Reilly Musser knows her customers love the new “hand-to-mouth” confection products—resealable, shareable pouches of unwrapped, bite-sized sweets.
Musser, category manager for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Robinson Oil, which has 18 Rotten Robbie c-stores and a few kiosk-type locations, sees the upside of the trend toward bite-sized. And the retailer is hungry for even more innovation as a way of stemming category volume declines in her stores this past year—losses in part due to a still-recovering economy. Oh, and the freefall that the gum category experienced didn’t help matters either.
“Our candy sales were down this year after a decade of annualized growth,” says Musser. “We’ve done the customer research and look forward to new offers in the nonchocolate segment in early 2014. Because our stores run smaller, peg-bag varieties in the nonchocolate segment are our sweet spot and offer customers good value. When we get it balanced, we can restore category growth.”
The silver lining for retailers such as Musser is that while a failing economy necessitated a cutback on indulgences, more people are consuming mini-meals throughout the day, and confection has landed squarely on their hunger radars. The third meal of the day is no longer dinner but the first snack after “lunch,” and hand-to-mouth offerings are on the menu—with the latest chocolate and nonchocolate items providing convenient, immediate consumption for our clockless consumers.
Chicago-based IRI recently provided some insight into this snacking paradigm through its research on the daily eating habits of consumers. The research firm identified a group it calls “opportunists”: Representing 21% of Americans, these folks eat on the run and grab a snack or beverage whenever they have the chance, paying little attention to traditional meal occasions. They also emphasize price, value, portability and convenience over nutrition in their snack choices.
Sales of chocolate candy among “opportunists” grew nearly 16% the past year, according to IRI, led by The Hershey Co.’s Reese’s Minis and Brookside line of chocolate-covered superfruits, which landed on IRI’s Pacesetters list of top-selling new products for confections. Both of these items are offered in the standard packaging of the hand-to-mouth trend: resealable stand-up pouches (SUP) for easy snacking.
“We are inveterate snackers, and confectioners have upped the ante on quicker consumption values. The facility to snack has been made far easier,” says Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insights, food and drink for Chicago-based Mintel.
“As consumers navigate through their busy on-the-go lifestyles, snacking is playing a bigger role in the daily routine,” says Brian Kavanagh, senior director, category strategy and insights, c-store, for The Hershey Co., Hershey, Pa., via e-mail. “Consumers use these bite-sized items as an easy-to-eat snack while doing other things, and the smaller pieces allow consumers to enjoy the snack at different points during the day.”
Since 2008, 20% of confection launches have been portable/sharable. “It’s a trend that’s not going away,” says Jenn Ellek, director of trade marketing and communications for Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association (NCA). “These products eliminate the chore of unwrapping, but also bite-size increments allow consumers to eat less per occasion.”
SUPs have proven to be a surprise success in the c-store channel, where many category experts originally assumed the price point would prove too high. And it’s a form that manufacturers are pursuing with zeal, if product introductions at the 2013 NACS Show are any indication.