By Daniel Scholes
Canadians splurge on sweets all year round, but spring is a particularly popular time to indulge the national sweet tooth. And of course the ultimate springboard for confectionery indulgences is Easter. Rituals and celebrations of spring date back to early civilizations and eggs have long held a starring role as a symbol of renewal, fertility and new life. While it’s unclear who first invented the chocolate egg, they started appearing in France and Germany in the early 19th century. With significant innovations in candy-making in the early 1900s, manufacturers began producing novelty Easter candies on a massive scale.
While everyday candy sales are the main driver of the category, seasonal sales are growing and can account for close to 20 per cent of annual confectionery volume. For confectioners, the week leading up to Easter is a lucrative and competitive time. So in the spirit of spring renewal, we recently took a closer look at candy-coated mini eggs. These eggs have it all going on — a solid chocolate morsel, covered in a crunchy coating of spring-inspired pastel shades — but are they all equally good eggs?
We recruited 50 moms who had kids between the ages of 8 and 12. All were from the Greater Toronto Area and regularly purchase chocolate mini eggs at Easter. They tasted and evaluated three brands of mini eggs, and were then asked a series of detailed sensory questions about each product’s appearance, flavour and texture.
Two of the three brands of mini eggs performed exceptionally well, perceived as very high quality and achieving high scores for overall liking and purchase intent. Although both delivered well on overall texture, one took the lead, achieving the perfect amount of crunch with its hard outer shell. The other top egg took the prize for appearance, boasting significantly higher liking scores for the darker colour palette of the eggs. They both hit the mark on flavour, delivering just the right amount of chocolate and candy coating flavours, although one was ever slightly too sweet. They also had a significant advantage over the third, less tasty rival, for perceptions of natural chocolate taste.
Coming in last place in this battle of the basket was a chocolate mini egg that did not make the grade in confectionery sensory standards. Close to 40 per cent of our testers rated this product negatively on the key measures of overall liking and flavour. Purchase interest was very low, and overall these mini eggs were far from the consumer ideal. They were the smallest mini egg, and tended to have the hardest shell, but its real failings were in the flavour. The candy coating was much too strong and sweet, while the chocolate came across as very unnatural, with polarized opinions about the strength of flavour, suggesting that there was simply something off-putting about the chocolate.
What’s in an egg?
While the main focus of our blind taste test was comparing the sensory profiles, our participants admitted that value and price were their most important considerations driving purchase decisions. The exclusion of artificial colours and flavours was also an important factor for many of our moms, and in this not all mini eggs are created equal. Among even the most popular brands there were marked differences in ingredient lists, such as the inclusion of cocoa butter, or the use of synthetic dyes such as tartrazine. Perhaps it would be easier to tailor confectionery products to the less discriminating palates of kids, who will rarely complain about candy (unless it is unsweetened). But while seasonal treats are typically bought with kids in mind, the big kids of the household also share consumption of Easter treats, and if parents don’t like them they are unlikely to be re-purchased.
A candy-coated chocolate egg is a marriage of two wonderfully delicious things: candy and chocolate. What could possibly go wrong with this union? To some surprise, our sensory results suggest that there is such a thing as a “bad egg.” Darker, more vibrant colours are appealing, and size does in fact matter. But most critical is getting the “bite” right for the candy shell, and delivering a chocolate flavour that is recognizable, natural and tasty. Perhaps this sounds over simplified — the task to optimize sensory profiles is never an easy one — but with next Easter a long way away, it may be the perfect time to hop to it and increase your share of the candy basket.
For questions about this research, or how to leverage consumer taste buds in your business, contact Dan Scholes at [email protected] or at (905) 456-0783.