Novelty candy was possibly one of the biggest unknowns when it came to how COVID-19 would impact the confectionery industry. But sales data shows how strong the sector is.

Sales of novelty non-chocolate candy were up 19.2 percent compared to a year ago, at $967.12 million, according to the IRI data for the year ending June 13, 2021. And they are up significantly compared to pre-pandemic numbers as well. IRI data for the latest 52 weeks ending Sept. 2019 shows that they are up almost $200 million. At that time, sales of novelty non-chocolate candy were up 1.9 percent to $772.24 million.

Ferrara holds the sector’s most market share at 23.4 percent, according to the June 2021 IRI data, and the company makes Nerds, the top brand. The remaining top four brands are owned by Bazooka Candy Brand's parent The Topps Co., which has the second most market share, with 21.3 percent.

Top 5 novelty non-chocolate candy brands

The Top 5 novelty non-chocolate candy brands, as well as their sales numbers from Sept. 2019, are included below.

  1. Nerds (Ferrara) sales up 59.9 percent to $89.59 million.
    In Sept. 2019, sales were up 6.3 percent to $35 million.
  2. Baby Bottle Pop (The Topps. Co.) sales up 15.5 percent to $55.67 million.
    In Sept. 2019, sales were down 5.1 percent to $48.6 million.
  3. Push Pop (The Topps. Co.) sales were up 18.7 percent to $48.06 million.
    In Sept. 2019, sales were up 1.6 percent to $38.$38.69 million.
  4. Ring Pop (The Topps. Co.) sales were up 22.1 percent to $42.54 million.
    In Sept. 2019, sales were up 9 percent to $39.18 million.
  5. Juicy Drop Pop (The Topps. Co.) sales were up 19.1 percent to $42.37 million.
    In Sept. 2019, sales were down 1.5 percent to $36.39 million.

Of note is that in Sept. 2019, before the pandemic, the top selling brand was Tootsie Roll Child's Play, with $53.33 million in sales, up 5.3 percent at the time. That brand is now eighth on the list, with $37.47 million in sales, down 21.5 percent.

Topps has continued to earn its share of the sector, releasing new and exciting innovation amidst the pandemic. The company recently announced plans to launch Juicy Drop Re-Mix in early 2022.

Juicy Drop Re-Mix features sweet and sour coated chewy bites that come in a portable, dual-compartment dispenser. Formulated with extra juiciness to deliver a true Juicy Drop experience, Juicy Drop Re-Mix offer fans a new way to create a perfect mix of sweet and sour in every bite.

The product comes in three top Juicy Drop flavors: Knockout Punch, Blue Rebel and Wild Cherry Berry. It follows the company’s recent launch Juicy Drop Gummy Dip ‘N Stix.

The product’s unique packaging is designed with a center compartment that’s filled with fruit-flavored sour gel. It’s surrounded by chewy candy sticks, allowing consumers to “dip and dip and dip” as much or as little as they like to create their ideal sweet and sour experience. From on-the-go to at-home study breaks, consumers can use the resealable lid to enjoy some of the treat now and save the rest for later. 

“The Juicy Drop line allows our consumers to create their own eating experiences based on flavors they know and love,” said Rebecca Silberfarb, senior director of marketing at Bazooka Candy Brands. “Juicy Drop Gummy Dip ‘N Stix introduces a new way to keep up with our consumers during their busy days while enjoying a sweet and sour treat that they can dip on-the-go!” 

Packaged in grab-and-go containers, Juicy Drop Gummy Dip ‘N Stix is available in four fruity flavors including Knock-Out Punch, Blue Rebel, Wild Cherry Berry and Watermelon Blast.

Meanwhile, Ferrara has poured a lot of love into its Nerds brand, launching a number of new products.

The company’s new Nerds Twist & Mix features a playful package that allows consumers to twist the lid to mix and match their perfect combination of five favorite Nerds candies. Flavors include Strawberry, Orange, Watermelon, Cherry and Lemonade. They'll be available nationwide in late November.

And the company’s new Nerds Candy Corn features a Nerds candy-flavored shell surrounding a soft, chewy, and fruity center. Ferrara’s breakthrough technology has perfected putting a candy coating around a candy corn piece. The center of each piece features two flavors and two colors, inspired by the Nerds brand.

Flavors include:

  • Strawberry shells with Strawberry/Grape inside
  • Grape shells with Strawberry/Grape inside
  • Strawberry Lemon shells with Blue Raspberry/Fruit Punch inside
  • Blue Raspberry shells with Blue Raspberry/Fruit Punch inside
  • Orange shells with Cherry/Watermelon inside
  • Watermelon shells with Cherry/Watermelon inside

Perhaps most famous among the new Nerds launches are the company’s Nerds Gummy Clusters. Each brightly colored piece offers a cluster of crunchy, tangy, mini-rainbow Nerds with a delightful, fruity gummy center that provides fans a fun-to-eat, dual-texture treat. The product was awarded Best in Show for the National Confectioners Association's 2021 Most Innovative New Products Awards.

