Play value is winning the race in the novelty candy category with taste trailing a close second.

Quick, fill up before the gas prices change again. And while the pace of change isn’t that dramatic in novelties, it’s still ongoing, particularly with its trend-conscious customer base – kids. With dollar sales up and unit sales down from last year, the novelty candy category barely comes out ahead. But the success of older products and the introduction of fun, new items is keeping the category dynamic.

Although older products like Ring Pop and Push Pop remain popular, the Topps Co. continues to invent and reinvent products that appeal to kids because of taste, fun and interactivity. Because they’ve grown up with the Internet and text messaging, technology seems to come naturally to kids these days. It’s this realization that’s led to a new, successful product: Message in a Bottle. More specifically, the new product allows kids to virtually place a message in a Baby Bottle Pop and throw it into a cyber ocean where another child can read the message and answer back.

The company does this by placing a unique pin code in each bottle to create “a cyber version of the old ‘message in a bottle’ concept,” says John Budd, v.p. of marketing. The site provides a social environment for children with strict rules against giving away any personal information.

Although the company has succeeded with some new products, it has also expanded on many of its popular, but older products like Push Pop and Bazooka bubble gum. Push Pop comes in three different versions: regular, triple power and jumbo. The company is also in the process of launching a Push Pop line extension called Sliders, which will come out sometime this summer.

An extension of Bazooka gum called Bazooka Bubble Juice is also new for the company. “Bubble Juice is basically fruit-flavored nuggets in a gusseted pouch. It tastes great,” Budd says.

But along with product advances, time has brought cost increases. Things like plastic and corn syrup are becoming more expensive because of oil price increases. In order to keep up with demand, many companies have altered their products to give the customer a good value while reducing costs.

“Our desire to reduce the amount of plastic is consistent with the sustainability initiative as dictated by Wal-Mart who has a scorecard on which we’re evaluated,” Budd says. This way, the company can cut costs while supporting environmental stability.

Another environmentally conscious company is Candy Dynamics, which offers a line of Toxic Waste products. A few times each year, the company partners with radio stations and other media outlets to produce the Toxic Takedown Challenge. Kids are told to call in to radio stations or visit the Toxic Waste Web site to offer ideas on how to save the planet. In return, the children receive candy and savings bonds prizes.

“The name Toxic Waste hits a nerve with people and makes them sit up and think about the planet,” says Steven Style, president of the Steven Style Group.

The Toxic Waste line not only gives back to the environment, but also gives back to its consumers.

“Kids are always looking for an extra added element to their candy and we keep up with that by thinking innovatively about what we can do all the while promoting our brand to them,” Style says.

Each product offers something for children to keep, play with and use. For example, the Toxic Waste sour sprays come with finger puppets of the Toxic Waste characters (Mr. Toxie Head, Professor Sauernoggin and Hazmat the Lab Rat). The Toxic Waste Dip and Lick Lollipops include a sour lollipop, sour powder and temporary tattoos of the Toxic Waste characters. The company’s hazardously sour hard candies are featured in a yellow plastic drum with green toxic material “oozing” out from the top. Kids can collect these drums and also use the new, bigger drums with a coin slot as a bank.

One of the most important factors in creating novelty candy is play value. And Candy Dynamics isn’t the only one following this trend.

CandyRific focuses on quality products with fun, long-lasting packaging for its consumers.

“We are toy guys disguised as a confectionery company,” says Rob Auerbach, president of CandyRific. And because of that, the company prides itself on its quality. “We’re not focused on having the lowest priced item on the shelf. We’re focused on having the coolest item on the shelf,” he adds.

The company offers new products like M&M holiday candy fans, M&M holiday sticker stampers, seasonal finger pops, Light Up Sour Spray, Candy Jammer Guitars and S’mores mix. And for CandyRific, less is more.

“We try to do ‘less is more’ by having our items be related to each other and building on our previous success,” Auerbach says. “We’ll have 40 different versions of [our fans] with licenses, some light up, some don’t, some have different features, but they’re all basically built around the same platform.”

“The idea of the novelty product is that it’s got a fun factor to it. It’s got to be something that provides entertainment in some way other than just taste,” says Rob Swaigen, director of marketing for Jelly Belly. 

Jelly Belly is most concerned with quality products over glitzy packaging. The company’s novelty products include Gummy Pets, a Prehistoric Egg, the Wrecking Ball, Miniature Soda Bottles and Bean Boozled.

Miniature Soda Bottles have been around for a couple years as part of Jelly Belly’s Soda Pop Shop including Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, Orange Crush, Grape Crush and a few root beer flavors. The 1.5-oz. bottles are branded with the soda logos and filled with flavored jelly beans.

“Our product always has to deliver all on its own,” Swaigen says. “The soda pop bottles for example- the bottles are fun, the labels are fun, it’s a bright package with a lot of play value, but the actual beans inside are high quality Jelly Belly jellybeans that deliver those flavors you’d expect. We’re taking that novelty idea and delivering 100% on the product, not just the packaging.”

Containing five delicious flavors, Jelly Belly teamed up with ColdStone Creamery to create a miniature ice cream cone. The cone is filled with ColdStone-inspired flavors like Strawberry Blonde, Chocolate Devotion, Birthday Cake Remix, Mint Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Apple Pie ala ColdStone. The Jelly Belly cone will come out in August of this year.

Another product unique only to Jelly Belly is the new product Bean Boozled. A small box is filled with 20 different flavors of jellybeans. Each bean has an identical partner, but with a completely different taste. For example, when kids pick up a yellow jellybean, they might get lucky and taste a Top Banana jellybean. Or, they could get some bad luck and taste Pencil Shavings. These daring jellybeans come in ten tasty flavors (licorice, buttered popcorn, café latte, juicy pear, coconut, top banana, berry blue, peach, caramel corn and plum) and ten bad flavors (skunk spray, rotten egg, ear wax, booger, baby wipes, pencil shavings, toothpaste, vomit, moldy cheese and black pepper).

“Bean Boozled is not the kind of product you eat by yourself in your car. This is all about engaging with other people and having fun,” Swaigen says. “These products make people smile and they make them laugh. There’s an exchange value, a social value, to these products.”