Globally, 78.2 million people have now been infected with COVID-19, and 1.72 million have died as a result of the virus. The numbers are so staggering that by the time you read this, they will be outdated.
Over the last year the coronavirus has impacted every aspect of our lives, and that includes the confectionery industry.
While we are still nowhere near the end of the pandemic, we are closing out 2020. So it seems important to take a moment and look back at everything that’s happened. To look at the big picture in a way that wasn’t possible when we were trying to keep up with the daily onslaught of breaking news.
So let’s take a breath and look back at the last 12 months, allowing ourselves a moment to reflect on what we have all been though. Because everyone could use a quiet moment of reflection before we start in on another year.
How COVID-19 impacted industry events
Candy Industry’s first article mentioning the word, “coronavirus” was posted on Jan. 29, 2020.
“ISM continuing as planned amid coronavirus concerns,” the headline read above an article detailing all the safety precautions the international candy show in Germany was planning to take for its event, slated for Feb. 2-5, 2020.
It wasn’t until Feb. 11 that the World Health Organization officially started calling it COVID-19 — almost a week after ISM ended. Before that, we knew it only as “coronavirus.”
The January ISM article included this excerpt:
German health officials reported four coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Bavaria, but officials consider risk of the virus spreading as low.
‘It was to be expected that the virus would also reach Germany. However, the cases show that we are well prepared for it,’ said Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn.
In the last year, Germany has had 1.53 million cases of COVID-19, and 27,110 deaths.
I attended the 2020 ISM show last winter, but it was the last international trip I would take for the year.
A couple weeks after that, our Managing Editor Alyse Thompson attended ECRM, held Feb. 16-19 at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. She didn’t know it at the time, but it was the last work tip she would take in 2020.
By April 23, ECRM organizers had shifted all upcoming events to a virtual format.
In an article about the changes, ECRM CEO Greg Farrar said:
“Adversity drives innovation. The challenges of the pandemic showed everybody the power of virtual meetings and the opportunity to leverage digital in a more effective way. We believe our platform delivers an experience that is as close to in-person as possible, providing the high-tech yet personalized service that our clients have come to expect.”
After posting the ISM article in January, we at Candy Industry didn’t write anything else about the coronavirus until Feb. 26, 2020.
“interpack prepares for coronavirus” read the headline, followed by the subhead, “Trade and packaging show draws on experience with SARS, H1N1 to handle coronavirus.”
At the time, the international processing and packaging show was still slated to be held May 7-13 in Dusseldorf, Germany.
“[Organizers said] that according to the World Health Organization, the Robert Koch Institute and the German authorities, the risk of infection with this new pathogen in Germany is currently very low,” read the article.
By mid-May the show had officially been postponed to Feb. 25-March 3, 2021. Then, on Dec. 3 it was canceled entirely with organizers looking to the next event in 2023.
In an article about the cancelation, Wolfram N. Diener, president and CEO of interpack organizer Messe Düsseldorf said:
“We have made every effort to do justice to interpack’s tremendous importance for the processing and packaging industry, even during this pandemic... Ultimately, however, feedback from our exhibitors has shown that the uncertainty is too great, and we are thus unable to host an interpack event that would meet the standards of a leading international trade fair.”
The 2021 ISM also was completely canceled.
Organizers said the increased number of infections, as well as the related lockdowns and travel restrictions, made the event unfeasible. It had been slated to be held Jan. 31-Feb. 3, 2021 in Cologne, Germany.
The second and final business trip I took in 2020 was to Florida for the NCA State of the Industry, held March 1-3.
As was still the norm in the United States at the time, attendees were not wearing masks. Most people were still shaking hands. And everyone ate at the buffet for lunch.
It was during that conference that I first heard about a large-scale industry event being canceled. On March 17, I posted a column reflecting on the experience headlined, “How quickly the coronavirus has changed our sweet world,” writing:
Between [NCA State of the Industry] speakers there were lots of murmurs about what events might be canceled. Would the Western Candy Conference still happen? What about PMCA? Should we bother to book our flight tickets to Germany for interpack? They can’t cancel interpack? Right? There’s no way, right?
Then on Tuesday, we got word that the confectionery industry was indeed going to take a hit. Expo West was postponed indefinitely. People next to me audibly gasped when they saw the news. And we’ve since learned that it is outright canceled.
By March 24, the 2020 NCA Sweets and Snacks Expo also was canceled. It had been slated to be held May 24-27 in Chicago. Organizers have since announced that the 2021 event will be held later than usual, and in a new location. It is currently scheduled to be held at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis from June 22-25.
In the same March 17 column, I wondered how long we would be enduring the impact of COVID-19, writing:
“This week, President Donald Trump told the country that he doesn’t expect us to get past all of this until July or August.
July? Or August? We’re going to be enduring this until late summer? How can that be?”
A line that felt pessimistic when I first wrote it, now looks naively optimistic.
