The Way Candy Was

Nostalgic confections have a special way of tapping into the joy of days gone by.
Back in the day, the old-fashioned candy store featuring penny candy was the place where kids first turned into consumers. Over the years, this type of retailer became an American icon—and extinct. But it was replaced by convenience stores and other mass market retailers that offered young consumers their first opportunity to pick out and buy a small sweet treat for themselves. And so that candy—the candy from whatever era you were a kid in—the ‘50s, the ‘60s, the ‘70s, the ‘80s, and soon to come—the ‘90s—that is the candy that becomes nostalgic to you—and a very viable sub-segment of the confectionery business for retailers.
The names for nostalgic candy include—Old Time Candy, Penny Store Candy, Retro Candy, Barrel Candy, Soda Shop Candy, Heritage Candy, and even Groovy Candy. Of course it makes no difference what you call it; it’s all the same—a booming niche in the U.S. candy business. This old-but-new category has become very popular in recent years partly because the largest candy makers have concentrated on fewer items, mostly chocolate. Nostalgic candy actually has a very strong non-chocolate base.
A retailer that makes nostalgic candy a department focus will have a unique edge over other brick-and-mortar competition; currently, the Internet is still filling most of the void in the market for candy that consumers remember from when they were kids. 
The biggest mistake a retailer could make is to take on a few retro pieces in its bulk candy section, for example, and not promote it as the very special offering that it is. If a retailer is going to go for it, it’s got to cover all the bases. Candies from all eras should be included, and signage and promotion must prevail.
Many baby boomers have started online nostalgic candy businesses, but they are certainly not the only consumers of it. Baby boomers seem to have a special appreciation for the category—perhaps because they were a generation of self-indulgence—and continue to be so. But let’s face it; all generations view the candy they had as a kid as having some special magic. What’s more, many parents are making history lessons out of nostalgic candy. Expect that after  baby boomers and subsequent generations introduce their kids to their retro candies, those candies will become retro again—in another 20 or 30 years.
Nostalgic candy lends itself to creative cross promotion. Anything retro that the retailer sells—old movies just released on DVD, household appliances that are styled around retro looks, retro apparel, any gift or home item with old-fashioned scenes such as that of Thomas Kinkade—these are all perfect product adjacencies for nostalgic candy, especially if the retailer markets it as the perfect gift item for a milestone birthday.
Don’t discount the great opportunity in seasonal retro candy. The top Halloween nostalgic item from a retailer who knows how to play up the category: wax fangs. “They’re very cool; there’s nothing like them,” he maintains.
The great thing about nostalgia is it will never become a passing fad. There will always be some great retro candy favorite from childhood that will appeal to almost any consumer out there. What will be new on the horizon is how retailers market it and promote it. And they’ll be backed up by more candy manufacturers who say they are receiving high demands to bring back old consumer favorites. Retailers must stay on top of what is being re-introduced in this constantly growing category.  New twists to old traditions are popping up as well. Retro candy manufacturers have brilliantly become aware that there are regional and generational opportunities with some of their old-fashioned candies—sometimes as simple as changing or adding colors, or in the case of certain conversation candies—adding more modern sayings.
A famous philosopher once said, “A genius is someone who can bring back the joys of childhood at will.” Perhaps then this nostalgic candy category has the potential to turn its best retailers into geniuses.
Merchandising Musts
Stress fresh.
There’s nothing worse than a retro candy that tastes retro. Retailers want to convey the idea of retro, not the idea of old and stale. Make sure sources are of the highest quality and pass the fresh test. Then promotionally stress the heck out of the quality. Allow customers to sample it and taste for themselves.
Categorize by era.
Retailers should familiarize themselves with nostalgic candy of each era. Divide and conquer those candies by its generation or decade. Signage should reflect a particular group—for example using psychedelic artwork for candies from the ‘60s or ‘70s. If a retailer really wants to follow a specialty trend, it could package certain era candies in boxes or baskets that also feature the appropriate decade’s artwork.
Unify a look.
Nostalgic candy has an inherent theme—and it begs for that theme to be unified. Labels should preferably match the nostalgia theme in appearance such as type-face. The department should hold together visually, while retailers mustn’t forget the obvious, such as clear price signs. Grabbing the shopper’s interest and holding it through a theme is very powerful, especially when that theme could bring back happy emotions and memories that have the potential to commit that shopper to that retailer.