Applaud the Category Drivers of 2004

There are a couple of new champions this year, but mostly, the industry is going to recognize some familiar names. Many of last year’s winners revved up their excellence engines for another lap.
How sweet it is — to please not only the sweet cravings of the end consumer, but to be known for superior practices by the retailers and distributors that get the treats sweetly sold. These are our winners — candy suppliers with confections of high taste — that are driving the growth of the entire candy category in the retail marketplace.
“Our goal is to help raise the bar for the rest of the candy industry, thus leading to a higher standard of service overall,” says Tonia Becker, publisher. And so for the past three years, Confectioner has celebrated the candy vendors who are out in front.
Recently, we asked varied retail and distributor Confectioner readers to vote for their top choices in the third annual Category Driver Awards/2004, based on the following five criteria.
-Creating in-store merchandising/marketing programs that drive impulse purchases, such as POS materials and packaging
-Developing new and innovative products that are meaningful to the consumer and are performing well at store level
-Providing excellent customer service (to retailers and distributors)
-Assuring on-time delivery and fulfillment of promises
-Displaying a willingness to partner to achieve specific objectives, such as custom packaging, etc.

To really make it in the market these days confectionery companies must not only represent innovation, they must be flexible and able to work with specific channel requests. Today, more and more non-food (niche) retailers have carved out a section for candy as a convenience to their customers. Often, it is the first time they have dealt in consumables, and they have specific size, price, packaging, and delivery requests. Our winners have been praised for the fact that they can cater to these needs, just as well as to those of the more traditional mass retailers.
And that’s in a climate that continues to get tougher. Not only are there so many alternatives for quick snacking at the front end, but savvier consumers are reading labels and often looking for what they deem “healthier” choices.
Some innovative candy companies have been quick to respond, at least in part, to these issues with low-sugar and/or low-carbohydrate confections, so it was the least we could do to respond with the appropriate categories. Just like last year, this year’s honorees were chosen in nine candy categories. Two categories were added, representing a sign of the times: Sugar-Free and Low-Carb, and two categories were omitted, due to respondent confusion and category overlap: Multi-Pack and Single-Serve.
The Category Driver Award was given for first place; the Silver Circle Award was given for second. Votes were tabulated from confidential retail and distributor sources, which, all together, represent over 42,000 stores within the food, drug, mass, convenience, wholesale club, dollar store, specialty, and other alternative channels.
TOPPS on Top
Topps won the Category Driver award fair and square here — but it was not for lack of competition. This segment produced the most varied names in nominations, as retailers and distributors marveled at the constant influx of new companies and items to join this fun/tiny-toy batch of confections.
But for those respondents that named Topps the winner — pushing it up from second place last year — the company really appealed to their sense of partnership. Some of those niche retail players we mentioned earlier were especially pleased.
“They’ve taken the time to listen and work with us,” said one. “We also like going with a novelty company that has built a strong name for itself over many years.”
But that doesn’t mean Topps didn’t have any big retailer votes — it did. Those players praised its “sophistication with on-time delivery,” and “making a good splash with items on its 50th Anniversary.”
Other general comments included: “their beautiful hues of Baby Bottle Pop colors really catch our kids at the checkout;” “products stand up very neatly for display and are immediately recognized;” “Ring Pops are still my No. 1 add-on by kids making a novelty purchase at the register;” and “they found a way to make a pop even more interactive” (with Juicy Drop Pop).
Silver Circle Award: Innovative Candy Concepts has maintained its second-place position from last year — not bad for a company that only recently joined “Candyland.” And just like last year, respondents could not mention the “truly innovative” candy such as Too Tarts and Suck Ups, without also praising the company president, Armand Hammer, in the same breath. “He’s the real-live Candy Man,” said one big-chain respondent. “He’s committed to this industry and really makes it his business to know what kids want.”
The company was also given high marks for its “fabulous display unit,” which appealed to retailers looking to present the category in a more orderly fashion, in a limited amount of space.
“Innovative has just done an excellent job on the presentation,” said a niche player. “Their shippers drive customers to walk up and make a purchase. They’ve won awards on POP, and it is well-deserved.”
WRIGLEY Holds Its Rank
For the third year in a row, Wrigley was the far-and-away winner of gum and breath-freshening products. Respondents had not the least hesitation when choosing a winner for this category; a couple buyers even declared it “a no-brainer.”
It’s not that the company has been perfect all along. Most respondents noted that Wrigley had been stagnant for some time, but in recent years has been “consistent in innovation.” According to one supermarket buyer, “Even its old packaging is new again.”
Another big-chain buyer in the drug channel mentioned that the company “has truly turned around.” She said that Wrigley now helps her run promotions and participates in programs “like never before.” She added, “It’s like they’ve finally come out of their shell.”