Now, as we head into 2021, we wait and hope that the Expo will indeed happen this summer. The fact that vaccines started being distributed across the United States this month is probably the best sign yet that the candy show will indeed go on.
How confectionery companies coped
Of course, events were just one of the major impacts of COVID-19 on the industry this year.
The first in-depth article Candy Industry ran about the impact of the coronavirus on a candy maker was posted March 20. Thompson interviewed Amos Ma, CEO of Amos Sweets, for the piece, headlined, “Chinese candy manufacturer Amos Sweets shares experience with coronavirus.”
He told Thompson that there was almost a full month of disruption to production at their factories. They also had to pass strict protocols to resume production, including compiling records of every employee’s travel history, daily body temperature checks, and 14-day quarantines for staff from higher-risk cities, among others.
In addition, Ma discussed the economic impact of the spring outbreak in China.
“The whole economy and, especially consumption of candy, was hit a great deal, and as a result we are facing real challenges of survival. But we still believe in our value and our mission as a company to be the ‘Sweet Ambassador to the World.’ We deliver our candy to the world, and we also deliver our love to the world. AMOS means ‘A Moment of Sharing.’ So, even though we are going through a rough patch, we stay true to our company values and we donated 300,000 RMB ($42,282) worth of nutritional products (Active Probiotic Gummies and Vitamin C Effervescent Tablets) from our emerging brand, Biobor, to hospitals in Wuhan.
Eventually, U.S. companies started to feel the impact, too.
See’s Candies halted production in March as well.
On March 27, Candy Industry posted an interview Thompson did with Dan Abel Jr., v.p. of operations for St. Louis-based Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Co.
Abel Jr.,told her:
“There’s no rulebook for this. We’re all running day by day. I hope every decision we make is the right one.”
He said that having revenue from both Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate and Bissinger was sustaining both companies, there was still a lot of uncertainty and fear surrounding the pandemic and how it would affect business.
Now, nine months later, that sentiment lingers for many Americans. It’s still day by day, and many of us still feel so much uncertainty of every decision we make.
There are so many stories of hope in the last year, though.
Michael Moss, CEO of the Sweet Shop in Mount Pleasant, Texas, converted part of the company’s factory into an area for making much needed face shields.
I interviewed him about the project and he told me at the time that the idea came to him in mid-March while watching the Today Show. A reporter was highlighting nurses making face shields in their break room out of supplies they got at the local craft store.
In the article he said:
“It just looked really sad to me. I just looked at my wife, and I said, ‘I’m sure this sounds like a crazy idea, but I wonder if we could make facial shields to help. Am I crazy?’ And she said, ‘No, I think it’s a great idea!’”
And countless confectionery industry companies stepped up to donate candy, to relief funds, and other resources to those who needed it.
Just a very small sample of some of the acts of kindness from candy makers this year included:
Chocolate Inspirations, a mother-and-daughter-owned chocolatier in Roselle, Illinois, donated 500 ruby chocolate Easter bunnies to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.
World’s Finest Chocolate worked to donate 10 million chocolate bars to emergency responders, healthcare and frontline heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mars, Inc. committed to donating $20 million to support people, pets and communities affected by COVID-19.
Jelly Belly Candy Co. donated 1 million bags of jelly beans to first responders serving during the COVID-19 pandemic with help from Operation Gratitude.
GODIVA donated chocolate, coffee and other treats to hospitals, doctors, nurses, caregivers and other supporting hospital workers. They also partnered with the Tenet Healthcare Corporation, a diversified healthcare services company, and HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, to donate over 600,000 pieces of chocolate to both hospital networks across the country.
Innovation also continued throughout the year.
In April, Thompson wrote about how SmartSweets launched a new product amid the pandemic — at the time somewhat noteworthy, but something that has since become a necessary part of doing business.
The company’s new Sweet Chews were its first innovation outside of the gummy category. Tara Bosch, founder and CEO of SmartSweets, told Thompson at the time:
“The launch of Sweet Chews was originally set for Expo West at the beginning of March. However, due to the cancelation of the show and the current situation with COVID-19, we decided to push the launch back to April 7. We pivoted our launch marketing plan from being adventure-themed, which supported on-the-go snacking with the individually wrapped chews, to an opportunity to create a daily dose of sweetness in our community’s day by bringing them a moment of excitement with a new innovation they have been asking for.
A few months later, SmartSweets felt confident enough to launch another new item, Sourmelon Bites, a low-sugar, plant-based take on the classic gummy watermelon slices.
Then in July, Thompson compiled an extensive list of 46 new products that had been slated to launch at the Sweets and Snacks Expo.
To paraphrase an old saying, the candy must go on.
Perhaps the biggest news story we covered this year was Halloween. In the lead-up to fall, everyone was wondering how the pandemic would impact candy sales, especially if people didn’t feel safe trick-or-treating or having costume parties.
