A Functional Boost to Confections

You know the truism about Americans wanting more of everything is, indeed, true when we begin demanding more from our candy, gum and mint products than just good taste.

As with beverages over the last decade or so, so-called functional snacks are slowly gaining respect in the convenience store channel, as major manufacturers roll products that claim to clean teeth, boost energy, freshen breath and enhance mental performance. These products are also gaining prominent placing at the front counter and expanded facings in the candy aisle.

Consumers—mostly among the 18-34 crowd—don’t seem to mind paying a bit more as long as they don’t have to trade taste. Trend watchers and retailers alike are taking note and adjusting their strategies.

The range of products dominating the functional segment is extensive. From Wrigley’s Extra, Orbit and Eclipse (each with the American Dental Association’s Seal of Approval) to Cadbury Adams’ Trident Xtra Care, Hershey’s Ice Cube White chewing gum, BestSweet Inc.’s Bee MD Organic Honey Throat Drops and Mars’ vitamin-enriched chocolate lines Dove Vitalize and Dove Beautiful, manufacturers are injecting excitement into a decidedly mature category.

Strong Outlook
“The functional snack segment is here to stay, as manufacturers try to add benefits and value to their products,” said Curtis Vreeland, the principal of Vreeland & Associates, a confectionary market research and consulting firm based in Harrisburg, Penn.

Operators, Vreeland maintained, need not only educate themselves about functional products, but their customers, too. “With gas prices and the economy the way they’ve been, this is helping generate sales in c-stores,” he said. “It is also attracting slightly more upscale customers who are now willing to shop in a c-store, and looking for products more upscale then your basic stuff.”

Giving these products their own small spaces, such as at the front counter or colorful endcaps will aid in the education process, he adds.

The National Confectioners Association’s (NCA’s) recent Confectionary Industry Trade Report included input on coming trends from a panel of experts, including chocolatiers, confectionists, market researchers, nutritionists and manufacturers. Jenn Ellek, director of trade marketing and communications, said the trends show that healthful benefits is one of the next big trends we’re going to see in confectionary.

“Healthier confectionary options is one of the major drivers—88% of our panel agreed on this,” Ellek said. “There is definitely a focus on this functional category, especially when you look at gum and mints. These are two of the best vehicles with which to get these beneficial products into your body.”

The one major segment retailers should key a watchful eye on is gum. “The one trend that is really driving this whole fortified category is gum with a product called Recaldent (a tooth enamel-building ingredient derived from calcium). It is found in gums like Trident and Orbit, and it actually cleans your teeth,” she said. “This is a group of products that has the most potential to gain strong marketshare. It is the major fortification product we’re going to see across the board because it’s leading to better healthcare overall without affecting anything else that you are doing, and you can do it while you chew a piece of gum.”

Sales Boost
Timothy Ball, director of purchasing for Byrne Dairy Inc., a 51-store chain based in Syracuse, N.Y., said that “gums that clean your teeth” have, indeed, appeared on his company’s radar and have been incorporated into the chain’s standard candy set because of the sales potential the products have.

At the beginning of the year Byrne brought in Trident Extra Care gum plus some items from Wrigley and Hershey. “I wouldn’t say they’re setting the world on fire in our market, which tends to be more blue collar in nature, but the results have been positive,” Ball said. “The biggest obstacle we see right now is that the c-store customer is very loyal to the gums that they buy. I know my wife buys a specific kind of gum every week and that’s what she buys. These new products need some time for customers to get to know.”

In addition, the price points on these products tend to be a little higher than on other gums, Ball observed. “If you’re not there specifically looking for it—you’re just looking for a gum—and you see something that’s 40 or 50 cents higher than the comparable pack, it’s a tough sell.”

Another point Ball made is that suppliers have yet to shift marketing programs into high gear. “I have four kids and I’ve watched enough TV to notice there really hasn’t been the advertising on these products that was behind previous products,” he said. “Between TV and magazines, no advertising has really pushed them. They’ve just kind of been out there.”

Getting the Word Out
Despite the strides it has made, the functional sub-category is new enough that many still aren’t aware of it. Judy Fitzpatrick, the confections category manager for 327 Stewart’s Ice Cream Shops in New York and Vermont, for example, admitted that she’s “never heard of some of these products and don’t carry any of them.”

Likewise, functional gums and candies have yet to make an impression on John Archer, a Shell branded marketer in based in Hinsdale, Ill., known for his ornate candy offering. “I don’t think I’m carrying any of these emerging brands just yet.” He does, however, acknowledge their potential, “especially for parents who buy them for their kids. I mean, we sell a ton of sugarless gum because parents think it’s better for their kids. I think it will be the same thing with candy.”

Archer believes the power of branding will help expedite the growth of this product segment. “If it’s a Snicker’s bar that they somehow make low-fat or something like that it’s more likely to sell than some no-name brand. If it’s the big candy companies coming out with established bars that just happen to be healthy for you, that’s a much better segue into the market than something totally new.”

Brand equity and deep corporate pockets are just two of the tools functional candies and gums will need to command a sizeable mainstream audience. Solid benefits and great taste are the price of admission in the eyes of consumers.

“I think that with this economy you’re seeing consumers trying to get as much as they can for their dollars, and I think functional has a role in that.” Ellek concluded. “For a little bit of a premium price they can get more that will help them live better.”

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