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Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born Quality Confections is partnering with Betty Crocker, a brand of Minneapolis-based General Mills, on the former's iconic Peeps brand, in what Matt Pye, Just Born's VP of corporate affairs and trade relations, explains is the company's way of promoting "festive flavors and thinking outside the 'candy box.'
"We're expanding outside the candy aisle and have various partnerships to extend our fan base, whether with Betty Crocker for Peeps, or Universal Pictures for Peeps and Mike and Ike," he adds.
Novelty confectioner CandyRific, which leads in licensing, "continues to see consumers gravitating to licenses and interactive products," says Clark Taylor, VP of sales at the Louisville, Ky.-based company. "The days of mass appeal are being challenged with consumers who can be tailored to with their specific taste choices or favorite characters." CandyRific's launch of the Cinderella Light and Sound wand ties into the March release of the live-action "Cinderella" movie, while new Avengers Heroes, Incredible Hulk and Iron Man toys are launching in sync with the May premiere of the film "Avengers: Age of Ultron."
The biggest partnership might be internal in nature. "Expertise," says Terese McDonald, founder and "Candy Maniac" of Candyality, a four-shop specialty candy chain in Chicago, who frequently consults with traditional retailers on their candy programs. "Consumers have a broad spectrum of questions and high expectations. They want to know about ingredients, candy history, where they can find specific candies, new trends, and more." Unfortunately, most retailers don't have the internal expertise to foster these relationships or support an optimal experience for the shopper. "It is an investment not only of money, but commitment as well," she says, encouraging retailers to bring credibility to the category through selection, merchandising, knowledge and "a real face customers can connect with."
Eric Atkinson, president and owner of Lufkin, Texas-based Atkinson Candy Co., maker of such classic brands as Chick-O-Stick, Slo Poke and Black Cow, is a firm believer in the excitement McDonald promotes, contending that nontraditional packaging and merchandising are the way of the future. Atkinson includes among those retailers getting it right New York-based Dylan's Candy Bar, another specialty chain, which "really puts you in the mood to try different things. We love those opportunities," he says.
A company that lends a lot to any retail experience is Jelly Belly, based in Fairfield, Calif., which is extending whimsy with its new Pancakes & Maple Syrup variety of jelly beans. While not a meal replacement, each bean contains 4 calories and is fat- and gluten-free, which can't be said of the butter-topped pancakes with maple syrup that the candy imitates.
Jenn Ellek, senior director of trade marketing and communications at Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association, predicts that candy growth at grocery retail will continue. "It's a big and strong category with lots of innovation," she says. "We expect to continue to see growth in premium and shareables, but also expect to see a lot more hybrid products and line extensions that combine sweets and snacks."