The Impact of the ’S’ Word

The Impact of the ’S’ Word

Confectionery giants are keeping their customers sweet as shoppers spend and buy more of their favourite treats, according to latest market reports. Value and volume growth are up as brands dazzle fans with candied innovation, colourful launches and alluring brand extensions.

Yet as seasonal peaks and lifestyle changes prove successful opportunities for confectionery brands, the dreaded “S” word threatens to steal the limelight. With sugar now labelled as “the new tobacco” (Action on Sugar 2014), academics and governing bodies are turning sour and calling for immediate action from manufacturers to reduce sugar consumption.

We spoke to R Client Services Director, Nick Verebelyi, about his thoughts on the confectionery market, and asked what impact growing health concerns have had upon brands playing in the sickly sweet world of sugar.

Q. What evidence is there that confectionary brands are doing more to cater for a population that are more health-conscious, seeking sugar-free alternatives?

A. “There is certainly an increase in healthier options appearing in the marketplace, often centered around sugar-free alternatives and reformulations. Breakfast bars and cereals are a good example of that, with many brands focused on promoting their healthy credentials; Bear’s yoyo fruit rolls claim no added sugar or preservatives and never from concentrate, Nakd bars adopt a wholefood, minimal processing approach and Eat Natural are all about no preservatives and wholesome ingredients.

Snacks for children and toddlers are also following suit, with brands such as Kiddylicious providing a ‘real fruit’ based snack contributing to 1 of your 5 a day, and Fruit Bowl using 100% fruit and pureés in their School Bars. Yet despite some confectionery brands moving into similar territory, there isn’t overwhelming evidence to suggest the sugar-free confectionery category has gone mainstream.

Many people would argue that some so called ‘healthier’ options have more sugar and fat than the ‘unhealthy’ things they replace such as biscuits. In my opinion, sugar-free goes against what confectionery truly is and why people buy it; to indulge and treat themselves. The Jelly Bean Factory for example, are all about high quality, all natural ingredients, but essentially they’re still sweets packed with sugar. Confectionery is all about sweetness and people seem reluctant to use sugar substitutes because they can be as bad as the sugar they’re replacing. To go completely sugar-free is contradictory to the confectionery category as a whole.”

Q. What can confectionary brands do to help change the habits and educate consumers on the importance of eating sugar as part of a balanced diet? Are there any obvious ways this can be done through design or physical packaging?

A. “The key part of this question that should be highlighted is the need to ensure a healthy balanced diet. Sugar is often singled out as the single worst contributor to growing obesity when in fact it’s just one factor and actually the debate should be around balance and moderation. Sweets are a part of our lives and should be considered an occasional treat, not something to cut out of our diet completely.

One of the big ways brands can inspire moderation with consumption is through portion control. Unfortunately there’s been a big growth in the ‘Big Night In’, as more people buy extra large sharing bags to ingest whilst sitting in front of the TV all evening. Providing more portioned treats will easily discourage this thriving unhealthy lifestyle trend, driven partly by economics and inherent laziness.

Large sharing bags can be broken down into small individual recommended sizes, reminding ‘Big Night In’ fans of the more moderate portions they should be eating. Some fruit juice cartons implement this technique successfully already, using portioned measures down the side of each pack to show how much liquid should be in your glass.

The problem with large sharing bags is that consumers become completely unaware of how much they’re shoveling into their mouths. Eating confectionery is as much about the ritual as it is about the product itself. Sweets like Smarties are hard to gorge because pouring each one out of the long, thin tube is a lengthier process, causing you to become more mindful about how many you’re having. Pez dispensers and Oreo’s “twist, lick & dunk” technique are further examples of how brands can build rituals around their product that also serve to slow down consumption. This in turn helps to encourage responsible snacking and consumers will learn to adopt more mindful eating practices.”

Q. Should consumers expect to sacrifice taste for a reduced-sugar confectionary product? How can brands looking to provide a sweet and healthier snack manage consumer perceptions regarding taste?