Rather than simply producing a limited edition Halloween treat or toy, Yowie Group provided spooky decorations, fun games and delicious treats to turn what might have been a disappointing holiday into the most family-centric Halloween ever.
Meanwhile, Mars Wrigley launched “Treat Town,” an app that allowed users to virtually trick-or-treat for real candy credits.
Hershey supported the Halloween and Costume Association’s interactive map illustrating the COVID-19 risk in each U.S. county.
American Licorice teamed up with Goetze's Candy, Jelly Belly and Spangler to offer Halloween boxes that allowed people to celebrate the holiday at home while still getting a wide variety of candy.
Ferrara worked with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment to launch the company’s first augmented reality (AR) experience featuring the Ghostbusters franchise.
In early October, Mariah Havens, senior brand manager of seasonal marketing for Ferrara, discussed the company’s approach to the season.
In the article about the interview she said:
“The pandemic has pushed everything up earlier in the year, and we have seen an increased consumer desire for Halloween items outside of the typical sales season. To meet that demand, we started direct-to-consumer fulfillment three months earlier than the previous two years. We’ve also seen that most of our retail partners have taken their Halloween shipments earlier than usual, signaling customer and consumer optimism for the 2020 Halloween season.”
Now, as we celebrate the winter holidays, research firms are optimistic.
Based on a survey conducted in October in partnership with Prosper Insights & Analytics, the NRF forecasts holiday spending will increase between 3.6 and 5.2 percent over 2019 to reach between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion.
In an article about the data, NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said:
“We know this holiday season will be unlike any other, and retailers have planned ahead by investing billions of dollars to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers. Consumers have shown they are excited about the holidays and are willing to spend on gifts that lift the spirits of family and friends after such a challenging year. We expect a strong finish to the holiday season, and will continue to work with municipal and state officials to keep retailers open and the economy moving forward at this critical time.”
COVID-19 also brought massive changes to the retail side of the confectionery industry. More consumers started using online ordering for groceries, ranging from click-and-collect to home delivery.
When the lockdowns first started in the spring, Hershey reported that chocolate was the top quarantine snack food. A couple months later, during a stockholders call, it reported that home baking sales had increased, while gum and mint sales had declined since COVID started.
The candy company also shared that e-commerce sales were up significantly, with growth over 120 percent in March, versus 60 percent in January and February.
In a May article, Michele Buck, chairman, president & CEO of Hershey, said:
“At one retailer, 80 percent of the full year digital sales plan was achieved in the month of March alone. In the week leading up to Easter, 43 percent of Easter sales at this retailer were purchased online. And at another retailer, we were able to make more Easter items available online and shift inventory to maximize sell-through as consumer behaviors changed mid-season.”
In July, Thompson wrote an article about new research from Euromonitor International that illustrated just how much consumers have come to rely on technology in the face of government-mandated lockdowns and a personal desire to minimize contact with other people.
The article said:
Euromonitor found just over a third (35 percent) of consumers prefer contactless in-store shopping features. While the pandemic drove greater interest in contactless payment, ordering and delivering, consumers said they want to see more scan-as-you-go and walk-in, walk-out technologies.
Additionally, Euromonitor reported 31 percent of connected consumers buy food and beverages on a smartphone, 21 percent on a computer, 12 percent on a tablet and 7 percent on another device. Nonetheless, 50 percent of global consumers execute payment for these food and beverage purchases through a mobile app.
In September Candy Industry shared insights from Transparency Market Research showing that the lockdowns associated with COVID-19 would serve as a springboard for the snack products market to expand its footprint across untapped regions and opportunities over the next decade, according to
In the article, the company said:
“Snack products have acquired a prominent place in households across the globe due to COVID-19 lockdown implementations and the lockdown extensions. The preference for “indulgence on-the-go” has increased due to more consumers working from home. Furthermore, the change in traditional patterns of food consumption may also open a pathway for innovation across the snack products market.”
Closing out the year, ADM shared its Top 5 food trend predictions for 2021, which it said were shaped by COVID-19.
In the article Vince Macciocchi, president, nutrition said:
“The global health crisis has changed consumer preferences in new and unexpected ways. We are seeing a heightened demand for foods and beverages that support immune systems, enhance our mood and reduce our environmental impact, driven in part by emerging human tensions. This has provided a unique opportunity for brands to develop disruptive new products that will forever change the way we eat and drink. It’s going to be a year of innovation, marked by significant breakthroughs in nutrition.”
If the past year has taught us anything though, it’s that while predictions are valuable, it’s the ability to continually adapt to the unpredictable that’s important. In this respect, the confectionery industry has shined.
So this holiday season, Candy Industry hopes you’ll take a moment of silence for all the grief we’ve endured, say a toast for all that we have overcome, and know that whatever happens next, we can handle it.
Happy holidays and a prosperous New Year from Candy Industry. And when you’re ready, we’ll be here, covering everything that happens in 2021.