Play Value Keeps Novelty Candy Sector Relevant


Washington — The lines between candy and toys are often blurred when it comes to the novelty sector. The more play value a product offers the more consumers see it as a value, providing young consumers with an extended experience and even filling in as a gift, At the same time, the higher rings provide strong profit margins for retailers.  

Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice-president and practice leader at Circana, says the sector offers three unique propositions. “First, they have a unique way of bringing life to candy as they leverage entertainment entities and/or day-to-day living experiences. Secondly, some of the candies are interactive, which emphasizes the experiential nature of the sweet treats. Lastly, the segment offers a variety types, forms, and flavors,” she tells Candy & Snack TODAY.

There are also the gifting and seasonal aspects that add to the appeal, says Anne-Marie Roerink, at 210 Analytics, LLC. “They are great as Christmas stocking stuffers, Easter basket items and even as baby shower prizes.” She adds that novelty items are also often used as gifts for lesser-known holidays such as Diwali and Dia de los Muertos.

All these reasons for fast growth also lend themselves to a broad consumer base, says Amos Ma, president of Shenzhen Amos Sweets & Foods Co., Ltd. “The consumer base for novelty candy products is diverse, encompassing children, teens, young adults, parents, and gift shoppers,” he points out.

Experience-Driven Innovations

Whatever the innovation, manufacturers stress the importance of engaging consumers and providing them with unique experiences. Take for example liquid gel offerings that provide chewy gummi sticks that you can dip into a sour gel, creating a sweet and sour mix and delivering an interactive, customizable experience. Others provide spray-and-squeeze experiences. 

“Interactive candies are hot right now,” confirms Gerry Clothier, vice-president of sales at Koko’s Confectionery & Novelty. “The sprays, squeezes, and gels become an experience and something to look forward to.”

Capturing multiple senses is a hallmark of the sector, and That’s Sweet Candy Co. is debuting an item that aims to do that by mimicking a common breakfast practice — frying an egg. The company takes a plastic frying pan, a gummi sunny side up egg, and popping candy, which adds the sizzle to the skillet. 

“Such innovations entertain and excite children’s senses, including taste, sight, and hearing,” says Ari Weinstock, CMO at That’s Sweet, adding that such products also reflect a growing emphasis on evergreen play-oriented options.

It’s this ‘gamification’ that has captured the imaginations of companies as they develop products consumers can pull, push, pop, and dip as well as candy/toy combinations. When it comes to licenses, Christian Jegen, president and CEO at Pez Candy USA, shares that the company works with a combination of evergreen and current brands that reflect movie releases and television series.  

Jegen points out that partners including Marvel share details about upcoming movies up to two years ahead of release dates. Then, he says: “It’s all about guessing right, like we did with the Pokémon, and paying attention to what’s trending.”

Haley Peyron, marketing manager at Candy Dynamics, says the entertainment industry and social media have a major impact on the sector. “There’s still a large push by Hollywood to be included in the confectionery industry and novelty candy allows for that with licensed characters. At the same time, we’re seeing a large push by influencers to be the face of a brand rather than simply including a product in a sponsored post on social media,” she tells Candy & Snack TODAY.

Another trend is the licensing on non-candy food brands, says Dale McCleese, strategic insights leader at Galerie Candy. For example, Fruit Loops Gummies. “Consumers are responding positively to these types of licensed items because they present a familiar and well-liked brand as an unexpected candy treat. It really taps into the fun factor of novelty candy.”

At Bazooka Candy Brands, Becky Silberfarb, vice-president of brand marketing for the Americas, notes that nostalgic or ‘newstalgic’ candy products are trending. These items, she says, combine products that have been around for decades, such as wearable rings with new flavor combinations, including sours. “Parents like sharing their candy experiences with their kids, and both like combining traditional with non-traditional flavors. For some, that might mean mashups such as a strawberry/mango or watermelon/lemonade combination,” she explains.

Products that provide an element of surprise represent the fastest-growing trend in novelty, says Todd Elliott, president of Oh My! Studios. “Kids love the surprise reveal experience and endless character-candy combinations,” he says.

Crowded Field Poses Challenges

Breaking through the clutter of constant innovation is a challenge for the sector, according to McCleese. “Sometimes it takes multiple tries before arriving at a winning formula that combines great taste with branding, licensing, and packaging,” he says, adding that even when you have that winning formula, shelf space can be a big challenge. “There’s no shortage of great ideas, and there just isn’t room for all of them on the shelves,” he laments.

But it’s not just finding space on shelves, sources say, explaining that it’s also about putting the products at eye-level for young consumers. “The middle and bottom shelves help our target audience to see our product,” says Matt Cameron, national accounts sales director at CandyRific, LLC.

Finally, because novelty items are primarily unplanned purchases, engaging packaging and front-of-store placement are critical. Roerink notes that the proliferation of seasonal offerings and marketing campaigns, including myriad TikTok videos and Instagram posts are also helping to land novelty candy on the shopping lists of consumers. 

“Packaging and in-store placement, specifically promotional opportunities, are the perfect launch point for novelty candy brands, as they allow the full story to be visualized at retail,” says Elliott.

As companies continue to launch innovations and maximize social media efforts, consumers appear willing to pay a premium for novelty candy items. “It depends on perceived value, the brand’s reputation, and uniqueness of the product,” says Amos Ma.

“As inflation rises, consumers continue seeking a good value for their money,” notes McCleese. “They view novelty candy as such because it remains an affordable treat or gift, even with many products extending well beyond the $5 price point.”

And that results in higher basket rings for retailers, says Silberfarb: “Novelty candy creates incremental sales and basket rings that are about 17 percent higher.”  

That’s because novelty candy consumers are about the experience, says Lyons Wyatt. “While non-chocolate novelty is priced about 25 percent higher than the overall confectionery category, novelty is still less expensive than going to a movie,” she says, adding that novelty’s future remains bright because of its entertainment value.