Minis Are King

Bite-size, king-size candies carrying the confection category

By
Steve Dwyer, CSP Reporter

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In the retail world, middle-tier product varieties can often get pinched at the flanks--the victim of sales declines coming at the expense of smaller and larger brand counterparts.

Welcome to the world of the standard-size 1.55-ounce candy variety, a longtime driver of chocolate impulse sales.

Standard-size bars have endured a performance trend line of flat to negative sales due to the rampant popularity of mini/bite-size brands across all channels. At the other end of the spectrum is the sales increase in king-size bars.

Ask Jared Scheeler, director of retail operations for Minneapolis-based Bobby & Steve’s Auto World, about the middle muddle. Dollar sales for 1.55-ounce chocolate bars plummeted 9.8% in his eight Twin Cities stores throughout 2013.

“For 2014, everything we hear is that primary innovation in confection will continue to revolve around mini/bite-size product development,” says Scheeler. “York Peppermint Minis [from Hershey] and Milky Way Caramels [from Mars] are the next two brand extensions we’re anticipating. Separately, over the past six months king-size-bar sales doubled in our stores. Where the new rollouts stop, I don’t know.”

The growth of mini and bite-size brands in resealable, shareable standup pouches is undeniably strong--and is only expected to sustain that trajectory in 2014. Bite sizes have grown four times faster than the total chocolate category over the past four years, according to Mars Chocolate North America category research. From 2009 through 2012, these offers grew dollar sales 80%, or close to $700 million, according to stats from IRI provided by Mars.

“The first thing that comes to my mind is, ‘Honey, who shrunk the chocolate bar?’ ” says Marcia Mogelensky, director of insights, food & drink for Chicago- based Mintel Research. “Consumers buy mini candy to ostensibly share, and to exercise some portion control for their own good. In the long run, people perceive bite sizes as more economical than king or regular sizes, and it’s about making it last longer.”

Health is also a factor. “It seems like there’s an unofficial ‘250-calorie cutoff ’ principle by manufacturers,” she says. “I think this has led to some attrition for larger-size varieties under the rubric of better-for-you snacking.”

From a health perspective, 1.55-ounce bars are tantamount to 64-ounce fountain drinks in the context of perpetuating the conversation about child and teen obesity, Mogelensky says. “In the eyes of young mothers, the front-end supermarket and c-store are becoming a dangerous space as the ‘child obesity police’ cracks down,” she says.

King-size candies don’t necessarily fall prey to this: The packages possess a duality of single and savable consumption on one hand, and shareable on the other hand--all depending on the occasion, Scheeler says, based on customer experience.

Mini Larceny

Even though the specter of cannibalization looms with the advent of true innovation across the bite-size segment, there’s a mixed bag of opinions on the breadth and depth of the so-called “steal.”

Steve Jones, president of Johnny Junxions, a single store in Bedford, Ind., says brand size variations “may help incrementally increase sales, but often the unknown is whether or not it really is an increase in sales or if the consumer just purchased a different form of the same product from the same company.”

Mars sees incremental sales being generated as the brand portfolio net widens. New users are coming out of the woodwork thanks to minis.

“As with most new-item launches, there will always be some steal. That said, we gleaned insights from shopper-card data from a major U.S. retailer that shows the Snickers Bites and Milky Way Bites have brought in new, light and lapsed users into the chocolate category,” says Larry Lupo, vice president of sales, convenience & drug channels for Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Chocolate North America.

For example, among shoppers who purchased Snickers Bites and Milky Way Bites, 37% were new to the chocolate category and 37% had not purchased chocolate in the prior six months.

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