I have a confession: I am a closet candy addict. There, I said it. Please don’t judge me.
When it comes to candy, my Achilles’ heel is sour candy—not any old sour candy, I need the good stuff that makes my eyes water and inside of my mouth sting with sadistic pleasure as Sweet Tarts and Sour Punch candy straws taunt me to take just one more piece. This happens only at Halloween, and it’s an unwritten rule that my husband must hide the bags of candy we’ve purchased for the neighborhood kids until Halloween night. It’s his cross to carry so to speak, and the poor man sleeps with one eye open for the entire week leading up to the ghoulish night.
But the one thing I know is that I am not alone. Halloween marks the confectionery industry’s sweetest time of the year for sales, second only to Easter. In fact, the National Confectioners Association (NCA) estimates that Americans will spend approximately $2.7 billion on sweet treats this spooky holiday.
More than 75 percent of Americans buy candy to participate in traditional Halloween activities, and 72 percent of parents admit they share in their children’s candy stash, whether anyone knows it or not. Interestingly, 47 percent of parents say sharing candy is a house rule, while 25 percent claim they are more likely to take a treat when their children are not looking. That is a serious deal to an unsuspecting kid. Need proof, just watch last year’s Jimmy Kimmel’s YouTube Challenge - I Told My Kids I Ate All Their Halloween Candy video that received 17.5 million views.
When it comes to packaging, 85 percent of Americans say they prefer Halloween candy in small packages—like miniatures or snack-size candies. And speaking of packages, 65 percent of people like to buy candy in Halloween packaging like orange and black wrappers, or candies that have other Halloween shapes or themes.
But when it comes to favorites, chocolate in all its varieties is the star of Halloween with 68 percent of people saying it is their favorite Halloween treat. Traditional Halloween candy corn comes in second with 10 percent enjoying it the most, while chewy candy and gummy candy are in a dead heat with 7 percent of Americans choosing them as their favorites. However, more than 25 percent of adults note that their favorite candy has changed over time.
But getting to the serious point of this blog, Americans view candy as a treat and eat it just two or three times a week—an average of about 40 calories a day. Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents use Halloween to prioritize setting guidelines and talking to their children about moderation. Four out of five have a plan in place to help, like having limits on the number of pieces of candy their kids can collect or enjoy per day.
This is important because consumers are demanding healthier natural sweetener alternatives, leading marketers in all categories to search for new alternatives to traditional sweetener systems. The sweet treats market is no exception, affecting formulators focusing on traditional confectionery items into crossovers such as gummies, chewables and functional chocolates. This topic was discussed recently in the “Selecting Appropriate Sweeteners for Chocolates, Gummies and Chewables" panel discussion during SupplySide 2016. Panelists Adams Berzins, Ingredion Inc.; Stephen Roman, Plexus Worldwide; and Alex Woo, Ph.D., W2O Food Innovation discussed the functional role of sweeteners in confectionery formulations, including crossover supplement delivery formats; explained the basic principles of sugars and sweeteners as they relate to confectionery processes, and how can alternative bulking agents play a role; and detailed recent advances in sweet taste neuroscience and emerging receptor technology.
I walked away from the session with a better appreciation for how formulators and marketers are delivering sweet treats that meet shopper expectations. Unfortunately, the session also started my annual craving for that oh so tangy fix. So far this year I've managed to keep my demons at bay, but I don't hold out hope for the weekend.