Washington — Within the candy category, flavor is the top driver of consumer choice. Today’s confectionery shoppers increasingly want bold and exciting flavors, and sour candy delivers that experience.
The majority of sour candies are gummies, and this segment continues to grow by double-digits, according to Conor Flanagan, senior brand manager at The Hershey Co. In fact, three of the top 10 gummi brands are sour — and these brands are outpacing many of their peers, he says. Beyond gummies, sour is also seeing growth in the licorice/ropes, novelty and “better-for-you” segments.
Brands have been experimenting with shape and color to differentiate from competitors, and the stakes keep rising. Consumers now have their choice of geometric, animal, fruit and character shapes and flavor profiles that range from citrus and berry to unicorn.
Jennifer Zhou, senior director of product marketing for North America at ADM tells Candy & Snack TODAY that sour candy tends to be fruit-forward. Achieving the distinctive sharp taste relies on acidity. Citric acid is naturally found in fruit and the acid itself can be directly incorporated into the candy or via a sour sugar coating, she says.
“Confectionery presents consumers with a fun opportunity to experience something new, and sensory elements are key to attracting adventurous shoppers,” she explains. “Sour candies are often intensely flavored, brightly colored and textured.”
Craig Cuchra, vice-president of marketing at Perfetti Van Melle USA & Canada, says consumers appreciate the flavor profile sour products provide, acting as a booster for the candy’s main flavor. There is also a high degree of variability in what companies consider sour. Some are intense while others are more on the tangy side and customers appreciate having that range, so they can easily find a version of sour that they enjoy, Cuchra adds.
He also notes that these flavors are especially popular among consumers in younger life stages, such as students and parents of adolescents.
“Generally speaking, sour candy appeals most to the 12- to 18-year-old range; however, we are seeing less intense versions of sour candy appealing more to older consumers who still enjoy it but are not looking for the same intensity as when they were younger,” he explains.
In the past, sour products were considered novelties and, in some cases, polarizing to consumers; however, Cuchra points out that the sector has evolved to be more approachable for everyone.
In fact, recent NCA research finds that in the gummi sector, where sour flavor profiles are most prevalent, 46 percent of U.S. consumers say they enjoy both sweet and sour flavors, while 43 percent prefer sweet flavors. A preference for sour flavors, according to the report, is much higher among Gen Z and millennial consumers.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Relative to the candy category, sour is a fairly new idea. Many of the leading sour brands were launched in the 1980s and 1990s, making them more than 30 years younger than many of their non-sour peers. There has been considerable innovation since, and the trajectory continues to be strong.
One example of this innovation is Jolly Rancher brand Sour Lemonade Stand gummies. This venture into a more unique flavor experience features two gummi layers in sour cherry lemonade, sour lime lemonade and sour strawberry lemonade varieties.
“It is exciting to imagine the different ways the sour candy space will evolve,” Flanagan tells Candy & Snack TODAY. “I expect some of this to be in ubiquity — showing up in different pack types and playing a bigger role in seasons, as consumers turn to sour candy for more occasions.”
Consumers often reach for sour candy while on-the-go. Nearly half of sour candy is sold at convenience stores, where peg bags are the preferred choice, he adds. Pouches are increasingly popular, letting consumers enjoy the product over multiple occasions or share with their friends and family.
EXPERIMENTING WITH FLAVOR
Flanagan explains that sour is ultimately an application, leaving room to experiment across different forms, flavors, textures and shapes. The traditional lens on sour is relatively binary when the reality is more of a spectrum.
The evolution of ethnic flavors across all food categories has also contributed to the sector’s continued growth.
With the proliferation of social media and ecommerce, global confections, such as green mango toffees popular in India and spicy tamarind candy from Mexico, are more readily available. This has inspired consumers to want to experiment with other intense flavors and has been used to enhance already existing sour varieties.
“Sour candy gives consumers a bold thrill like no other candy,” Greg Guidotti, CMO at Ferrara Candy Co., Inc., says. “It’s a multi-sensorial experience for their taste buds, focused on a flavor rush with the first bite.”
Ferrara’s Trolli brand was ranked as one of Gen Z’s favorite brands according to Axios. It’s latest innovation — Sour Duo Crawlers — feature dual textured sour gummi worms that fuse together a classic chewy texture with a soft foam gummi. Guidotti explains to Candy & Snack TODAY that this kind of sensory experience is on par with trends being seen across all confections.
“It’s important for each new sour product to have a distinctive signature element that provides a unique touch,” he goes on to point out. “Consumers in this segment are variety-seeking by nature,“ Guidotti concludes, adding that each year they look forward to what’s new on the candy horizon.