After navigating a tumultuous year, the candy industry is facing a new challenge as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads throughout the United States. After a lull in cases in the early part of the summer, the numbers are quickly rising again.

The change threatens to throw more obstacles at the confectionery sector as it heads into the fall and winter holidays. Two IRI experts recently offered their take on how companies can prepare for what’s next during the Candy Industry State of the Industry webinar, available for free OnDemand.

Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive v.p. and practice leader, client insights; and Dan Sadler, principal of client insights, offered advice. And Lyons Wyatt had one word on her mind when it comes to Delta: Agility.

“When you think about the Delta variant, companies are going to need to be agile,” Lyons Wyatt said.

Specifically, companies need to be prepared for both online and in-store sales, which includes having the right stock available across purchasing platforms, and making sure their SEO is lined up with all the online retail sites.

“Whether that's a brick-and-mortar that has click-and-collect online, or a purely online, I think agility is key because growth will [happen] in this industry — unless we get that wrong,” Lyons Wyatt explained.

It’s not clear yet if online sales will continue to grow as a result of Delta, or whether there will be more balance between online and in-store like the grocery industry started to see with Easter 2021. But that’s exactly why candy companies and retailers need to be prepared for both.

Sadler said companies need to focus on navigating seasonal sales as the Delta variant spreads.

“Seasons is so big for confections and during [COVID], I think that was the biggest [concern]: what was going to happen during the seasons? Fortunately, we've been through it once, so I think manufacturers and retailers are a little bit more prepared for it this time,” Sadler said. “But I think that's the big thing, we have to be cognizant of the seasons and see what we learned and how we get through that. Seasons are so important to confections, and with all the sharing that goes on during the seasonal time frame, gifting — certainly it's got to be front and center as we think of Delta.”

Even with new challenges on the horizon, the candy industry has already proven itself over the last year and a half. Its resiliency during the pandemic especially stood out to Sadler.

"You saw certainly there were some hiccups, with less activity around front end, impulse purchasing. So there were some peaks and valleys,” he said. “But overall confections did fairly well. I mean we weren't going to see the growth that we saw with some of those other categories that did very well during COVID, but we certainly didn't see some of those declines like some other categories, like snack bars saw. I think it showed that candy is resilient, it's an important player. There was a lot of skepticism around what was going to happen and it showed that overall confection was pretty resilient to everything.”

Lyons Wyatt echoed that sentiment.

“The fact that candy was able to go through that year and still find growth… the fact that it survived that, and seeing the strength and the growth right now? It was actually a good surprise. There's still growth to be had.”

The full webinar — which includes deep dives into candy sales data as well as more category insights from Lyons Wyatt and Sadler — is available to view on demand on Candy Industry’s website for anyone who completes a free registration.