Candy lovers are pulled in two directions, according to recent market surveys from the National Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing. While the trend toward healthy snacking and nutritious candies remains strong, buyers also want an indulgent treat. Those seemingly divergent goals have created a boom in sales of products that deliver both. Dark chocolate bars and chocolate-covered dried fruits let consumers enjoy a snack that tastes sinful but packs a virtuous antioxidant wallop. Tree nuts, peanuts and coconut also satisfy a sweet tooth with healthful fats and protein.
As part of the move toward healthier foods, organic eating has gone mainstream. Energy bars and organic nut mixes that were once found only in health food stores now grace drugstore and grocery shelves. Foods that need minimal processing, such as dried cranberries, blueberries and raisins, appeal to candy lovers who want something closer to nature.
While some customers reach for organic granola bars and snack mixes, others look for specialty products. Buyers are more aware than ever about special dietary needs, so sugar-free, gluten-free and low-carbohydrate snacks are drawing a larger market share. Mannitol and xylitol sweeteners let people who are watching their sugar intake enjoy dessert again. Nuts, always a popular snack, are soaring in popularity as low-carb dieters and gluten-sensitive people look for a satisfying treat that meets their dietary needs.
As more people snack on the go, foods that are easy to eat have extra appeal. Candy-coated products that resist melting are always big sellers for summer, but dried fruit, nut and cereal bars also offer easy snacking options. Miniature versions of classic products are popular because they’re easy to eat by the handful without fussing with individual wrappers. These pixie-sized candies also let health-conscious consumers eat smaller portions while still enjoying their favorite candies.
Sour candies, a mainstay of the early 2000s, are waning slightly in popularity, but snacks with bold flavors are growing to fill that niche. Intensely hot cinnamon, potent licorice and powerful fruit flavors are picking up where sour foods left off, giving consumers big flavor in a little bite. While kids still gravitate to strong sour flavors and hot candies, adults reach for more sophisticated flavor profiles. Salt, once the sole province of savory foods, is finding its way into chocolate bars and caramels.
Candy fans who want great flavor without the guilt have plenty of nutritious bars and mixes from which to choose, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more, suggests the IRI Group’s State of the Snack Industry report for the previous year. The typical candy buyer has an apparently insatiable sweet tooth and an increasingly health-conscious outlook, but snack manufacturers are rising to the challenge admirably.