As candy makers attempt to slim waistlines, sweets are becoming more petite.
Rather than manipulate recipes and risk forfeiting taste, marketers are cutting calories, sugar and fat by reducing sizes to fit portion-control packs. Other innovations are also helping to curb cravings in a more health-conscious way.
Take for instance new Snickers 2-to-Go. The candy that replaces the king-size Snickers bar comes in two pieces designed to be shared or consumed over time. A resealable twist “memory wrapper” helps preserve leftovers.
There are also 100-calorie bars marketed in multi-packs under the York, Reese's and Hershey's brands. Similarly, the size of Dove Chocolate bars — in flavors like dark chocolate-cranberry almond — have been shrunk into mini-bars sold three per pack, and sugar-free Jelly Belly jelly beans come in 60-calorie portions.
As the food and beverage industry sets its sights on slimming down the nation, more introductions may soon follow.
“The days of jumbo candy bars are behind us,” noted Dr. Richard George, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia. “Candy manufacturers are going to be in the crosshairs next unless they reposition candy as a healthier treat.”
Indeed, tinier treats are helping appease health advocates at a time when more than a dozen states have passed or proposed so-called “obesity taxes” on sweets like candy or soda to help fill budget gaps. Although they're designed to curb consumption, candy taxes are expected to have a limited effect on sales since they amount to pennies on the dollar, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of CPG trend insights for Mintel, Chicago. She pointed to consumers' willingness to splurge in the category during the recession. Even when money was tight, sales thrived as Americans treated themselves to an affordable reward.
Candy marketers hope to maintain that momentum by appealing to an unlikely bunch — the 74% of Americans who are trying to eat healthier, according to SymphonyIRI's 2010 State of the Snack Industry Report.
It found that to promote personal health and wellness, health-conscious consumers of treats like chocolate and non-chocolate candy, gum, ice cream, chips and other snacks are employing a number of tactics. Half are trying to improve their snack habits by exercising portion control, while 55% are looking to replace high-calorie snacks with healthier options.
These consumers seem to be succeeding, according to National Confectioners Association spokeswoman Susan Smith, who cited first-quarter sales data from SymphonyIRI that indicates an 8% increase in sugar-free diet candy sales vs. Q1 2009; a 4% increase in sugarless gum sales; and a 6% increase in sales of snack-size chocolate. The popularity of this type of candy and gum could have something to do with greater availability, as health-conscious snackers have a number of options.
“We see manufacturers downsizing bars so they can tout them as having a specific calorie count,” Susan Viamari, editor of SymphonyIRI's Times & Trends report, told SN.
In addition, a number of candy companies have introduced resealable packages that allow consumers to eat some now and save the rest for later, said Smith.
Then there is the tactic adopted by Mars Inc., the first U.S. candy company to post Guideline Daily Amount nutrition labels on the front of packages, according to spokeswoman Renee Kopkowsi.
“We are the only confectionery company in the U.S. doing front-of-pack labeling currently,” she said.
Its “What's Inside” label features two components: calorie totals in large type on the front of packages and more detailed information related to total fat, saturated fat, sugars, sodium and corresponding percentage daily values on the back of the package. The green labels are rolling out to all of Mars' chocolate and non-chocolate candy products as part of a two-year effort to be completed later this year.
Other confectioners could follow suit, especially given the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation's recent pledge to cut calories by 1.5 trillion by the end of 2015. Among those supporting the effort are Kraft Foods, which with its purchase of Cadbury became the world's largest confectioner, and candy makers Mars, Hershey's and Nestlé USA. Campbell Soup Co., ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kellogg's, McCormick, Unilever, PepsiCo, Ralston Foods/Post Foods, Sara Lee and Smucker's are also committed to the pledge. In addition to food and beverage companies, the Washington-based HWCF membership comprises retailers and non-profit organizations who are committed to reduce obesity, especially in children, by 2015.
It's unclear how many calories individual confectionery companies have promised to reduce, or how their respective reductions will take shape since the information is kept private, HWCF Executive Director Lisa Gable told SN.
“All of the [individual] pledges are held under attorney/client privilege because it's such a competitive issue,” noted Gable, who explained that not even she is privy to the information.
The food and beverage companies can pursue their goal in three ways including developing and introducing lower-calorie options; changing recipes where possible to lower the calorie content of current products; or reducing portion sizes of existing single-serve products. These calorie reductions will be measured against products sold in 2008.
It's likely that candy marketers will practice portion control rather than reformulate products or introduce new ones, noted Viamari.
“I don't think there is going to be a lot of mucking with ingredients and changing the nature of the beast,” she said.
Dornblaser agreed, saying that there is too much at stake to tinker with existing formulations.
“Reducing fats, sugars and carbohydrates in this category's products has such a negative impact on taste, instead I think we'll see more smaller treats,” Dornblaser said. She suggests that marketers introduce two separate portion sizes: one that's appropriate for kids and one for adults.
The HWCF will report annually to the Partnership for a Healthier America about progress made toward the pledge. The partnership is an independent, non-partisan organization for which Michelle Obama serves as honorary chair. It works to mobilize action around the goals of the first lady's Let's Move! campaign to curb child obesity within a generation.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will support an independent evaluation of how the HWCF's efforts affect calories consumed by children and adolescents. RWJF will publicly report its findings at the end of 2012 and again at the end of 2015.
Meanwhile, retailers like Jungle Jim's International Market, Fairfield, Ohio, have noticed shrinking candy sizes, but not in response to health concerns, according to Marion Stricker, candy buyer for the 300,000-square-foot store that dedicates 2,000 square feet to candy.
Instead, manufacturers are charging the same amount for slightly smaller packages in an attempt to grow profits, she said.
In many cases, the reductions are necessary to manage higher-priced commodities like cocoa and sugar, but most candy makers have yet to use the situation to their marketing advantage, said St. Joseph University's George.
He urges candy suppliers to either boast lower-calorie counts and corresponding nutrient information or reduce sizes so that they can be included in 100-calorie packs.
Working in marketers' favor are the profit margins associated with smaller-portioned multi-packs, noted Dornblaser.
“Those 100-calorie packs sell at a pretty significant price premium,” she said.
Although there hasn't been an uptick in sales of candy making natural claims at Jungle Jim's, interest in better-for-you treats has revealed itself in other ways.
Sales of international candy, and a coconut variety in particular, sell especially well, according to international candy manager Wayne Seibert.
Jungle Jim's shoppers are also purchasing chocolate bars with higher percentages of cocoa, usually in the 70% to 80% range, and probably for health reasons, according to Stricker.
Also selling well are individually wrapped pieces of saltwater taffy. The retailer expects to move 15,000 to 20,000 pounds during the summer months.
A numbers of factors are driving consumers to chocolate
When choosing chocolate as a snack what are you trying to achieve?
|Satisfy a sweet craving||51.3%|
|Satisfy craving for crunchy/crispy||6.0%|
|Provides antioxidants/health benefits||4.5%|
|Satisfy a salty craving||4.1%|
|Satisfy craving for chewy||1.1%|
SOURCE: SymphonyIRI 2010 State of the Snack Industry Report