Novelty Chocolate sales up over last year

Overall novelty candy sales are up 5.2 percent at $10.31 million.

Top 5 novelty chocolate brands:

  1. Frankford Super Mario (Frankford Candy LLC), sales up 53.7 percent to $2.10 million.
  1. Ricolino Paleta Payaso (Bacrcel USA LLCA), sales up 21.7 percent to $1.81 million.
  1. Candyrific M&M's (Candyrific), sales up 8 percent to $1.153 million.
  1. Frankford Nickelodeon Paw Patrol Wonder Ball (Frankford Candy LLC), sales down $59.2 percent, to $1.03 million. 
  1. Lik M Aid Fun Dip (Ferrara Candy Co.), sale change unknown, with $988.87 million.

A few months ago Clark Taylor, senior V.P. of sales and marketing at CandyRific, sat down with Candy Industry Editor Crystal Lindell for a Confectionery Conversations podcast, and he offered insights into how the pandemic had impacted novelty candy, especially when it comes to licensed items.

“During the pandemic, one of the things that we saw on the novelty arena and in the licensed arena as well is that parents were rewarding kids — and kids is one of the key areas that we work with,” Taylor said. “Parents were rewarding kids and themselves with treats. They were finding ways to almost say thank you to their family members for dealing with and putting up with the challenges of what we're all going through. Novelty as a whole has grown phenomenally,” he explained.

However, a tumultuous movie-release schedule that kept shifting made it difficult for companies with movie licenses in particular.

“That was a huge challenge for anybody that's doing licensing. I don't care if you're doing bed sheets or if you're doing candy. It did affect a lot of different people, a lot of different manufacturing groups,” Taylor said.  “One of the things that we have seen is when the pandemic first hit, of course, movie theaters were closed, people were stuck at home, couldn't really figure out what they were going to do.”

Then things started to shift as entertainment companies released properties online.

“You saw the big surge with Disney+, and so I think what people have realized, or even the entertainment group, has realized, is that people are still looking to be entertained and so by the fact that these have now moved to home entertainment options, I know one of the first ones was, Trolls World Tour from DreamWorks,” Taylor said. “So whenever the Trolls World Tour movie came out, they were one of the first ones to launch on what would be considered a pay-per-view program. I think it was $19.99 to view it that night or $24.99, and you had unlimited viewings. And that was a huge, huge success. So I think that was the impetus for everybody to start launching these entertainment properties, both online and then waiting for the theater, the theatrical programs to come back into play.”

The company leaned into the shift in movie-watching habits, launching CandyRific seasonal M&M’S Movie Night Snack Kits. The kits are filled with one M&M’S Milk Chocolate Theater Box of candy and one M&M’S Peanut Chocolate Theater Box of candy, each with 3.1 oz. of candy, and three bags of Orville Redenbacher’s gourmet popping corn. The total weight of each bucket is 16.10 oz.

Collect all four or choose from Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter-themed buckets. They come in a six-count case with a tray in which the six buckets to sit. 

Another chocolate novelty item that’s done well amid COVID-19 is Stuffed Puffs, known for their filled marshmallows. The item hit store shelves in 2019.

“Since the launch, the response has been phenomenal. We continue to receive glowing feedback from consumers and have built a strong social following to support our growing community of fans,” Michael Tierney, the company’s CEO, told Candy Industry in a recent interview. “Retailers have been blown away with the innovation we have brought to a stale category. Not only have they been excited about the product, but they have really leaned in to partner with us on large display vehicles to get Stuffed Puffs prominent placement in the front of their stores.”

The company’s current product portfolio includes Classic Milk Chocolate, Chocolate on Chocolate, Chocolate Peppermint Bark, Cookies ‘N Cream, and individually wrapped Halloween and Easter items.

“We spend a lot of resources and focus on product development and innovation,” Tierney said.

Chocolate spreads benefit from urbanization

Another item that’s chocolate, but just outside the “novelty” label are spreads, which has seen an increase in popularity over the last few years.

The Global Organic Chocolate Spreads Market size is expected to grow thanks partly to the increasing influence of Western culture and increased urbanization. Specifically, it’s expected to reach $826 Million by 2027, rising at a market growth of 5.4 percent CAGR during the forecast period, according to a report from," Global Organic Chocolate Spreads Market By Product (Hazelnut, Duo, Milk, Dark and Others), By Distribution Channel (Hypermarket & Supermarket, Online and Others), By Regional Outlook, COVID-19 Impact Analysis Report and Forecast, 2021 - 2027."

The report says that as people’s lives become more hectic, they are looking for ready-to-eat products, like spreads. An increasing consumer inclination for organic and natural food products will help drive demand specifically for organic chocolate spreads. Continued product innovation in the sector also is boosting demand. And cafe and restaurant chefs also are turning to them as part of their effort to create novel dishes. 

