While looking at the calendar this morning, I got quite the shock.
How is it already Aug. 30? This summer flew by. It seems like May’s Sweets & Snacks Expo and June’s National Candy Month were only yesterday. And, on a personal note, my 17-year-old sister started her senior year of high school last week. That doesn’t seem right at all.
Summer may be waning, but ECRM’s Candy Planning: Everyday and Summer Seasonal event, held Aug. 13-17 at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, Fla., served as a great way to cap it off.
First, it was great to meet with so many manufacturers new to ECRM and to me. According to a quick count, 10 of the 108 participating sellers hadn’t experienced an ECRM candy planning event before. And of the 68 companies I met with in ECRM’s characteristic speed dating-style appointments, 29 of them I hadn’t seen at a previous event. While I enjoyed chatting with the ECRM regulars, it was also great to get input from new companies and see new faces.
To kick off the festivities, Larry Levin, executive v.p. of consumer and shopper marketing thought leadership for IRI, a Chicago-based research firm, offered a mid-year review of the snacking and treating categories. Levin noted that while candy is a $24-billion industry, it’s facing fierce competition from the $11.6-billion ice cream business, which has seen 3.9 percent growth over the last year, and the cookie category, which posted 2.8 percent growth.
“Treating tends to really continue to evolve itself because consumers have so many opportunities to indulge in snacking and treating,” Levin said, speaking to manufacturers and retail buyers. “But, at the end of the day, what we want to make sure is when someone wants a treat, they pick candy, because we have a very tight competitive set with cookies and with ice cream,” he said.
Levin also said — not surprisingly — that non-chocolate chewy candy is driving growth in the overall candy market, posting a 5.6 percent gain over the last year. Chocolate bars, boxes or bags with less than 3.5 oz. weren’t far behind, with 3.5 percent growth.
Levin also touched on innovation, noting candy new product sales brought in $300 million over the last year. The contribution was fairly split between the Top Four manufacturers (47 percent) and mid-sized manufacturers (48 percent).
“When we think again about whether we’re at a disadvantage as a small company, we’ve leveled the playing field when it comes to new product innovation,” he said. “We’re right there neck and neck with the big guys.”
It makes sense, then, that so much innovation was on display during the show. In fact, I stopped counting at 100 new products.  Many of those products — which will appear in post-show roundups in upcoming issues — fell under trends we’ve seen and will continue to see: organic, chewy, sour and emoji. 
ECRM events are intense, but they’re usually a blast. I’m looking forward to the Christmas and Halloween Candy Planning show, set for Feb. 18-21 in Chicago. See you there!