For some, Wrigley was not the best choice, it was the only choice. “It is the single brand I carry in the category,” said a niche player with stores across the country totaling in the hundreds. “They have a phenomenal advertising program and we’re looking for good, national exposure.”
Another drug store respondent noted that, “they just introduced new mint items — making their offering totally complete.”
Silver Circle Award: Wrigley is indeed a strong first-place winner, but its nominations were far from unanimous. While those who liked Wrigley stuck with Wrigley, a fourth of respondents were just as stuck on our second-place winner: Adams. Interestingly this year, nominations were strong one way or the other; unlike last year, not one respondent picked a second choice. Also important to note: The two companies were the only ones mentioned as winners.
For those who chose Adams, sold last year from Pfizer to Cadbury Schweppes, the comments were similar to those made by Wrigley supporters, only they were about Adams. “They are a huge partner for me out here on the West Coast,” said one distributor. “They have innovative ideas and participate in programs more so than any other player.”
One niche buyer, who chose Wrigley last year, maintained that, “This year it has to be Adams, especially with the Dentyne Fire. That item is now our No. 1 SKU in the category, and it’s always in stock.”
Holidays with HERSHEY
Hershey has stolen the seasonal spotlight from Masterfoods this year, although Masterfoods was not too far behind in second place. If one single factor had to be named for why Hershey gets it this year — that’s easy — Limited Edition chocolates, which numerous buyers recognize as often being coordinated with certain holidays (such as Mint Chocolate Kisses, available for the December holidays last year).
But even with Limited Edition aside, the name Hershey is now associated with the best holiday candy — and for more reasons than great taste. “I have to give it to Hershey because of the phenomenal job they do weeding off their slow seasonal sellers and bringing on new items to take their place,” reported a drugstore buyer. “They do a great job analyzing their own business.”
A supermarket buyer agreed: “Hershey’s seasonal sales programs are pretty comprehensive.”
Silver Circle Award: Seasonal is one of those categories where buyers often felt the need to name more than one winner. While Hershey was named most often, Masterfoods was close behind. “The strength of their brands reformulated for seasons is so creative, such as Snickers’ hearts,” says a Midwestern distributor.
M&M’s seasonal colors and characters were often named as the primary backdrop for a chain’s holiday candy offering. “They have such a huge amount of SKUs to pick from, and they’re all festive,” said a niche retailer.
JELLY BELLY Still Beautiful
Bulk candy is slowly becoming more popular with our readers. While less than a fourth of our survey respondents offer bulk candy on a regular basis, many more are going “in and out” with it. And for both part-timers and full-timers alike, there is a clear-cut favorite of the industry: Jelly Belly — the Category Driver winner for the third year in a row.
This company has maintained a pristine reputation for service and cleanliness like no other. This category is dependent on freshness perception, and buyers reported that no one compares to Jelly Belly in this area. Many major retailers have used its colorful candies and bins as the highlight of the candy section. “They stand out and scream fun all over the candy section,” stated one supermarket respondent.
The company was also given high marks in product innovation with JBz and JB gum. “It’s nice to know we can depend on them to stay young-spirited and fresh, both literally and in innovation,” said a regional candy store buyer.
Silver Circle Award: Also for the third straight year, Brach’s was voted second-place winner in bulk. The company has obviously maintained a solid reputation as one of the forerunners of the category. “We use other companies for in-and-out bulk, but for everyday bulk, it’s still Brach’s,” said a supermarket source. “They’re consistent and dependable.”
High and Mighty HERSHEY
Hershey pulled ahead as the sole winner in the general chocolate category this year, although, last year’s tied winner, Masterfoods, was close behind. It seems that Limited Edition varieties have really put Hershey over the top. While these special treats were available last year, respondents tell us that consumers have really embraced them this year.
“We had people coming up to the service desk asking when they could find some of their favorites from the year before,” reveals a supermarket source. “Hershey really nailed some winners here.”
The specialty channel was also very fond of Limited Edition. One buyer stated: “Limited Edition from Hershey is true innovation in the market and has really grown the candy category for everyone.”
Niche retailers who just started in with candy said they learned quickly who was boss in the chocolate category. “Hershey is our best choice — they’re very good to work with,” began one. “They seem like they have their stuff together more so than others. They offer promotions on a quarterly basis, and they offer us more promotional dollars to advertise their candy than others. They just give us a lot of backup.”
Silver Circle Award: Masterfoods has a lot of retail muscle behind it in the chocolate category as well, certainly enough to merit it second place. According to one drugstore candy buyer, “Masterfoods had the No. 1 sales increases for us last year. We went from selling $3.5 million to over $8 million of their confections, and it’s all because we worked with them on more promotions. We do a lot of analysis on opportunity gaps, and we discovered there was a huge one with them. They did a great job working with us to close that gap — obviously, we’re very pleased.”