The organic chocolate spreads market is segmented into hazelnut, duo, milk, dark and others. Dark chocolate remains especially popular among those consumers who seek a robust flavor. Since dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa, it gives a bitter and less sweet taste as compared to other forms of chocolate spread. Dark chocolate spreads are offered by brands like Biona and Askinosie Chocolate and can be eaten by consumers in everyday diets.
Ferrero’s Nutella brand continues to drive the overall chocolate spreads category.

The company expanded the brand, launching Nutella &GO! Multigrain Sticks with Oat & Blueberries this year. The product features sticks of oats and blueberries made to dip into the creamy hazelnut and cocoa Nutella spread.



Caramel/Taffy Apples/Kits/Dips sales up

One novelty-adjacent category is the caramel/taffy apple/kits/dips sector, which also is doing well amid the pandemic.

According to the June 13, 2021 IRI data, sales of caramel/taffy apples/kits/dips are up 21.9 percent to $112.13 million. That’s also up almost $25 million compared to pre-pandemic sales. IRI data ending Sept. 8, 2019, showed at the time sales of caramel/taffy apples/kits/dips were up 3.9 percent to $88.34 million.

The Top 5 brands in the category all saw sales increase compared to a year ago. And all five were doing better than they were pre-pandemic. Below is the list of the Top 5 brands and their current sales listed in IRI data for the latest 52 weeks ending June 13, 2021. Also included is IRI data for the latest 52 weeks ending Sept. 8, 2019, which shows how the brands were doing before COVID-19.

Top 5 Caramel/Taffy Apples/Kits/Dips brands:

  1. Marzetti (T Marzetti Co.), sales up 15.8 percent to $44.63 million
    In Sept. 2019, sales were down 3.7 percent to $37.33 million.
  1. Affy Tapple (Affy Tapple LLC), sales up 24.9 percent to $15.29 million
    In Sept. 2019 sales were up 13.6 percent to $12.57 million.
  1. Litehouse (Litehouse Inc.), sales up 38.2 percent to $10.98 million

In Sept. 2019, sales were up 12.9 percent, to $5.57 million.

  1. Tastee (Tastee Caramel Apple), sales up 30.1 percent to $9.02 million.

In Sept. 2019, sales were up 20.7 percent, to $7.98 million.

  1. Happy Apples (Apple Apple Inc.), sales up 23.9 percent to $6.71 million.

In Sept. 2019, sales were down 8.7 percent, to $5.57 million.

The success there is that taffy apple companies navigated a fall season very much impacted by the pandemic. In the fall 2020, the confectionery industry was concerned about how social distancing would impact the season, from school events to trick-or-treating.

At the time, Taffy Apple wrote a blog post about contactless trick-or-treating.

“Halloween is going to be a bit unconventional this year. However, the neighborhood kids don’t need to miss the normal festivities entirely. Instead of trick-or-treaters coming to your door, you can set up a fun, contactless trick-or-treating “display” in your front yard where the kids can easily grab a treat and head off to the next house!” the company wrote. “Embracing classic Halloween themes, you could set up a witch’s workshop with a bubbling cauldron, vampire’s lair complete with a creepy coffin, a charming pumpkin patch – the possibilities are endless!”

Leaning into the uncertainty of the season seemed to work for the company, as their sales were up almost $3 million dollars compared to their pre-pandemic figures.

Specialty Nut/Coconut Candy sales dip slightly

One novelty-adjacent sector that did seem to struggle a bit amid the pandemic was the Specialty Nut/Coconut Candy category.

Specialty nut/coconut candy sales are down 2.4 percent to $333.2 million. And that is also down slightly compared to pre-pandemic sales. In Sept. 2019, sales of specialty nut/coconut candy were down 0.9 percent, to $336.02 million.

The Top 5 Specialty Nut/Coconut Candy brands include:

  1. Pay Day (The Hershey Co.), sales down 14.3 percent to $143.3 million.
  1. Private Label (Private Label), sales up 14.6 percent to $24.25 million.
  1. Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll (Pearson Candy Co.), sales up 7.2 percent to $12.48 million.
  1. True North (B&G Foods Inc.), sales up 3.6 percent to $11.04 million.
  1. Atkinson’s Chick-O-Stick (Atkinson Candy Co.), sales up 16.4 percent, to $9.64 million.

A few months ago, Pearson’s introduced a limited-edition line extension to it’s Salted Nut Roll brand, releasing Cinnamon Churro and Spicy flavors.

Each 1.8-oz. bar is packed with peanuts for 5 grams of protein, delicious caramel, fluffy nougat and loads of flavor. Cinnamon Churro packs a punch with the sweet heat of cinnamon and Spicy brings a Tex-Mex style savory flavor.

Pearson’s Candy Co. developed the new Salted Nut Roll flavors based on consumer trends and preferences.

“Consumer reactions after trying both new flavors have been very positive, specifically noting how well the two new flavors compliment the normal salty-sweet taste of our original Salted Nut Roll,” said Randy Klemann, Pearson’s Candy Company senior v.p. of sales.