Cleveland — While many categories are struggling to keep up with their 2020 record sales, confectionery is a rare exception. In fact, sales gains in the category continue to grow. For the 52 weeks ending April 16, data from Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) found that candy, gum and mints have sold 2.4 percent more in dollars than in the same period a year ago. Shortening the timeframe to just the most recent 12 weeks, sales jumped 9.3 percent versus year ago. While chocolate had a monster year in 2020, it is non-chocolate that is taking over as the growth leader in 2021.
Non-chocolate confectionery sales increased 4.4 percent for the 52-week period but gains jumped to 15 percent in the latest 12 weeks ending mid May. Virtually all areas of non-chocolate are contributing to growth, with the dominance of chewy candy gaining steam. Chewy represented 48 percent of non-chocolate sales for the 52-week period, and made up 56 percent of dollars in the most recent four weeks that included much of the Easter period. Additionally, despite bringing in more than $1 billion in the latest 12 weeks, chewy candy still grew 17 percent. The fastest growth during this same 12-week period was non-chocolate novelty. This is also quite a sizeable subcategory, growing 45.7 percent. Double-digit gains for the latest three months were also recorded by breath fresheners, caramel/taffy and seasonal non-chocolate.
Chocolate growth remains remarkably stable, despite going up against the sales peaks of 2020. During the 52 weeks ending mid-May, chocolate sales increased 5.7 percent. Gains accelerated slightly more in the latest 12 weeks (6.8 percent) and came back down a little to 3.7 percent for the four weeks ending mid-May versus a year ago. Virtually all areas within the chocolate sector are contributing to growth, first and foremost gift boxes (24.4 percent), novelty chocolate (42.1 percent) and seasonal items. Sugarfree chocolate not only is continuing its multi-year winning streak but growth is accelerating. Sugarfree chocolate sales increased 31.9 percent during the latest 12 weeks.
Now lapping early pandemic declines for gum and mints, the latest 12 weeks are moving sales in the sector into positive territory. In fact, the latest four weeks ending mid-May are seeing a strong recovery of the gum and mints market with year-on-year gains of 15.7 percent. When comparing the 2021 sales results to the 2019 pre-pandemic normal, however, gum and mint sales are still lagging.
The grocery channel had a very strong 2020, which is now leading to a much tougher roadmap for growth — particularly as shoppers are moving around more. This is leading to trips flowing back into specialty/organic, supercenters, c-stores and drug stores. While sales in the grocery channel are still up for the longer 52-week view by 4.9 percent, gains drop to 0.4 percent for the most recent 12 weeks, as grocery is lapping the big spikes of 2020. Chocolate sales in grocery is now in negative territory, however, it is important to note sales are still up against the pre-pandemic normal of 2019. At the same time, non-chocolate sales are doing extremely well with 12-week gains of 6.2 percent.
The trends are the opposite for the drug and c-store channels. While consumers frequently skipped the extra trip to these outlets during the early pandemic months leading to sales pressure for confectionery for much of 2020 for drug and for the first three months of the pandemic for c-stores. Now lapping those declines, sales in the drug store channel were up 6.9 percent for the most recent 12 weeks ending mid-May. Convenience stores improved sales 15.4 percent from year-ago levels in the most recent 12 weeks.