Valentine's Day candy trends: Chocolate remains popular, better-for-you options on the rise

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - 	cclickclick
Image Credit: Getty Images - cclickclick

Related tags Valentine's day Candy Chocolate Confectionery

This Valentine's Day, consumers are predicted to spend a record amount on sweet treats from chocolates to gummy candies, as the confectionery industry navigates supply-chain challenges and increasing demands for better-for-you indulgences.

“The chocolate confectionery category is still facing high input cost inflation — and much higher relative to other categories where cost pressures are easing. From commodities to policies, there are challenges for the chocolate. The bright spot is that demand is still there — people still value chocolates and are willing to pay these higher prices. But prices — and really value — must be continuously justified in order to meet the demand. What that means is manufacturers must continue to innovate, promote, and find ways to deliver that value to the consumer,” Carl Quash III, head of packaged foods, snacks at Euromonitor International, told FoodNavigator-USA.

Candy demand remains strong ahead of Valentine’s Day

This year, Valentine's Day spending is expected to reach $14.2bn in the US, with more than half of consumers (57%) purchasing candy, according to data from the National Retail Federation​.

Among consumers top brands include Hershey, Reese’s, and Lindt, representing “around 20% of global sales” for the holiday, Quash said.

Hershey is offering a range of sizes and candy formats from shared impulse packs to 2lbs packs of candy, as well as leaning into its sub-brands like Hugs and Kisses that play well with the holiday, he said. Additionally, Hershey has continued its license deal with “Peanut's cartoon Snoopy & Friends for display on Kisses packages to resonate with those who are beloved fans of the cartoon,” he added.

On the premium side, "Lindt's Valentine's innovations focus on visual, attractive packaging and an appeal to value," and offer a range of packaging types, including "heart-covered totes, teddy-shapes, floral boxes, quality tin metal, assortment bundles, and the classic heart-shaped box," Quash said.

While chocolate remains the most popular Valentine's Day treat, "sugar confections are amping up their play on the senses," and younger consumers are searching for products that have unique textures, colors, shapes, and sizes, Quash said. Nerds Gummy Clusters provide both crunchy and chewy sensations and "is a really good example of how the category is building on the sensory experience for consumers," he added.

Despite strong demand, the chocolate market is seeing higher raw input costs, which “will push global seasonal chocolate prices to grow around 3.5%,” and many companies are being more strategic in releasing seasonal varieties, Quash noted.

“Rising input cost inflation from these commodities, and underlying policies (e.g., US Sugar Policy), are ultimately forcing manufacturers to get smart and creative with their seasonal assortments — thinking more carefully about when, where, and what to launch. For example, a mini version of your treat may perform much better in the West than it would in the South given the differences in acting on health perceptions. And considering how consumer budgets from prior season's sales might impact the next holiday's performance is relevant. Greater tactfulness is what will be needed in seasons moving forward as the risk of category downsizing remains high.”

Consumers still want to indulge, but better-for-you options rise

While many consumers are induldging on Valentine’s Day, better-for-you and healthier confections are starting to gain momentum in the market, Quash said.

“Better-for-you options have seen a greater appearance in manufacturers' Valentine's Day lineups and are expected to grow. The bulk of purchases, especially around holiday festivities, still lean heavily on purely indulgent varieties. But as the category develops and with consumers demanding greater value, we can expect to see a wider range of tasty, better-for-you options become more available.”

When it comes to specific claims, consumers are seeking out chocolates and confections with natural flavors and are questioning the use of some ingredients in their chocolates, including animal-based gelling agents and specific food dyes, Quash said. Regulations banning food additives like red dye 3 — which passed in Californi​a and is proposed in Illinoise and New York​ — will likely "force manufacturers to review recipes and reformulate," and will impact brands like Dubble Bubble, Jelly Belly, Peeps, and Trolli in the future, he added.

For those consumers searching for permissible indulgences, shared impulse packs that range from 51-100g "that are still small enough to be self-treating, but also big enough to share a piece with someone or tuck away for later, are doing quite well at the moment and expected to continue growing in the forecast," Quash said.

Premium brands like Ghirardelli are “really executing on relevant dimensions of affordability and healthy treating, yet still keeping indulgence intact,” he added.

“With the backdrop of elevated cocoa and sugar prices, and the continuing crackdown on added sugar and fat consumption, these packs really stand out in terms of their ability to portion and limit sugar intake while also displaying approachable price points compared to other larger formats. And what's really great for the industry is that shared impulse packs have more opportunity to expand upon value features like flavor combinations and product mashups.”

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