Ferrara Candy Co. is taking a three-pronged approach to propelling growth across the non-chocolate category.

The Chicago-based company is driving velocity, driving distribution and driving innovation, says Greg Guidotti, general manager, sugar. Innovation is particularly important for engaging the non-chocolate consumer, he adds.

“With a consumer that is variety seeking, it’s really the lifeblood of the category,” Guidotti says. “We’ve step-changed everything about how we innovate through our consumer-centric approach. When you start with the consumer, you rarely go wrong.”

Despite the difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ferrara is introducing new non-chocolate products through 2020 and into 2021.

The Nerds brand, which Ferrero Group, Ferrara’s parent company, acquired from Nestlé in 2018, was up 58.1 percent over the year ending July 12, according to IRI data. 

To build on that growth, Ferrara launched Nerds Gummy Clusters with Walmart in August, but it will roll out nationwide in October. Featuring a gummy center coated with miniature rainbow Nerds, this poppable candy is a multisensorial, multi-textural treat.

Citing IRI data, Ferrara said its “weirdly awesome” Trolli brand has doubled in sales over the last eight years. To leverage the brand growth and growth in the non-chocolate chewy category — which is up 5.5 percent in the year ending Aug. 9 — Ferrara will launch Trolli Sour Gummi Creations in December.

Available in alien-themed shapes, Trolli Gummi Creations allows fans to create unique flavor combinations and build their own alien-themed creations. Each bag offers more than 200 different flavor and shape combinations. Included flavors are Strawberry, Blue Raspberry, Mango, Watermelon, Lemonade and Pineapple. 

Following the launch of Laffy Taffy Laff Bites earlier this year, Ferrara will introduce in December Laff Bites Gone Bananas. Bite-sized pieces of Banana Laffy Taffy are coated in a candy shell, creating a portable version of the brand’s most divisive flavor.

Guidotti said Ferrara didn’t include Banana in the original Laff Bites assortment to see how the new format would be received. It’s gone well, since the whole Laffy Taffy portfolio is up 16 percent, he says. Gone Bananas is sure to continue the buzz. 

“People love it, people hate it, but they always talk about it,” he says of the banana Laffy Taffy flavor. “We’re taking full advantage of that polarizing nature.”

In April, Ferrara will relaunch its Black Forest Juicy Burst Fruit Snacks to include real fruit juice as the first listed ingredient. Made with colors and flavors from natural sources, these liquid-center fruit snacks will be available in two varieties: Mixed Fruit, featuring Grape, Strawberry, Orange and Cherry flavors, and Berry Medley, featuring Strawberry, Blackberry and Raspberry flavors. 
 
SweeTARTS, another former Nestlé brand, was up 12.5 percent on the year in August, but Ferrara found there was a disconnect between the brand’s three forms: ropes, chewy and original roll. The company has updated SweeTARTS’ packaging to showcase it as a “master brand” and create cohesiveness across all its products, Guidotti says.

Ferrara has also revamped SweeTARTS Chewy, updating its colors, flavors and texture. The reformulated SweeTARTS Chewy products — Mini Chewy, Extreme Chewy Sour and Giant Chewy — will launch next spring.

Ferrara’s cookie innovations

Since Ferrero Group acquired Kellogg Co.’s cookie, pie crust and ice cream cones business in 2019, Ferrara has worked to reinvigorate two of its iconic cookie brands: Keebler and Mother’s.

Natalie Hagstrom, general manager, cookies, cones and crusts, says the Keebler brand saw a 55 percent increase in sales between March and August. Investment in marketing had increased 35 percent since last year.

She also pointed to Keebler’s Made with Real campaign, which kicked off in August. Its goal is to highlight the real ingredients in the brand’s products, such as real fudge in the Fudge Shoppe items, real chocolate in the Chips Deluxe products and real Madagascar vanilla in the Sandies.

Ferrara also updated Keebler’s packaging graphics and logo, replacing the nostalgic scroll with a more modern paint swatch, increasing the size and depth of product shots, and putting Ernie the Elf — the brand’s “master of ceremonies” — in the same pose and position on each package.

“What we really wanted to do was highlight the craftsmanship of these products and the artisanal quality, as well as modernize it with the logos,” Hagstrom says.

In new advertising, Ferrara also aims to highlight “moments of togetherness” consumers can share while enjoying Keebler products. Hagstrom noted the Chips Deluxe and Sandies products hadn’t had their own advertising push in a decade.

To highlight the togetherness a birthday celebration can create, Ferrara launched the Chips Deluxe Birthday Cake in August. This dessert-inspired cookie features real milk, white chocolate chips and colorful sprinkles.

And building on interest in cinnamon flavor profiles, Ferrara will introduce Fudge Stripes Cinnamon Fudge Swirl in January 2021. Inspired by the classic cinnamon rolls, these shortbread cookies are dipped and drizzled with white cinnamon fudge.

Hagstrom says the company will continue to reinforce the fudge connection between its products and branding.

“What we wanted to bring to it as a Ferrara spin is making sure that our Fudge Stripe flavors always halo back to our fudge equity,” she says. “In the past, some of those flavors strayed away from that equity.”

While it has a strong following on the West Coast, Hagstrom notes Ferrara is driving distribution of Mother’s animal crackers eastward. She added the company has discovered young children play with the cookies before eating them.

“It’s become this fun experience,” she says. “If they’re already talking about the shapes and playing with the animals — using them with the board games, using them in imaginary play — what better than to also take into the mythical space.”

In February 2021, Ferrara will launch Mother’s Mythical Circus Animals. Featuring mermaids, unicorns, Loch Ness monsters and dragons, each cookie is covered with white or lavender frosting and silver sanding sugar.

This year, Ferrara is also introducing seasonal varieties of Mother’s animal cookies — orange and white cats and bats for Halloween and green and white reindeer for Christmas. 

And to leverage Ferrara’s experience with seasonal confectionery, the company also introduced the Crawlers & Cookies Mixed bag. It combines Trolli Sour Brite Crunchy Crawlers and Keebler Fudge Stripe Cookies.

“We are creative. We are adaptive,” Hagstrom says. “We are able to come out with unique flavors and custom flavors like nobody’s business. We wanted to take the skill set and capability on the cookie side and ladder it to our brand foundations and brand equities.”