Consumers want to have their candy and eat it, too.
More specifically, they’re looking for products with clean, clear and ethical ingredient lists. For a growing number of shoppers, that means going organic.
And that’s good for business. Sales of organic food reached $45.2 billion in 2017, up 6.4 percent from 2016, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). In 1997 — the first year the OTA began measuring organic product sales — organic food sales totaled $3.4 billion.
“More and more consumers are looking for organic options across many product sectors, and sweets are no exception,” said Torie Burke, co-founder and ceo of Torie & Howard. “Today’s consumer expects to scan the shelf and have organic choices, and retailers are delivering on that desire with more and more organic products.”
Millennials, now becoming parents, are driving growth in the organic category. Concerned about the effects of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics on health — and being more informed about food than ever — Millennials are seeking products they can feel good about giving to their children.
Candy fits into that perfectly, Burke says. Eight years ago, she and co-founder Howard Slatkin both faced health-related events that prompted them to adjust their diets, but at the time, they couldn’t find sweets that were satisfying and healthful.
In 2012 the pair formed New Milford, Conn.-based Torie & Howard, which produces organic hard candies and Chewie Fruities fruit chews. The company offers the hard candies in five flavors: Meyer Lemon & Raspberry; D’Anjou Pear & Cinnamon; Pomegranate & Nectarine; Blood Orange & Honey; and Pink Grapefruit & Tupelo Honey.
Since launching the Chewie Fruities line, Torie & Howard has introduced 2.1-oz. stick packs as well as three sour flavors: Sour Cherry, Sour Grape and Sour Apple. Though the sour varieties launched in January, sales have just about caught up to the original stick packs, Burke said.
“Back then, taking on organic products seemed like a risk, and we were explaining to retailers why they needed an organic candy,” she said. “Now organics are across every channel, and retailers are calling on us because their customers are asking for organic choices.”
Stamford, Conn.-based YumEarth also makes a point to provide organic versions of classic candies. Last year, the company launched Proposition 65-compliant black licorice, followed by organic, gluten-free candy corn.
“There was not really a clean candy corn available on the market before ours,” said YumEarth CEO Michael Sands. “As Halloween is our biggest time of year, we wanted to provide one of Halloween’s signature candies with our YumEarth clean and organic spin. Last year it flew off shelves, and we can’t wait to see the reaction to our new and improved version this year.”
YumEarth retooled the candy corn to remove soy, eliminating one of the eight major allergens. While the product’s appearance is not as bright as traditional candy corn, Sands says that’s the point.
“Most people who are familiar with the organic space understand that the colors aren’t always as bright as conventional candy,” he said. “When we do get the question, we explain that it is completely normal, given that our ingredients are organic they may look less vibrant than conventional candy.”
Candy can’t just appeal to consumers’ eyes, however. It has to tickle their taste buds. Fortunately, many organic candy makers have that covered, says Denis Ring, founder of Oakland, Calif.-based OCHO Candy.
“Organic sweets are becoming more delicious and sophisticated,” he said. “The growth of organic sweets wouldn’t happen if the products didn’t taste good.”
OCHO Candy’s chocolate bars feature comforting flavors — Coconut, Caramel, Peppermint. It’s newest launch, the PB&J bar, epitomizes doing classic flavors well.
“The PB&J bar is both familiar and surprising at the same time, with a mouthfeel that is exciting and satisfying,” Ring said. “At OCHO, we make all of our own centers: We cook our caramel; we make our own peppermint nougat; we blend our own peanut butter. That’s how we ensure the flavors are outstanding.”
Ring added OCHO takes ethical considerations into account. The company uses FairTrade chocolate and abstains from using palm oil because of labor and environmental abuses associated with the ingredient.
“We feel the deforestation of palm groves is an environmental disaster, so we don’t use it,” he said. “We want our ingredients to be delicious and fresh, but we also want them to be sourced in a manner that respects the environment.”
Great taste and high-quality, clean and ethical ingredients come at a cost that’s passed on to consumers. However, it’s getting better as organic markets expand, and for many, the extra cost is justifiable.
“We’ve grown to the point where we are gaining economies of scale that allow us to price competitively with conventional candy,” Burke said. “For a consumer who is considering going organic, I’d say it’s totally worth the investment in their health. I admire the effort it takes to reduce artificial ingredients and pesticide residue in a diet.”