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Commonly referred to as the confectionery industry, the market around sweets and chocolate is one which has undergone significant change over the years; growing from a luxury item which only the wealthy could afford due to the high cost of sugar in its earliest days, to something which is largely considered a fast food option responsible for many of the health problems observed in consumers of all ages and demographics; all the way through to being a product and industry which is just as prominently linked with holidays and celebrations as it is with treats and indulgences.
While sweets and chocolate operate in largely the same industry of confectionery and sugar-based treats, the two boast wildly different marketing strategies and are often regarded as products for very different marketplaces. Despite this, finding both chocolate and sweets on the high street has never been easier, with supermarkets, convenience stores, off licences, health and beauty stores, department stores and even some fashion retailers all stocking named brand and their own brands and varieties of sweets and chocolate. Not only does this mean that marketing the products is as simple as product placement within the store, but it also means the industry is subject to a plethora of different discounts, vouchers and deals in line with the promotions of the various retail sectors.
Chocolate and sweets have undergone huge industry shifts and changes over the years, going from something which was linked with wealth and was as much a status symbol as a treat to enjoy, to something we are told to cut back on for the sake of our health, our teeth and our waistlines. But despite these societal shifts in perception, the overwhelming success of the confectionery industry as a whole comes from the basic idea that almost everybody loves something sweet – whether it be a bitter dark chocolate, a creamy milk chocolate, or a boiled sweet. It is something that our tastebuds crave and which our brains link intrinsically with joy and happiness – the famed “sugar high” which hits consumers of all ages as they enjoy a sweet treat.
Unlike many of the luxurious foods which take their status from price and origin, chocolate in particular is considered a luxury in a different sense of the word – namely stemming from the modern ideology that chocolate – like dessert – is a treat to be enjoyed sparingly, thus making it an affordable luxury in the market.
Once regarded as something designed for consumption by children and young people, sweets meanwhile largely operate in the same sector but have more of a reliance on aesthetic and taste rather than the notoriety of a great bar of chocolate being something luxurious and indulgent. The term ‘Sweets’ actually acts as somewhat of an umbrella term across a much larger sector than you may picture at first thought, covering a wide variety of products including:
One of the driving forces in pushing the sweets and chocolate industry to global success comes in the form of holidays and seasonality, with brands and retailers using the different seasons and special occasions as an excuse to market new products – or simply to re-market the same products under new packaging. Have you ever noticed how chocolate bars and packets of sweets alter in their colouring and packaging around Halloween, Christmas and Easter? The products are exactly the same, but the shift in marketing to target a specific buyer at a certain time of year succeeds in adding to the sales growth of the product at various points throughout the year. This use of packaging as part of the sales journey, as well as the rise in seasonal-specific products like Easter eggs and Christmas candy canes, means that much of the success of the sweets and chocolate industry pivots around the major annual celebrations observed on a global scale.
When it comes to breaking the sweets and chocolate industry down into its primary retailers, we tend to find that brand is as important if not more so than retailer in the case of industry success and growth. For example, confectionery is the kind of product which can be placed by the till of any retail store across any industry – and while an overhaul of marketing trends has created a ban on placing sugary treats next to queue points in the UK in an attempt to curb the obesity crisis, the main takeaway is that when we look and assess the most popular and successful brands in the industry, the vast majority can be found across a wide cross section of retailers spanning different sectors.
Let’s take a popular example: Cadbury’s chocolate. A chocolate brand which has achieved an overwhelming status in the UK and abroad, using its distinctive packaging and branding, as well as the modern innovation challenge and trends which we will look at later. If you walk into any supermarket, grocery or convenience store, you will find Cadbury’s on the shelf. These are the brands which benefit from such a large status that they are available everywhere – using trends and seasons to create new and improved products which bring them back to the foreground of the industry consistently year after year.
A similar example from the sweets industry is Haribo – a brand which again benefits from a huge global footprint in the market
One of the notable things about all of these largescale industry leasing brands is the fact that many of them operate and are overseen by parent brands and companies which own more than one competitor in the same market. Mars Inc is the largest and most successful confectionery brand in the world – and it doesn’t just own the humble Mars bar. In fact, Mars Inc own and operate:
Now think about how many of these are seemingly competitors trying to achieve top status in a saturated industry driven by taste preferences and trends. It soon becomes clear, upon understanding how closely related and linked these different chocolate and sweets brands are, how companies like Mars Inc have achieved such a high global status.
