Nothing gets in the way of a sweet tooth it appears. Not even a global pandemic. Over the past two years, sugar confectionery sales have grown steadily, with experts predicting that global market value will reach $69.5 billion by 2026. 

“If you look at the remarkable growth trajectory of chocolate and candy over the last two years – it is absolutely quite a story,” National Confectioners Association President and CEO, John Downs, told Confectionery News recently. “No one, in my opinion, in the modern history of the business has seen growth like this.”

But while candy continues to fly off the shelves, consumer tastes are evolving. And it’s impacting the type of products that are seeing sales rise.  

Following our countdown of fast-growing chocolate brands, Hooley Brown has been looking into wider confectionery industry trends. 

Here’s what we’ve discovered… 

Consumers are sweet on better-for-you confectionery 

While candy’s popularity remains strong, consumers are becoming more concerned about their sugar intake: 40% of people say they’re trying to cut down. And this is creating new opportunities for better-for-you confectionery brands that use natural alternatives to refined sugar. 

One big winner from the low sugar shift is Jealous Sweets, which has taken childhood favourites including gummy bears, jellybeans, foam sweets and fizzy worms and turned them into a healthier treat. 

Jealous Sweets has already taken the UK confectionery market by storm and is now eyeing European and Asian expansion, after securing a working capital facility from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking. 

Sugar-free confectionery innovation is thriving on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean too, thanks to brands like Zolli Candy – founded by teenager, Alina Morse. 

Zolli Candy products are made with erythritol; a plant-based sweetener that decreases total bacteria counts in the mouth, helping to reduce cavities and tooth decay. The company has dubbed itself the producers of ‘clean teeth candy’, selling lollipops, fruit and mint drops, taffy, caramel and gummies.  

Packing in protein boost product sales 

Consumers might be splitting up with sugar, but they’re keen to pack in protein. 41% of people want to eat more in their diets – and marketing confectionery around its protein content can help to boost sales. 

Companies like The Protein Ball Co are targeting both the sports nutrition market and people following a keto diet with their high protein, low carbohydrate snacks. But they face stiff competition from other food brands that recognise the value of high protein treats. 

For example, Joywell Foods has just raised $25 million to develop sweet proteins through a microbial fermentation process. Its sweet proteins mimic the taste of sugar without spiking blood sugar levels or impacting gut microbiomes. The company is focused on soft drinks currently but wants to expand its snacking platform into confectionery.

Society’s protein obsession is creating new confectionery collaborations, too. For instance, Golden Casket Group has joined forces with protein powder company Bulk to launch Bulk x Millions, a range of whey protein powders that capture the nostalgic flavours of chewy sweets. 

People are proactively picking plant-based candy 

Every confectionery brand we’ve mentioned so far has one thing in common: they all produce vegan sweets. And that’s no accident. Globally, 4 in 10 consumers say they’re actively trying to eat more plant-based foods, which is creating opportunities for companies to reformulate traditional recipes. 

Plant-based confectionery pioneers Jamie Laing and Ed Williams, founders of the incredibly successful Candy Kittens, are now turning their attention to sustainable vegan chewing gum. 

Chewing gum sales dipped by 15-30% during the pandemic due to more people working from home and reduced opportunities for dating and socialising. But sales figures are rising again, and Laing & Williams want to capitalise on this upward momentum with Nuud Gum, a plastic-free chewing gum.  

Other vegan sweet brands benefiting from people’s concerns about animal product consumption are Free From Fellows, which has inked a deal with both UK online supermarket Ocado and health food chain Holland & Barrett, and Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls, which experienced a 15% sales increase during Veganuary 2022.   

Consumers seek comfort in traditional treats 

There’s clearly an appetite for healthier, environmentally-friendly confectionery. But is this a sign that the sweet sector is getting serious? Not completely. 

In contrast to the plant-based, protein-packed, low/no sugar trends, there’s also rising appetite for fun, indulgent treats made with traditional ingredients. And it’s all linked to people’s desire for comfort and nostalgia when times get tough. 

During the pandemic, sugar confectionery experienced what Kantar analyst Fiona McQuire

terms ‘the lipstick effect’: consumers bought indulgent products like sweets to treat themselves in challenging circumstances. This has created the unusual scenario of both sugary candy and better-for-you alternatives experiencing sales increases at the same time. 

While incoming industry changes like the UK’s HFSS legislation will attempt to steer consumers towards healthier choices, many confectionery brands are choosing to stick with sugar in their product development. And it’s paying off. 

Juicy Drop’s Gummy Dip N’Stix went viral on TikTok when they launched earlier this year, while Mentos’ new Fanta flavour has been given a ‘thumbs up’ from consumers. And industry giants are exploring family favourites in new formats: Swizzels Matlow has recently launched both Love Heart candy sticks to Drumstick marshmallows.

How the balance of power will change between sugary sweets and healthier choices, only time will tell. But it’s clear that the confectionery market is thriving for brands that keep their fingers on the consumer pulse. 

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