A. “What we need to remember is that confectionery is all about treats, rewards and indulgence. Snacks often labelled as ‘healthy’ are making a compromise by replacing sugar with sweeteners or alternatives. Quite often these substitutes don’t taste like sugar, resulting in a compromise on taste. A lot of people do have a perception that products that look good for you will sacrifice the element of indulgence and satisfaction that you get when buying confectionery. Consequently, consumers aren’t rewarded in the same way.

Some of the brands already mentioned, Bear Fruit in particular, boast an element of fun, and appeal to kids in exactly the same way sugary jelly beans would do. Healthier sweet options can and should have the same enjoyment values as sugar- based confectionery, and brands can achieve this by ”sugar coating the goodness”. It’s about delivering the sweetness in a more restrained way, without eliminating brand personality or excitement.

Cadbury’s are an interesting example, as their new sweet & savoury products (e.g Dairy Milk & Ritz) are suggesting a move towards changing tastes. Innovation like this is a useful marketing technique, and could contribute to educating consumer palettes by lessening addiction to sugar and creating an acceptance that savoury flavours are just as enjoyable.”

Q. With retailers such as Tesco cracking down on confectionary sold at checkouts – to bring in lower-sugar alternatives – what should brands be considering to ensure they’re still the ones going in the basket? Are there any tricks they may have missed?

A. “As pester power at the checkout is being minimised, it’s ultimately innovation making confectionery products more appealing and enticing. Delivery mechanisms should be fully leveraged at point of sale, with brands aiming to create new and engaging ways to present their products to customers. M&Ms characters have proved extremely successful for the sweetie brand and have been used in various ways to add elements of play, value and ritual to their branding offering. From model character dispensers to apparel, the M&Ms brand have proved how confectionery doesn’t have to just be about the sugar.

There are serious revenue opportunities in the confectionery market that aren’t necessarily dependent on sugar. Digital media outlets such as brand websites, communities and social media can take consumers on a journey and add further depth to product offerings. Even if the sweet is the first consumer touch point it is these other forms of engagement that will help brands ensure they’re still the ones going in the basket.”

Q. How have you seen brands respond creatively to changing consumer tastes and increased concerns regarding sugar? Has this had an impact on packaging/logo/overall brand tone of voice?

A. “We’ve seen innovation in terms of category boundaries, with Cadbury’s sweet & savoury ranges alongside new flavour combinations, extreme tastes and soft versions to mention a few. In terms of revenue, the confectionery category seems to be increasing in both volume and value. With price per unit going up as well as the amount that is consumed, the impact on revenue looks to be heading towards an offset created by more premiumisation.

Brands are starting to develop enhanced offerings, where establishing quality and specialness is prioritised over volume. This is good news as it will help the category address the issue of moderation by reinforcing the luxurious and rewarding elements of confectionery. The drinks industry is tackling the issue of excessiveness in the same way, with ‘Drink Aware’ campaigns spreading the message that there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy alcohol – just drink less of it. It’s the same with sugar, and premiumisation will help brands shift consumer attitudes and respond to changing consumer tastes”.

Q. What advice would you give to a new confectionary brand looking to harness the trend for naturalness and well-being?

A. “It’s a case of ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’ – it’s got to be about instilling the many benefits of a healthy product, but at the same time maintaining its appeal through the filter of fun and enjoyment. To an extent this does exist already, and Kiddylicious snacks are a great example; there is a good balance of being fun whilst not escaping what the product is, characters are created out of ingredients so fruit is presented to toddlers in enjoyable, engaging ways.

High quality products have gone mainstream enough to support brands looking to harness the trend for naturalness and well-being. Whether targeting youths or adults, brands must build relevant and compelling offerings. Delivering more than the bottom line product can open doors to many creative opportunities, where the brand benefits extend far beyond pure product gratification. Focusing on brand heritage, story telling and social responsibility are all ways of infusing this value and Venezualen chocolatier Willie’s Cacao has done this very well. Pwinkies are another example, having partnered with the Pink Ribbon Foundation to help raise awareness and money to fight breast cancer.

Through delivering more of both experiential value and product quality value, confectionery brands with a healthy offering will have a much greater chance of connecting with consumers looking to reduce their sugar intake.”