Tonnage declined due to the economy, and “people focused on the staples,” says Friedman of American Licorice. “This is a relatively mature industry, and we must achieve true innovation,” she says, “not just roll out new flavors to grow the business.”
Musser of Rotten Robbie is looking to breathe some new life into the category. She’s eager for those new nonchocolate varieties. Mobile apps could play a role, “where we can alert [customers] to candy couponing programs we offer,” she says.
At the store level, she says, there will be more emphasis on mints and less on gum brands, which have suffered. Because of the drop in confection sales, the chain was forced to make some merchandising updates. “We moved snack chips under the register in place of some gum and candy, and cut back on candy shippers,” says Musser. “We found that with candy at the counter, the turns were not as frequent, and it showed in dated product. With snack chips, the gross margin is lower than candy, but we see better turns.”
However, many stress that confectioners must be careful not to overindulge in innovation, lest they alienate customers who still want the tried-and-true products. “What candy brands people ate as kids still rule; it’s very evocative, so creating new brands is a challenge,” says Friedman. “The flip side is that there’s a lot of loyalty with evocative brands. We want to take our brands and continue building on them.”
—Additional reporting by Samantha Oller