Innovative Trends in Sweet Treat Categories

Flavor Trends Propel Growth

Flavor innovation is key to keeping sweet treat categories exciting. “Consumers continue to love new flavor combinations,” says Norton, of Hershey, whose Kit Kat brand has launched Mocha Duos and limited-edition Birthday Cake and Apple Pie flavors. According to Norton, Hershey’s salty/sweet combinations, such as Reese’s Big Cup with Pretzels, launched late last year, continue to be fan favorites.

Baileys Treat Report predicts sweet and salty mashups will get even more interesting in 2021. The report cites an influx of oat-based milk chocolates and ice creams and a crossover of Japanese indulgence treats as two trends to watch in the coming months.

Experts also say that lighter, crunchier and crispier textures are becoming more popular in the sweet treat segments. While such products have traditionally been dominated by creamy and melting consistencies, some consumers are viewing these attributes as “too heavy and unhealthy,” according to Euromonitor’s report. Recent launches, such as Kit Kat Thins, which offers two wafer layers instead of three, and Trolli Crunchy Crawlers, gummies with a crunchy coating, are examples of this trend.

Consumers Want More From Brands

Flavor innovation alone isn’t enough to promote trial or sustain consumer interest. NCA’s report indicates that shoppers are paying increased attention to package and production claims in categories across the store, including confectionery, and that trend is likely to grow. The “Sweet Insights” report notes that “younger generations in particular want to purchase foods and brands that align with their values and personal goals.”

Brands and retailers have elevated their environmental practices and corporate goals to address sustainable sourcing, package and food waste; reduction of water and energy resources; their carbon footprints; and other environmental issues, according to NCA’s “State of Treating” report. The report reveals that these platforms are important to about four in 10 confectionery shoppers – especially younger ones: More than half of Gen Z consumers said knowing that confectionery brands engage in waste-focused initiatives (reduced packaging, biodegradable packaging, etc.) influences their purchasing decisions.

More than half of shoppers also like to buy from companies that give to the community or charities, NCA’s report finds, and 45% reward confectionery brands that match their own values and beliefs through a greater purchase likelihood.

“These factors are increasingly important, especially with younger consumers,” Norton advises. “Our company is committed to responsible sourcing, our environmental footprint, and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Hershey is exploring more ways to communicate this information on packaging and targeted consumer communication. According to Norton, Hershey will expand its Celebrate SHE bar program, which rolled out last year, with its retail partners. “In recognition of International Women’s Day, bars were distributed at our Hershey’s Chocolate World locations [Hershey, Pa.; New York; and Las Vegas],” she says. “This served as a moment to celebrate the accomplishments of women, and we also were able to communicate our commitments to gender representation and dollar-for-dollar pay equity for women.”

Aiming to empower girls and celebrate diversity, Ferrara’s new licensing strategy with Barbie will feature girls from different backgrounds representing a variety of careers on product packaging. “A portion of the proceeds from these fruit snacks will support The Dream Gap Project initiative, which gives girls resources to break barriers and reach their potential,” notes Guiddotti.

Another key trend that Hershey is addressing is consumers’ increased desire for more choice in the better-for-you space. To that end, the company has launched Organic Hershey’s Bars and Organic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, among other items. “We introduced more better-for-you choices for the candy category earlier this year, with the rebrand and packaging updates for Zero Sugar offerings across our core brands,” Norton observes.

It’s no surprise that NCA’s report shows growth in certifications, since one in five consumers say that they look for certifications and labels when purchasing chocolate and candy. Fair Trade is the most sought-after claim, followed by Rainforest Alliance and Certified Organic/USDA Organic.