Fruit Chews: A Driving Force In The Non-Chocolate Sector


Washington — Once considered a niche, chewy candy is now an important driver of non-chocolate candy sales. Contributing to this is the fruit chew sector, boasting brands including Starburst, Now and Later, Hi-Chew and Laffy Taffy to name a few. 

The evolution follows candy consumers as they embrace products with softer textures and those that combine fruit and crunch. With formats ranging from squares, bites and rolls, to drops and ropes, the products are offered in flavors spanning traditional fruits to exotic options and even combined flavor choices. 

The result of these developments is a sector valued at $1.7 billion for the 52 weeks ending March 26, representing a 16 percent bump from year-ago numbers, according to Circana. “These items make up 14 percent of non-chocolate market volume but drive 30 percent of its growth,” says Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice-president and practice leader, client insights at Circana. “In addition, they attract households with kids, which typically have bigger baskets.” 

Flavors Add Excitement

While flavors such as apple, blue raspberry, cherry, grape, mango, fruit punch, strawberry, tropical and watermelon continue to have staying power, companies are looking to step up their game with seasonal options such as blood orange, exotic flavors including acai, dragon fruit and lilikoi (a Hawaiian fruit), and beverage-inspired offerings mimicking the flavors of sodas, cocktails and seasonal coffees. 

“As consumers, we’ve been trained to look forward to memory-filled seasonal products,” says Kristi Shafer, vice president of marketing at American Licorice Co., parent company of Torie & Howard. “Seasonal flavors comprise one of the most notable candy trends and we definitely want to be a part of that.”

Jeff Grossman, vice-president of sales and brand development for Yummy Earth, Inc., agrees that seasonal assortments are a sector driver.

Another trend to watch is unique, year-round flavors. “Our research and development team constantly experiments with new flavor profiles,” notes Teruhiro (Terry) Kawabe, president and CEO of Morinaga America, Inc. An example: Ramun chews inspired by the clear, sweet, lemony soda found in Japan.

Fruit combinations provide additional options for the ever-evolving consumer, confirms Dave Foldes, marketing director for the Now and Later and Laffy Taffy brands at Ferrara Candy Co., Inc. The company offers combinations including cherry/mango, lemon lime/strawberry, grape/watermelon, blue raspberry/lemon, strawberry/kiwi, strawberry/orange, mango/passionfruit and wild berry/banana.

The sector will continue to see new brands introduced that have different textures and flavors, points out Grossman. “We recently introduced lemon ginger chews, which also have the gut health positioning with the ginger bite and the great lemon flavor,” he points out.

Also, worth tracking in the sector is the sour flavor trend, says a spokesperson at Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc. These include sour cherry, orange, lemon, watermelon and blue raspberry. “Gen X and millennial consumers, especially, enjoy these new innovations,” the source reports.

Standing Out On Shelf

Packaging and promotional strategies play key roles in reaching consumers in the sector, sources tell Candy & Snack TODAY. “What matters most to consumers, according to our research, are flavor and ingredients, and that’s what needs to jump out at shoppers as they’re looking at packages in the aisles,” says Shafer. “Streamlining communication so it’s easy for consumers to understand the offering is important. The packaging needs to grab their attention and communicate fun — after all we are selling candy!” 

Also important are pack formats. “It helps to offer a wide variety of packaging options, including peg bags and standup pouches,” says Kawabe. “Hi-Chew plans to develop more standup pouches as consumers seek value in today’s inflationary environment. Whatever the format, the packaging needs to capture the bright, fun and colorful essence of the brand.”

Foldes agrees. “It’s important to present products in a variety of ways including standard assorted bars, peg bags and even tubs to offer fans more ways to enjoy bold flavors of the hard-to-soft chews.” 

While the candies have historically been individually wrapped, a recent trend is finding companies downsizing individual pieces and converting the products into unwrapped bites. Mars Wrigley started the movement in 2017 with Starburst Minis, but brands including Laffy Taffy with its Laff Bites, Now and Later Shell Shocked, Tootsie Roll Fruit Chews Mini Bites and Hi-Chew Bites are joining the market and finding success with consumers as poppable, sharable options. 

When it comes to promotions, the spotlight’s on family-centric partnerships and targeted social media campaigns.

For example, Hi-Chew has partnered with various professional baseball teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays, St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers, to host and sponsor activations at stadiums. In addition, it has worked with Chuck E. Cheese and Six Flags. “We want our fruity, chewy candy to become part of family memories,” explains Kawabe.

Companies have also found success in reaching consumers by tapping into relevant social issues. For example, the Torie & Howard-sponsored “Embracing the Journey” podcast digs into social issues such as depression and suicide — topics that strike a chord with its Gen X and millennial demographic.

And Ferrara’s “Recognize the Chew” Now and Later brand social-media campaign celebrates changemakers — youth leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. In 2022, the brand sponsored Black Enterprise digital media, recognizing African American leaders throughout the year.

“We have worked with changemakers as content creators and continue to leverage our platform to share inspirational stories around how they make an impact,” says Foldes.

Sources report that they expect the upward trajectory for fruit chews to continue as flavor, texture and format innovations proliferate, delivering what consumers want most from their candy experience. 

Morinaga’s Kawabe says company research shows the top three occasions for candy consumption are: when consumers want something sweet; when they want to relax at home: and when they want to eat something that is chewy. Fruit chews check all the boxes, he says.

Even so, Lyons Wyatt cautions against complacency. She tells Candy & Snack TODAY  that since the pandemic, fruits chews have been outpacing the non-chocolate sector in volume sales and that is still the case year-to-date. “If the industry continues to promote the products on social media and with in-store programs to help grow penetration, frequency and/or buy rates, double-digit growth will continue. If not, we might see slower single-digit growth.”