Of course, this isn’t the case across the entire industry – with small independent brands and single-owned brands also playing their part in different areas of the industry, particularly across the lesser known and more underserved corners of the sector, such as the gourmet and luxury chocolate and sweets sector, the vegan chocolate and sweets sector, and the diet friendly options designed to allow consumers to enjoy their favourite treats while cutting down on sugar. Some of the top specific retail and brand examples include:
While many of these brands can still be found on high streets and across the collections of high end retailer food halls and gourmet food hampers and gift offerings, the sweets and chocolate industry is also served by an additional section of brands – those lesser known brands made up of independent crafters and small businesses who use social media, ecommerce and online marketplaces in order to drive sales of their confectionery options and make a place for themselves within the huge sweets and chocolate marketplace. These are the brands which adopt and respond to the growing trends around consumer demand for chocolate and sweets which serve different purposes other than merely providing an affordable treat. Some of these brands include notorious vegan chocolate and sweets brands, brands which tailor their products to different age groups, and those which create and collaborate with different industries and creators in order to manufacture something completely unique.
And in a world where no new idea is ever completely original, the concept of collaborating and mixing chocolate and sweet brands and ideas together is one of the trends most likely to drive forward a new set of industry-leaders.
We have already touched upon how sweets and chocolate were once reserved for a very young marketplace, with sweets in particular being designed and manufactured in order to delight and attract a young audience of children and other young people. This can be observed through the design of the products themselves, the packaging and the use of colours and enticing language to draw the target audience in, and also the way in which these sweets are presented to the young audience through televisual marketing and advertising. And while society as a whole is making moves to replace unhealthy fast food and confectionery options with healthier alternatives, the chocolate and sweets industry is not reporting any signs of slowing down. In fact, the change in attitude of buyers has simply given the industry a chance to step back, adapt and adjust in line with the changing demand – creating new products and reaching into new markets including the healthy living sector and the adult industry as well as retaining its popularity with children and young people.
While the young market still holds a crucial place in the chocolate and sweets industry and is one of the main consumers, another of the overwhelming trends which has taken hold of the industry in recent years is the rise in sweets and chocolate products which are designed and created specifically for an adult marketplace. How this is achieved is a largely a combination of the product itself and the way that it is marketed; for instance boozy chocolates and alcoholic lollipops occupy a very specific area of the confectionery arena, and are largely found in adult gift sets and marketed alongside alcoholic beverages rather than on the same shelves as their chocolate competitors. These products tend to use more advanced and more mature flavour combinations in order to separate themselves from the standard product marketplace, with Cadbury’s providing a great example in the way that they have expanded their flavour choices – using the same baseline chocolate as a foundation, then adding options like fruit and nut, a caramel filling, a mint flavour undertone, coffee flavoured swirls, and even popular sweets mixed in with the chocolate. These kinds of strategic brand expansions show how even the most successful brands are adapting and adjusting their offerings in line with what the consumer market wants – with innovation being one of the driving forces behind the consistent growth of the confectionery sector as a whole.
Other examples of innovation within the industry include the rise in diet friendly chocolate and sweet products which are designed to fulfil a sweet craving without the same sugar levels; the increase in vegan options for both the sweet and chocolate market, allowing those following vegan diets to enjoy sweet treats without the link to animal products.
Another example of how the chocolate and sweets industry has adjusted to a more adult market is through the ideology of sweets treats as linked with romance and edible accessories of a sexual nature – largely available through very targeted retailers such as Ann Summers which monitors its target audience and demographic closely to deliver novelty confectionery products in line with popular trends – particularly ideal for stag do’s and hen parties.
The chocolate and sweets industry is renowned for lending itself to the celebration market as previously explored in the way that events like Easter, Christmas and Halloween all use product marketing and packaging to influence buyers and drive them towards seasonally appropriate products. Some of the top examples include:
However, this is not the only way that sales of chocolates and sweets are driven by the celebration industry – with gifts, sweet and chocolate filled celebration cakes, and seasonal new product launches all increasing the prominence of the industry and giving it a firm place across retailers in a variety of industries and sectors.
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