Organic candy sales are sweeter than ever.
Chocolate is by far the most popular organic candy in supermarkets, but sales of organic non-chocolate candies are up significantly too. Retailers are making room for the specialty treats, stocking checkouts and candy aisles with everything from certified organic lollipops and gumdrops to chocolate bars and truffles.
A few chains, such as Loblaws and Whole Foods, have even added organic candy to their private-label offerings, and others are preparing to follow suit.
“Even though we have over 190 Meijer-brand organic items in our stores, we have no organic candy SKUs currently,” said Ralph Fischer, group vice president of grocery, Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich. “We do feel that this is an important category, though, and we are looking into rounding out our organic candy offerings.”
Presently, Meijer carries organic chocolate bars touting the Hershey's, Dagoba and Thompson's labels, as well as Newman's Own organic peppermint and cinnamon breath fresheners. Most of the chain's stores also stock bags of Hershey's Organic dark chocolate and milk chocolate tasting squares.
Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., sells organic candy only at its new GreenWise Market store in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., according to Duane Stevens, spokesman for the chain. The retailer's health-focused prototype store currently boasts organic chocolates, hard candy and other tasty treats made entirely with ingredients that have been certified organic.
“We merchandise the candy at the checkout lanes and in the candy aisles in these stores,” said Stevens. “At this time, the organic candy category is not big for us at our traditional stores, but we expect it to do well at the new GreenWise location.”
Jenn Ellek, spokeswoman for the National Confectioners Association, Vienna, Va., isn't surprised that more retailers haven't created their own organic candy lines yet.
“One of the biggest barriers to entering the organic category is the amount of time and money required to get every ingredient certified organic,” said Ellek. Since confections typically contain quite a few ingredients, creating a new organic product is a big commitment, she added.
Indeed, the process can be very involved, said Jay Jacobowitz, president, Retail Insights, Brattleboro, Vt.
“Single-ingredient products and those considered high-frequency food items, like pasta, are much easier to work with when it comes to organic,” he said.
Still, if a retailer is going to invest in organic candy, chocolate is the place to start, since it is the top-selling treat in supermarkets.
According to the Nielsen Co., Chicago, organic chocolate accounted for 90.3% of organic candy dollar sales in supermarkets during the 52 weeks that ended Nov. 3. Sales in the organic chocolate category are up 36.7% to $11.9 million, while sales of organic non-chocolate candies are up 107.9% to $959,255.
Such impressive lifts have inspired companies like Cadbury Schweppes, the Hershey Co. and Russell Stover to get in on the act in recent years. In May 2005, Cadbury Schweppes purchased Green & Blacks, one of the world's leading organic chocolate makers. Last year, Hershey responded by acquiring organic chocolate company Dagoba.
Several ongoing trends have created excitement in the organic chocolate segment lately, said Jacobowitz.
“Organic chocolate dovetails with the dark chocolate trend, which is really big right now,” he told SN.
Chocolate might be dominating the category, but organic candies such as lollipops, mints and gummies are gaining momentum. Organic non-chocolate candy jumped from 4.9% to 7.3% of total dollar sales of organic candy in supermarkets during the 52 weeks ending Nov. 3, according to Nielsen.
Rob Wunder, co-founder, Yummy Earth, Ridgewood, N.J, attributes this growth to an industrywide flavor overhaul.
“Organic candy makers have tried using corn syrup, which tasted good, but consumers are trying to get away from it,” he said. “They also tried rice syrup, which has a very weird taste. They're finally starting to figure out how to make organic candy that tastes good too.”
Yummy Earth makes its lollipops and hard candies with tapioca syrup, which melts slower and tastes sweeter than other sugar substitutes. It also results in a smooth-surfaced candy instead of the bumpy, sharp coating commonly associated with organic candies.
The manufacturer also uses a method of cooking that doesn't completely burn off the fruit extracts used to flavor its mouth-puckering pops.
“Thanks to better methods of preparation, the category finally has a fighting chance in the mainstream marketplace,” said Wunder.
Hard candies are faring well. So are softer items like organic gummies, Ellek told SN.
“Moms are always buying gummy bears and other gummy treats for their children, and more of them are choosing organic instead of traditional products,” she said. “They figure that if they're going to get their kids candy, it might as well be something healthier, even if it costs a little more.”
Organic is certainly more expensive. A 12-pack of 3.5-ounce organic gummy bear packs made by Let's Do Organic is priced at $24.77 on Amazon.com, while a 12-pack of non-organic Haribo gummy bears in larger, 5-ounce packs is only $12.50.
Chocolate is no different. Many 1.75-ounce conventional chocolate bars cost less than $1. Organic Endangered Species bars retail for $1.29 to $2.89 at various chains; 1.25-ounce Lake Champlain organic chocolate bars cost $2.50 at Whole Foods; and 3-ounce Russell Stover Organic Pecan Delights are $2.99 at CVS stores.
Although making organic confections can be challenging, several chains have taken the plunge into the category.
Ontario, Canada-based Loblaws launched a line of President's Choice (PC) organic European chocolates in 2006, and according to Seanna Rishor, head of PC snacks and confectionery for the chain, they have been a big hit with customers.
“We have a 70% Dark Cocoa Bar that is fabulous and combines both the benefits of organic with the health properties, such as antioxidants, of dark chocolate,” said Rishor.
The retailer routinely double-merchandises its chocolate bars in the grocery section and in the Natural Value section, she added.
Whole Foods has an assortment of organic chocolates under its 365 brand. One product there is a French-made organic truffle filled with cocoa butter and caramel and drenched in chocolate.
The chain also carries national brands like Lake Champlain organic chocolate bars in exotic flavors such as Dark Spicy Aztec, a dark chocolate with a hint of cayenne pepper and pumpkin seeds. Whole Foods even stocks a Lake Champlain chocolate sampler priced at $45, with 24 organic chocolate squares, an assortment of chocolate bars and a 16-ounce canister of organic Fair Trade hot chocolate.
Dagoba's organic chocolate bars infused with ingredients like lavender, chili and ginger can be found at Whole Foods, too, along with Yummy Earth's organic lollipops and candy drops.
Schnucks, St. Louis, carries a wide variety of organic products in its stores, including 225 organic items under its Full Circle line. But for now, organic candy is not part of the retailer's private-label line, said Paul Simon, spokesman for the chain.
“We're adding organic items all the time under our Full Circle private brand; however, organic candy is an area that we haven't ventured into yet with our own brand or national brands either,” he said. “As we move forward and continue to expand the Full Circle line, candy may be an area that we look into if our customers tell us this is something they want.”