongside well-performing standards is crucial to moving the category forward, Shinkwin says.
“We’d like to see more retailers take a progressive approach with their candy sets,” he says. “Teens are always looking for what’s new, and they want more than simple flavor or line extensions.”