Seasonal confectionery hits a homerun for candy makers, while meeting the shopping demands of consumers
By Rebecca Harris
Chocolate and candy brands do a hopping business around the holidays. According to Nielsen, the total confectionery category is worth nearly $2.5 billion in Canada, and the top five sales weeks for candy and chocolate all surround holidays. Halloween leads candy sales with nearly five per cent of annual sales, compared to 1.9 per cent for the average week. Chocolate, on the other hand, has its highest sales around Christmas/Hanukkah (5.8 per cent) and Easter (5.2 per cent).
It’s clear that there is strong demand for holiday treats, but as the seasons change so do consumers’ needs and preferences. For example, they’ll likely buy in bulk for trick-or-treaters at Halloween, or fall for a heart-shaped box to gift at Valentine’s Day. The key for confectionery manufacturers and retailers is to offer customers the right selection in the right format for all the different holiday occasions.
“The opportunity [in the seasonal category] is maximizing reach and participation in each one of the need states for each season,” says Martin Spencer, vice-president, Strategic Demand, at Mars Wrigley Confectionary. “For example, when we think about Easter, we think about what formats could work for Easter morning, what formats could work for sharing and what formats could work for single or personal consumption.”
Looking at Nielsen data from the U.S., items that are growing within Easter are formats associated with sharing, notes Spencer. In 2016, the Easter decorating and snacking segment accounted for 46 per cent of dollar sales for the season. While medium-size bags account for nearly half of decorating and snacking sales, extra-large bags saw the fastest growth.
“Our product portfolio has really complemented the trend that we see there,” says Spencer. “What’s really selling are items in sharing bags or things that are sold in bags that parents can put into their own plastic eggs for the egg hunt on Easter morning.” For example, M&M’s Peanut Butter Speckled Eggs now come in a new “sharing size” 7.05-oz (200-g) package.
Generally speaking, there are two product types that work well within seasonal confectionery, says Spencer. “The first is traditional favourites that you would associate with the seasons, for example, the iconic Lifesavers storybook at Christmas time,” he says. “The second is everyday brands in a seasonal format.” For example, during the Christmas season, Mars Wrigley sells a reindeer-shaped version of Maltesers called Merryteaser, and a bunny shaped one at Easter called MaltEaster. “Maltesers is a brand that people know and love on an everyday basis, and to get it in a seasonal variance is something that resonates,” says Spencer. Also at Easter, Mars Wrigley sells M&M’s Milk Chocolate Speckled Eggs and Peanut Butter Speckled Eggs. “Everybody loves M&M’s…and at Easter time we provide it to [consumers] in a speckled egg format, with a unique shape and fun colours that are associated with springtime.”
Chocolate is an important part of gifting throughout the winter holiday season, so it’s important for consumers to be able to purchase a variety of sizes and packaging, says May Zeibak, Consumer Insights manager at Nestlé Canada. Nestlé’s Turtles brand, for example, is available in a small stocking-stuffer size (83 g), casual gifting size (200 g), hostess gifting size (350 g) and a formal gifting premium tin (333 g).
“Bigger boxes are used for more formal gifts or to bring as a hostess gift, while the smaller boxes are used for stocking stuffers or as emergency gifts to have on hand,” says Zeibak. “Shoppers want everyday brands at Christmas, but they have to offer something extra with strong seasonal cues — either in product or packaging. While shoppers pay some attention to price, it’s not a top factor in the decision process during the season. The product itself, as well as giftable packaging, are much more important considerations.”
While Christmas is a big holiday for gifting chocolate, “what’s missing is a bit of fun,” says Spencer. “It’s a pretty boring category, it’s repeated every year and the formats are quite known.” To bring some fun into the gift-giving category, last Christmas Mars Wrigley launched Celebrations, a plastic champagne bottle filled with a variety of treat-size chocolates such as Dove, Twix, Snickers and Milky Way. “We think it’s great because it’s way more exclusive than alcohol as a gift, and everyone can celebrate,” says Spencer. “The real opportunities within Christmas are sharing formats and gifting formats that are fun.”
Nestlé also got in on the fun with its new 3D Castle Smarties Advent Calendar. “It delivered on a great consumer need: shoppers who wanted an everyday brand delivered in a unique and fun pack,” says Maria DiLeo, Category Shopper Development manager at Nestlé Canada. “We expect even greater excitement for this SKU this upcoming season.”
Advent-type calendars can also be extended beyond Christmas. Vancouver-based chocolate retailer Purdys launched a haunted house calendar that counts down to Halloween. “Our haunted house was inspired by the trend of specialty packaging for specific holidays,” says Rachel McKinley, chocolatier at Purdys Chocolatier. “What I love about it is that it is refillable and reusable, so people can collect them for their kids and refill with delicious chocolate year after year.”
For manufacturers, Halloween is a very different season than most others, notes Spencer. “You’re buying things to give out to strangers,” he says. That said, consumers still give a lot of consideration to their trick-or-treating purchases. “Shoppers have a tendency to purchase what they consume on an everyday basis to hand out at Halloween,” says Spencer. “So, what works well are simply small versions of our everyday top sellers, including Starburst, Skittles, Mars, Snickers, Twix and M&M’s.”
Zeibak notes that many people want to be viewed as the “good house” at Halloween, so they buy brands that trick-or-treaters will enjoy, as well as brands their family likes in case there are leftovers. “Since they want brands that they know family and friends will love, they are hesitant to try or give out unknown brands or new products,” she says.
Peanut-free is also important at Halloween, as is count size. “Value to the shopper comes in the form of the combination of brand, count size, offering and price, so retailers need to stock up on the leading brands and sizes that meet the shopper needs including 30 count, 50 count and 100 count,” says Zeibak.
For Valentine’s Day, it’s all about the packaging. “If it’s in a big heart-shaped box, people are happy,” says McKinley. While shoppers seek products that showcase their sentimental side, Purdys also appeals to the anti-Valentine’s Day crowd with cheeky boxes of chocolates. One six-piece box, for example, features the copy “Valentine’s Shmalentine’s,” while another says, “Forget love, I’d rather have chocolate.” “Those have sold quite well because not everybody is into romance, but there’s also that specialty packaging aspect,” says McKinley.
Retailers and manufacturers are also tapping into multicultural holidays and seasons, given Canada’s changing demographics. For Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, Purdys has developed a new chocolate-based mango bon bon. “It’s in a white shell and it’s coloured with a shimmery, orangey colouring so it actually looks like it shines, which is perfect for Diwali,” says McKinley. In addition, Purdys took inspiration from Songkran, the Thai New Year, for a new jasmine caramel piece last year. “Obviously, Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day are the biggest seasons, but we work really hard to celebrate seasons from as many cultures as possible,” says McKinley.
Nestlé has also introduced some of its brands to celebrate specific occasions. For Diwali, Nestlé’s lead brand is Quality Street. “It is a natural fit with its festive bright colours, and the variety of chocolates in each tin make it well-suited for large family gatherings,” says DiLeo. “For Chinese New Year we introduced Kit Kat Green Tea, a flavour variant that performs very well with this consumer. We plan on growing our presence in other holidays over the next three years.”