By Carol Neshevich
It’s 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, you’re sitting at your desk and you’re feeling a little hungry. Do you reach for those carrot sticks you packed this morning, or do you decide to indulge in your favourite chocolate bar to reward yourself for a hard week of work?
While most of us would like to answer “carrot sticks” every time, chances are even the most health-conscious among us occasionally go for a chocolate bar. Despite the growing trend toward healthy eating, the demand for confectionery products — from rich chocolate bars to sweet and chewy gummy bears — isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. According to Statistics Canada, the average monthly sales of candy, confectionery and snack foods at large retailers was $318.3 million in 2015, up from $305.3 million in 2014. That number soars even higher during months featuring candy-focused holidays. In October 2015,for example, sales jumped to $418.8 million thanks to Halloween,and in December sales increased to $478.5 million due toHanukkah and Christmas.
That said, Canadian consumers are increasingly looking for confectionery treats that satisfy that sweet tooth while also offering “better-for-you” elements. These can include less sugar, a lower calorie count, more natural ingredients or fewer artificial ingredients, and better sustainability practices in the production of the treats. Essentially, they want goodies that they can feel a little less guilty about consuming.
“There are many trends impacting global consumer confectionery purchases and we see consumers looking for more permissible options — items with less calories, no artificials, etc.,” says Ryan Denys, Marketing director, Confectionery, at Nestlé Canada. “Globally, Nestlé has made a number of nutrition, health and wellness commitments, and in Canada we’ve been on a journey of continuous improvement for some time. In 2009 we removed artificial colours from our Canadian-made Smarties, and in 2011 removed artificial flavours from our most popular Canadian-made confectionery products, including Smarties,Kit Kat, Aero and Coffee Crisp.” From a sustainability standpoint, adds Denys, “consumers have an increased interest in knowing where ingredients are sourced from, and they are pleased to know 100 per cent of chocolate produced at our Toronto factory is certified UTZ for sustainability and sourced within our Nestlé Cocoa Plan.”
To highlight all of these efforts, Nestlé is currently embarking on a new marketing campaign called “Unwrap Some Good.” The campaign will feature point-of-sale (POS) materials communicating these messages to consumers, explains Denys. “When consumers choose a bar from the Unwrap Some Good POS tools in stores, they will see messaging they can feel good about, including 100-per-cent sustainable cocoa, no artificial colours, natural flavours, and the commitment to helping build stronger communities in the Ivory Coast,” he says.
Mars Canada (manufacturers of confectionery brands such as Mars bars, Snickers, Wrigley’s Extra gum and Maltesers) is on a similar path of modifying the classics slightly to appeal to consumers looking for a better-for-you indulgence. “We are evolving our portfolio to include products with benefits, like sugar-free gum, and variable pack sizes to fit within the diet as a treat,” says Jeremy Daveau, general manager of Wrigley Canada, a division of Mars Canada. “Recently, we introduced bite-size offerings of our leading brands like Snickers and Twix, offering a more permissible and appealing way to enjoy chocolate.”
Marketing and merchandising measures such as smaller portions/package sizes and labelling modifications have been key for Canadian confectionery makers looking to continue thriving in our current health and wellness-focused marketplace. “We portion and label our confection products in a clear and transparent way to help consumers make responsible choices to realize their individual well-being goals,” says Daveau. “We also provide our consumers with choice across a wide range of pack sizes, and we limit our confections to no more than 250 calories per serving. Multi-serving packs are labelled as ‘share packs’ to clearly indicate that they are intended as more than one serving to encourage Canadians to enjoy these products in moderation.”
One quick glance at the Dare Candy Co.’s website and you’ll notice that Dare has also shifted its marketing towards the better-for-you elements of its candies. The word “real” appears at the beginning of almost all of its candy names — RealFruit Gummies, Real Jubes, RealMint Scotch Mints, RealSour Sticks, and more — with the tagline “Real candy made better.” The Real Fruit Gummies boast real fruit juice as an ingredient, and the company even offers a RealFruit Gummies Superfruits option, a package that features trendy flavours like pomegranate, acai and black currant.
Dare also prominently features various nutrition-related and dietary logoson its packaging, depending on the product, including the gelatin-free and peanut-free logos. For each product on the website it lists “Made Better Facts,” which includes claims like fat free, gluten free, peanut free, made with real fruit juice, no artificial colours or flavours, and gelatin free.
A study conducted for Dare in 2016revealed that 62 per cent of Canadians admit to having a sweet tooth — a fact that the 125-year-old Canadian company used in its press releases last summer to promote a national marketing campaign in which a mobile treats truck gave away product samples in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to tout the “made better” aspects of its treats. If that many Canadians have a sweet tooth, the company seemed to suggest in its campaign, why not offer those Canadians “made better” products?
While the larger confectionery manufacturers typically dominate the marketplace, smaller companies — the “disruptors” of the confectionery space — are increasingly emerging with products to satisfy the desire for better-for-you candy. For example, Vancouver-based SmartSweets offers both sweet and sour varieties of gummy bears that contain no sugar, sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners. Sweetened with stevia, the candies also contain 24 g of plant-based, GMO-free soluble fibre per bag.
As SmartSweets’ company founder Tara Bosch writes on her website: “My quest to innovate the first smart candy that kicks sugar began after forming an unhealthy relationship with food and experiencing the negative effects sugar has on our health.” Her innovative gummy bear recipe is, she explains, all about “kicking sugar, keeping candy and creating a movement on smaller, smarter choices.”
But while confectionery manufacturers large and small are working hard to make indulging in chocolates and candies a little less guilt-inducing, the category isn’t all about better-for-you elements — after all, it’s called a treat for a reason. “At Nestlé Canada we know that taste, fun and enjoyment are also important,” says Nestlé’s Denys. “Consumers come to the category to try new products, and we are helping them enjoy this category in more permissible ways.”