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Health and indulgence drive snacks, sweets

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Snacks and sweets products are navigating consumer preference, from plant based and no added sugar to healthful but toothsome.

The events of the past two years changed many aspects of consumers’ lives, including what, where and how they eat—all of which impacted sweets and snacks.

An important aspect of consumers' lives is managing one’s health. The good news is the pandemic sharpened consumers’ focus on their health, and their confidence in managing it well. In November 2021, more than half of consumers reported they felt more in control of their health—up from 45% in November 2020, according to Mintel research on health management trends. Also of note, fewer consumers reported feeling “less in control of their health” in 2021 than the year before.

With this increased focus on health and wellness, one may think sales of snacks and sweets were down during the pandemic, but actually the opposite is true. According to Mintel Market Size, estimates of 2021 U.S. sales in the snacks and sweets categories were up 6% from 2019, and up 1% from 2020. This data includes chocolate confectionery, snack bars, snack food, and sugar and gum confectionery. Of those four groups, chocolate confectionery showed the greatest increase in sales, while snack bars declined. Mintel forecasts continued steady increases in sales in each of these four areas of sweets and snacks in the next five years.

Two factors appear to be driving sales and new product introductions: the sometimes-competing trends of health and indulgence. Indulgence in these products is assumed—consumers enjoy the experience of a unique chocolate bar or classic fried salty snack. But increasingly, these two attributes are converging, yielding unique new product development.

A look at the new product introduction numbers provides insight into what is happening in the market. During the last two years, new product introductions of sweets and snacks in the U.S. have seen declines, according to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD). Total new product introductions in these categories were down 26% in 2021, compared to 2019. The reasons for the decline are many. They include supply chain issues (including a focus on stabilizing supply of top sellers and core products), reduced consumer need for sharing and giving and fewer in-person gatherings. Among those types of products that showed the greatest declines during the pandemic were chewing gum (less need for it if a person is home all the time), popcorn (people were popping their own), snack/cereal/energy bars (no need to take food on the go as much) and seasonal chocolate (fewer holiday parties). But a number of categories showed increases including nuts and snack mixes (with their healthy halo attributes), classic potato and corn-based snacks (choosing the comfort of what one has always eaten), and hot snacks (because many people were home most of the time).

Product claims that work

Digging deeper into the Mintel GNPD data, a fascinating pattern emerges. Many of the product claims that showed increases in 2019 and 2020 in the U.S. were ones aligned with wellness or natural attributes. Two significant claims stand out as showing increases in introductions and in offering potential growth for the future: plant based and no added sugar. While these two claims are relatively small, appearing on about 4% of product introductions in these categories, they both have shown significant increases in new product introductions during the pandemic. We expect both claims to continue to increase, across product categories, in the next few years.

To continue reading this article in its entirety, check out the “Sweets & snacks: Formulating for the mindful consumer” digital magazine.

Lynn Dornblaser brings more than 30 years of product trend knowledge to her work at Mintel, which she joined in 1998. She applies her unique perspective on the market and new product development to tailored client research and extensive public speaking. Previously, Dornblaser covered new product trends at several trade magazine publishing companies, as editor and editorial director of publication New Product News. She has been quoted by major U.S. news organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times and CNN.  She can usually be found in the aisles of a supermarket somewhere in the world.

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