Some of the most popular candy and confections are leaving a sour taste in consumers’ mouths — and that’s exactly the point.
Sour candy has captured the attention and taste buds of consumers who look for confectionery experiences outside of the standard of sweet, says Steve Schuster, president of Wisconsin-based Schuster Products, which makes a line of sour products called Face Twisters.
“It is extreme, and people like to push their sensation of taste,” he said. “They are now accustomed to this taste sensation and seek it because it moves beyond the norm.”
Jenny Doan, director of marketing for Warheads maker Impact Confections, agreed. She pointed to consumers’ palates becoming increasingly daring, especially as consumers experience more global cuisine.
“Globalization has exposed consumers to more sour foods across many categories — examples include Greek yogurt, fermented Korean kimchi, Chinese sour plums, etc.” she said. “Also food preparation techniques such as fermentation and pickling are gaining in popularity and spurring development for more sour foods and beverages.”
And the products in development come from several confectionery categories, including chewing gum, hard candy and chewy candy. Chewy candy also has experienced steady growth over the last few years. IRI, a Chicago-based research firm, reported the $3.73 billion non-chocolate chewy category grew by 3 percent in the year ending Feb. 24, 2019.
Of the Top 20 non-chocolate chewy candy brands IRI tracks, a quarter of them are positioned as sour candy, and at least another quarter have sour line extensions. Mondelez International’s Sour Patch Kids pulled in just over $197 million in the reporting period, while Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers generated $133.6 million.
Airheads Xtremes earned $98.3 million and SweeTARTS brought in just over $69 million in the same 12-month period.
Sour Punch, an American Licorice Co. brand, fits right into that space, earning $59.6 million.
Kristi Shafer, American Licorice v.p. of marketing, and Kyle Stout, associate brand manager for sour confections, said the chewy texture and the sour flavor profile often go hand-in-hand.
“Most chewy, sour candies are coated with sour flavor, making sour the first thing to hit your taste buds,” they said. “When applied to a chewy candy, the sweet, chewy base complements and mixes well when the candy is chewed. Sour flavor can also enhance the fruit flavor as they offset each other, providing the perfect blend of sweet and sour.”
Shafer and Stout noted the Sour Punch brand has been playing with shape and flavor, having released its Wild Bites Narwhal mix in 2018. The brand also plans to introduce a variety of seasonal shapes this year, as well as a spicy assortment and a soda-inspired mix, featuring Cherry, Cola and Lime flavors.
“We try to create interesting flavors, textures and forms to appeal to an array of different candy fans,” they said.
Though known for its signature hard candy, the Warheads brand has also been experimenting with texture and different flavor combinations, having introduced the Hotheads Extreme Heat Worms in 2017. Paired with a spicy kick that sneaks up on the consumer, the worms come in Sizzlin’ Strawberry, Atomic Green Apple and Fiery Watermelon.
“There’s a lot of candy innovation around increasing flavor intensity and combining flavor sensations — hot and sour, sweet heat, bitter and sour,” Doan said. “This trend also being driven by more adventurous consumer palettes and to some extent, consumers moving away from super sweet.”
A gummy format isn’t the only way to convey a sour flavor. Under the Face Twisters brand, Schuster Products last year launched Sour Candy Dough, which as the name suggests, includes squishable, shapeable dough in four flavors.
Meanwhile, the Face Twisters Paint Roller features a candy roller and sour candy gel, and Sour Slime is a sour candy gel available in Strawberry, Green Apple, Cherry and Blue Raspberry flavors.
Schuster pointed to confectionery manufacturers incorporating sour elements into or developing sour versions of existing products with the hope of getting a piece of the action. However, he cited the potential for eating into revenues of the original products.
“You will see continued growth within the segment,” he said. “You might see more combinations of sour with other flavors, as well as (with) other taste sensations such as sweet,” he said. “Sour will continue to permeate other food segments which might look for innovation to extend products into this segment.”
Fans of tangy and tart foods likely won’t be sour about that.