International Confectionery’s Editor, Kiran Grewal, sits down with John Downs, president & CEO of the National Confectioners Association (NCA) to discuss trends in US confectionery.
Can you give us a brief background of the NCA?
The National Confectioners Association is the trade organisation that promotes the unique role of chocolate, candy, gum and mints in a happy, balanced lifestyle and the companies that make these special treats. Through advocacy and regulatory guidance, communications, industry insights and retail and supply chain engagement, NCA helps create an environment that enables candy makers and confectionery retailers to thrive. As the leading association for the $36 billion U.S. confectionery industry, NCA works to ensure that chocolate and candy are celebrated for their contributions to culture, society, the economy and everyday moments of joy. Confections are produced in all 50 states, creating and supporting jobs for more than 600,000 workers in more than 1,300 manufacturing facilities across the country.
How has the American confectionery market been impacted by Coronavirus?
The confectionery category has been resilient throughout the pandemic. We have all looked for ways to make everyday moments at home like birthdays, graduations, or movie nights feel special during this uncertain time, and chocolate and candy have played a central role in doing just that. Our annual State of Treating report found that chocolate grew by more than 4% in 2020, and non-chocolate grew nearly 3%.
What trends are you seeing in confectionery right now?
Consumers are focusing on emotional wellbeing in a major way, and they are turning to chocolate and candy for the products’ uncanny ability to boost moods and lighten perspectives.
In the State of Treating report released earlier this year, we found that 77% of consumers believe that physical health and emotional well-being are connected. We also found that more than 80% of consumers agree that it is completely fine to treat yourself with chocolate and candy occasionally.
In terms of product and flavour innovation, the 2021 Sweets & Snacks Expo will be full of new products and trends. Two years of innovation will be on display at this year’s show, making our annual Most Innovative New Products Awards even more competitive.
How does the NCA benefit manufacturers, brokers and suppliers?
We have a strong, multi-dimensional membership value proposition that centres on three areas:
Influence: NCA’s purpose-driven brand is well respected and serves as a powerful voice when it comes to influencing and understanding the laws that impact chocolate and candy makers.
Insight: With access to top-notch sales and performance data and proprietary consumer research, NCA curates relevant content for our members and our retail customers, providing timely education, insights and analytics on the trends and disruptions likely to impact business.
Industry impact: NCA opens doors to new confectionery business worldwide and provides networking opportunities for our member companies to connect with new partners.
What challenges is the confectionery and chocolate market-facing right now?
Confectionery rang up $36.7 billion in sales in 2020 and was the fifth-largest centre store category. Our category is better positioned than ever for sustained growth, and our industry has become more consumer-centric in the way the companies market their products. It is a true testament to the resilience of the category. While the pandemic may have changed consumer behaviour and purchasing patterns, it hasn’t changed the special connection we have with chocolate and candy.
How important is sustainability and fairtrade/transparency to the confectionery market – what work have you seen being done in this field that is most notable?
Sustainability is increasingly top of mind for consumers and a major topic of discussion within the industry. The larger companies have well-defined leadership platforms that address many aspects of sustainability, including water use, carbon footprint, recycling/packaging, supply chain issues, and more. We will continue to work on this topic as an industry – stay tuned for more from us on this topic.
How is the preparation going for the Sweets and Snacks Expo 2021, and what do you hope to achieve from this live event?
The Sweets & Snacks Expo will be a very special show this year. With recent safety guidance from the CDC easing social distancing requirements and declaring that domestic travel is safe, the Expo is well-timed for the confectionery and snack industries and our retail partners. While the event will be different than in past years, we’re excited to get back to business – and, of course, make meaningful connections, gain category insights, and experience two years of product innovation on the show floor. Our move to Indianapolis for the 2021 show allows us to offer an in-person event, for which we have seen immense support from within the industry. We are grateful to the City of Indianapolis and the Indiana Convention Centre for their efforts in ensuring a safe and successful event, as they have with many major events over the past few months, including the NCAA tournament. To that end, the city has invested $7 million in the convention centre facilities for enhanced safety measures, including hospital-grade air filtration, touchless doors, Clorox 360 sanitation, hand sanitiser stations and safe concessions and dining areas. Additionally, we will have safety protocols in place that reflect guidance from the CDC and local health authorities. We are thrilled to have so much support and look forward to welcoming attendees to the must-attend event for leaders within the candy and snack industries.
What is your prediction for how the confectionery market will look in the next year?
Manufacturers and their retail partners are remaining flexible to meet consumers wherever they decide to purchase chocolate and candy, whether online or during their trip to the store. As Americans seek a way to add a little bit of joy to what has been a very serious time, we expect to see continued resiliency and growth from the category for years to come.
Image credit: NCA
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Editor, International Confectionery
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