Thought Leadership

DON’T SUGARCOAT IT: CONFECTIONERY IN THE
21ST CENTURY

Sadaf Ferdowsi

Junior Strategist & Copywriter

October 31st, 2019

After every year of Trick-or-Treating, my dad would take our bag of Halloween candy and hide it. Over the next couple weeks, my younger sister and I would ransack the house, eager to indulge in the treats we had so proudly earned from our performances as witches, princesses and well-behaved children. Cruelly, our Halloween bag was always locatable but maddeningly inaccessible—we’d find it “hidden” on top of the fridge where we couldn’t reach, locked in the desk drawer we couldn’t open, or stowed in the china cabinet where the risk of breaking our mother’s prized crystal immobilized us from repatriating what was rightfully ours. It was only after dinner that my dad brought out the bag of candy and told us to pick one, and then immediately shuttled us to the bathroom to brush our teeth.

As a child, I felt that our household was a frustrating anomaly and I envied the leniency of my friends’ parents when it came to sweets, sodas and everything else. But it’s been two decades since my last excursion Trick-or-Treating and the data shows that contemporary consumers from all demographic backgrounds are reducing their (and their children’s) sugar intake whenever possible. This marked cultural shift stems from different sources. In study after study, in disciplines as diverse as pediatrics, public policy and psychology, added and processed sugars have been linked to the unprecedented prevalence of childhood obesity, chronic disease and aggravated mental health symptoms. Moreover, today’s consumers have greater access to a growing volume of information (albeit with varying degrees of validity) through media such as online articles, podcasts, Netflix documentaries, and even Facebook and Twitter posts that are instantly shareable to wider and wider networks. 

Consequently, a greater number of consumers are wise to sugar’s adverse impact on personal and public health—which, for the confectionery category, is a reality that feels locatable but maddeningly inaccessible. How can confectionery adapt when its primary ingredient issugar? How ought confectionery brands plan for the future when the overall growth for the category is projected to increase only 3% by 2023 (Mintel, Non-Chocolate Confectionery, US, May 2018)?

The most direct answer appears to be eliminating sugar entirely; however, this solution could backfire and alienate consumers who are loyal to their favorite candies (and brands). When it comes to consumption occasions for confectionery, consumers turn to their favorite candies as a pick-me-up, quick snack or as a small indulgence. Unlike other categories where sugar feels like an unnecessary ingredient to add (bread, spaghetti sauce, chicken broth, flavored water), few could claim feeling “fooled” that there is sugar in candy or that they didn’t know it’s unhealthy to go overboard with sweets.   

That being said, it might be helpful to imagine a spectrum where one end is “eliminate all sugar” and the other is “encourage extreme indulgence,” and confectionery brands can identify the sweet spot between these two poles. But any decision involving sugar requires an expert understanding of a product’s intended audience. For example, 65% of people 18 years or older who were surveyed in Spain and 60% of people surveyed in France for various Mintel polls reported that there was not enough sugar-free or reduced sugar confectionery at market. Alternatively, in the United States, only 28% of the polled consumers polled indicated they cared about the sugar levels in candy. This percentage jumped to 42% if the surveyed consumers were also parents. Because of this variance in attitude, it is helpful to conduct preliminary research before modifying a product’s sugar content. Moreover, research that explores replacing processed sugar with more natural alternatives such as sugar cane, stevia or Manuka honey could reveal illuminating insights on how to strike the balance between being healthy and being indulgent in a way that resonates with a product’s intended audience.

Sugar limits category participation

27% of non-chocolate confectionery eaters are eating fewer products compared to last year, and only 15% say they are eating more. The leading reason for decreased consumption is a desire to reduce sugar intake (61%), followed by a reduction in calorie intake (44%). The role of flavor innovation in encouraging category participation is clear, with 63% of respondents who have increased their consumption crediting a better selection of flavors. 

Mintel, Non-Chocolate Confectionery- US, May 2018

Beyond looking at sugar, another approach towards confectionery is thinking about the consumer and adding functional attributes. Confectionery brands around the world have been adding in functional attributes such as vitamins and minerals to their products for years, which is something the confectionery category could introduce in the United States. Some functional attributes include vitamin C for wellness, chamomile and green tea for relaxation, and mint and lemon for focus. Other brands even boast medical claims such as Israel’s Mazoriot’s Tree of Life lollipop that is infused with an all-natural sore throat medicine. Additionally, Japan’s Konro candy is formulated with 29 herbs and 10 billion lactic acid bacteria for immune support, and Hong Kong’s Karihome Blueberry Sweeties are rich in calcium for strong bones. Some confectionery brands even promote beauty and skincare claims by adding in collagen, rose water or hyaluronic acid to their products. By incorporating functional attributes, confectionery brands could position themselves beyond indulgence by sweetening the deal with some extra benefits.

Contemporary consumers are becoming increasingly more health-conscious when it comes to their foods, fabrics and household products, and the confectionery category can also align with this trend by offering organic and vegan options. For example, Black Forest Organic offers a line of organic gummies with all-natural sugar cane and swaps out artificial dyes with natural colors such as beet extract for red. Because many gummies are made from gelatin, Middle Eastern brands predominantly offer vegan gummies so they can qualify as halal. Because of the perception that organic and vegan brands are more responsible than their competitors, confectionery brands with these claims can also position themselves as ethical indulgences.

This last approach to adapting confectionery entails focusing less on product development and more on brand development. The philosophy here is that the product does not define the brand; instead, it’s the brand (social media presence, working conditions, corporate culture, scandals, news stories and everything else) that defines the product. When I think back on my childhood, it wasn’t just the Halloween candy that was meaningful—it was the cluster of attachments and experiences that the candy brought along with it. It’s not only the candy I remember as sweet, but also the memories of my sister and me failing to retrieve our Halloween bag atop the fridge, or desk drawer, or china cabinet. Wrapped up within these memories are also useful lessons in moderation, developing good habits, and prioritizing health. I believe confectionery brands can embrace the occasions and bonds that candy allows children and parents to form as well as children with their adult selves.

Yes, candy may be bad for us, but we can make it better. When it comes to confectionery, sugar is both crucial and problematic for the category—which deepens the challenge and strengthens the necessity to evolve. But we do not evolve merely to survive. We evolve so that we may innovate, so that we may imagine possibilities that don’t yet exist. Responding to change, as opposed to shying from it, may at times feel like a trick but it is also a treat.

Learn more about Kaleidoscope’s 2-month turnaround for all 4 of Skittles’ America Mix packaging design and the strategy, portfolio innovation and activation of “Sours” for Mars Wrigley. Satisfy your sweet tooth for strategy and design here: www.thinkkaleidoscope.com

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