Washington — Recent candy industry reports affirm an observable truth: North Americans really enjoy sugar confectionery. The formats, textures and flavors in sugar confections offer consumers a fun, often permissibly indulgent, versatile treat that livens holidays, parties and an otherwise dull afternoon. And the future looks bright for candy brands. Innova Market Insights forecasts sales of sugar confections and gum across the U.S. and Canada will reach more than $14.8 billion in 2023. Mintel Group Ltd. offers a sweeter estimate of $17.6 billion.
Innovation is contributing to sales growth. People can expect more choices in 2023 since about 550 new candy products launched in the North American market in 2022, a 41 percent annual increase. The rate of innovation in sugar confections far outpaces snack categories overall, where North American new product development dropped 5.6 percent in 2022.
Why offer a new lollipop, licorice or chew when many people gravitate to familiar brands and flavors with each candy purchase? Recent research from FlavorSum, LLC confirms that after picking up their favorites, most people “always check out what’s new” in the candy aisle.
As a developer, finding the path to success in sugar confections can feel like a long game of Candyland, with shortcuts across Gumdrop Pass leading to getting stuck on one or more Licorice Spaces. But with the right strategy, team and partners, the new product development process can feel like a well-deserved win.
Get Ready To Innovate
For established brands, planning the product development journey starts with understanding perceptions of your candy. Informal conversations or more rigorous consumer research will help you assess how far you can stretch your brand through flavor, format or function. Take time to filter brand expansion opportunities through a lens of business goals and budgets.
Preplanning research can also uncover gaps in consumer “wish lists” that your brand can fill. For entrepreneurs commercializing a new candy concept, vetting your idea against your goals and with customers will help you adjust and align your formula to meet (or exceed) expectations.
Taking a trip to the candy store or a walk down the confections aisle serves two (maybe three) essential roles in the innovation process. You’ll get a real-time read on competitors’ launches and begin noticing new product development patterns in the category. Look for clues that help you start identifying themes.
- •re candy intros focused on flavor excitement, indulgence or nostalgia?
- Are there new packaging formats on the shelf?
- Are innovations happening in the functional space?
Importantly, experience the category from a shoppers’ perspective. Take the opportunity to pick up new candies to try and assess how your brand can stand out.
- While you’re out, visit a local bakery, your favorite juice bar or a trendy coffee shop. The versatility of sugar confections opens roads to innovate with flavors and forms that crossover from other categories.
- Think about recent cocktails you enjoyed (with or without alcohol) to discover fun, adult-focused tastes that might fit your brand.
- If in-market visits are challenging, new product databases from Mintel or Innova will showcase new products launched by market and category.
Industry tradeshows can offer additional inspiration. The Sweets & Snacks Expo features new products from established and emerging candy brands. Attending multi-category innovation events like this can provide a glimpse into trends in the early stages of adoption.
- Buzzworthy tastes in 2017 included ginger and banana, flavors that gained traction in 2022 sugar confection launches.
- The 2019 expos highlighted calamansi and butterfly pea, and niche candy brands and at-home candy makers are now beginning to innovate with these globally inspired tastes.
Plotting A Path
At this point in the innovation process, you’ll know your brand guardrails and the areas of opportunity including flavor, format or function. Try to size the opportunities to help prioritize your direction.
- What’s the estimated potential for ‘x’ new flavor?
- How does new flavor profitability compare to functional extensions like reduced sugar?
When you identify your focus area(s), it’s time to begin mapping the development process. Draft formulas, establish ingredient supplier partnerships and create benchtop samples for evaluation by your team.
If possible, within the launch schedule, take time to gather consumer feedback about the product concept, and if budget permits, let people taste samples to optimize the formula.
Social listening platforms, such as Tastewise IO, can offer additional insights into whether new flavors or formats will generate excitement and conversation among consumers.
The Road To Commercialization
Congratulations on developing a delicious, on-trend candy prototype! With your itinerary confirmed, it’s time to drive to market.
- Load up on ingredients and packaging supplies, verify labels meet regulatory guidelines, confirm production and ship dates with internal or external partners, and evaluate quality after production scale-up.
- Generate buzz about your upcoming arrival by sharing details through marketing and social media outreach.
After launch, check in with retail partners and people trying your latest innovation.
- Do their experiences align with your brand plan? You can pivot or adjust accordingly to ensure you meet expectations.
Navigating your way to your next candy launch gets easier when you have an innovation process framed with insights and expertise.
Contributor Info: Lisa Jackson is the director of marketing at FlavorSum, LLC. She has more than 30 years of market and consumer research experience and supported innovation activities for major CPG and private brand organizations. She can be reached at [email protected].