Cleveland — Confectionery closed out the year with another strong December, taking 2021 overall category growth into the double digits. Combined chocolate, non-chocolate, gum and mint sales increased 10.2 percent for the 52 weeks ending December 26 versus a year ago. Sales reached a record $29 billion, according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), in measured channels, including convenience stores.
Chocolate remained the biggest contributor, holding 58 percent of sales, reaching $16.7 billion. Non-chocolate was the fastest-growing segment in 2021, with an impressive 14 percent increase in dollar sales, while gum completed its comeback and ended the year in the plus, with gains of 3 percent versus 2020.
Chocolate was the strongest performer in 2020 and as such had the hardest path to growth in 2021, according to Anne-Marie Roerink, of 210 Analytics, LLC. Yet, chocolate sales improved in dollars, units and volume, recording an increase in dollar sales of 9.2 percent for the 52-week period. However the sector accelerated in the latter half of the year with very strong Halloween and Winter Holiday engagement.
Virtually all areas of the chocolate sector improved, with the highest gains in sugarfree chocolate, which has been the leader for several years now. Roerink points out sugarfree chocolate is a niche, but a fast-growing one, with annual sales of $257 million, up 34.3 percent year-on-year. Other growth leaders are share packs, up 10.1 percent, generating $6.5 billion annually. In addition, gift box chocolates recorded sales growth of 14.8 percent for the year.
Sales in the non-chocolate sector grew 14 percent from 2020 with many subcategories also seeing by double digits gains. The fastest growing segment was novelty non-chocolate, up 29.6 percent. But the performance of chewy non-chocolate was astounding, says Roerink. Accounting for more than half of all sales, at $4.6 billion, chewy was able to grow by 14.9 percent in 2021. Other non-chocolate sectors with double digit gains were caramel/taffy, hard sugar and seasonal non-chocolate. Additionally, Roerink notes that sales accelerated throughout the year, ending with 19.6 percent growth in December.
While, the gum sector had a tough 2020 as a result of social distancing, Roerink points out it made a full comeback in 2021. Annual sales gained 3 percent to reach $2.5 billion, with sugarless gum leading the way.
Noting the supermarket channel had the strongest performance in 2020, making it challenging to continue seeing growth in the category in 2021, says Roerink. However, sales in the trade class increased 6.3 percent for the 52 week period, with an above-average contribution by non-chocolate and chocolate. On the other hand, the drug channel had a challenging 2020 as shoppers consolidated their grocery needs in fewer trips. But sales made a comeback in 2021 and reached $2.9 billion, an increase of 7.5 percent.
But convenience stores came out on top in 2021, with a total CMG sales increase of 12.6 percent, reaching sales of $6.8 billion. Convenience stores had strong chocolate and gum sales, but non-chocolate brought home the win, with gains of 19.6 percent. Roerink points out that convenience stores have always over indexed for non-chocolate, but a record 41.3 percent of sales in 2021 were generated by the sector.
While 2021 marked a record year for the category, Roerink notes inflation played a major role in the success. However, both the chocolate and non-chocolate sectors recorded increases in unit and volume sales, demonstrating that consumer demand is robust. She adds that the fact gains accelerated as the year went on, the outlook for continued strength in the first quarter of 2022 is strong.