Two distributors also rated Masterfoods’ numbers as being the best category increases for them last year overall. According to one, “Many of my customers are now more inclined to let us expand their sales with Masterfoods because we can justify it with numbers from the trade.”
The Wonderment of WILLY WONKA
This was a bit of a surprise win, as this is Nestle’s first Category Driver Award (it was part of a three-way tie last year in second place). While this year’s non-chocolate contest was certainly a close one, Wonka does have substantial retail support, and from varied players in the industry. “Kids just really seem to gravitate toward the Wonka boxes in our stores,” said a niche retailer. “They have consistently great packaging and flavors, and we’ve heard the website is fun to surf, too. Our kid customers ask for Nerds, Runts, Shockers and Mixups by name.”
One convenience retailer admitted that “There really hasn’t been too much innovation in this segment of candy, and so with that, I’m voting for Wonka because of its consistently good fruit flavors. I know adults who will take a piece or two of these candies when their kids offer it, because the quality is good.”
One supermarket retailer added, “Before novelty became popular, Wonka’s non-chocolate candies were offering the most fun. Now, they still have a loyal following.”
Silver Circle Awards: Hershey, which was the top non-chocolate spot last year, dropped back to second place, tied this year with a brand new mention: Jaret, now owned by Cadbury Adams. While respondents were starting to come up short with unique comments for Hershey, one drug buyer did blurt out: “I just have to keep going back to Hershey on most of these. Their vast assortment and program support are so good, there’s almost no need for anyone else.”
Jaret, which buyers kept referring to as “Jaret,” and not Cadbury Adams, has obviously left a long-lasting impression with the trade. “Jaret has always been the best in non-chocolate for all the reasons in your contest,” said one regional food respondent.
“Oh, it’s definitely Jaret,” said a drug channel respondent. “I can sell Swedish Fish any day of the week.”
LINDT and GHIRARDELLI Tied at the Top
The first and second place winners of the premium category last year are now joined together for the first place spot. While Lindt & Sprungli USA is as good as ever to our readers, Ghirardelli moved up a notch or two over the past year.
If there were any differences noted between the two, it would be that Lindt has been a premium mainstay of the mass market for quite some time. “Lindt has always been a big supporter of this category and in our channel,” said a supermarket buyer. “They were with us day one, before all these other players jumped on the gourmet bandwagon. And their products are still suburb, and their displays — synonymous with luxury.”
Ghirardelli Chocolate, as more of a newcomer, received many compliments as well. “For a really small company, they’ve made a really big splash in the category,” stated a mass retailer. “Our customers now expect to find them in our stores. It’s as if they can’t remember a time when they weren’t available in our stores, and yet that was only a little more than a year ago.”
And according to one niche retailer, “Ghirardelli has really added some class to our rural candy market. It’s such a plus and a treat to be able to offer this to our customers. And they’re a smaller player, like us, so they understand how to work with us.”
Hail Again, HERSHEY
Apparently our respondents did not get tired of voting for Hershey. The leading candy company has now been awarded the top spot in an increasingly important and fairly new category in the industry, included for the first time in our survey: sugar-free.
“Overall, I give Hershey the highest marks for the year,” stated a supermarket respondent. “They have been extremely innovative, especially with categories like sugar-free. They basically turned the category around from a sleepy giant to an aggressive alternative in the trade.”
“The most important thing in sugar-free is taste, and Hershey nailed it,” added a drugstore buyer. Putting their brands on sugar-free and having it live up to the names, has changed the category forever.”
Silver Circle Awards: Second place in this growing category go to Simply Lite and Russell Stover, who were equally named for their good taste and product innovation — as well as their ability to raise the standard and apparent staying power of sugar-free confectionery products.
Another newbie in our survey is the low-carb candy category — and this time it goes to Russell Stover — hands down. Many buyers were quick with the compliments. “Their line is a winner from all aspects — taste, variety, packaging, pricing, prom-otion, and shipping,” praised a drug buyer. “Our only problem is I need to re-arrange the set and give it more space.”
From a supermarket respondent: “Russell Stover is the leader in low-carb. They’ve taken the ball and run with it — they were the first one in the candy category with low-carb when everyone else was doing it with other food items. They have good vision and great execution.”
Silver Circle Award: Enough respondents were impressed with Atkins’ low-carb candy options to make it a second-place winner. Atkins was named for coming through with good taste and a high incidence of repeat purchases. High marks were also given to the Atkins name itself, which is, of course, practically synonymous with the low-carb lifestyle. Buyers mentioned that their customers associated that name with quality diet products.
The staff of Confectioner extends a sincere thank-you to the many buyers who participated in our Category Driver Awards survey. Without your time and input, this annual feature would not be possible. And to all of the Category Driver and Silver Circle Award winners, warmest congratulations for your industry leadership. Keep up the good work!