John H. Downs, Jr., president and ceo, National Confectioners Association (NCA), opened this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo with a look at the current state of the industry and its surrounding issues.

From this vantage point, prospects look bittersweet — but mostly sweet.

First the bitter — sugar is still under attack as obesity remains a pressing issue in America.

But 78 percent of the population knows obesity is a bigger issue than sugar alone can affect, and with half the population watching their sugar intakes, it would seem sugar isn’t even close to the sole culprit.

In fact, Americans on average enjoy candy 2-3 times a week, making up about 2 percent of the average diet. That’s only 50 calories a day coming from candy alone, Downs told the audience.

What consumers are concerned about is hidden sugars in non-dessert items. Shoppers would rather cut sugar from other sources than give up sweet treats, he explained.

Consumers are also willing to pay more money for quality ingredients. Millennials even prefer customized offerings and premium products.

The NCA’s approach to addressing these issues is to:

  • be consistent and fact-based
  • engage in conversation with consumers
  • reinforce candy as a treat

And it’s no secret that candy remains popular, despite accusations against it.

Nationally, confections have a common CPG penetration rate of 98 percent — compared to 97 percent for toilet paper and 89 percent for soap. So, 123 million households enjoy candy every year.

Being a $135-billion-a-year industry, confections employ over 70,000 people. Two out of three are small businesses.

The confectionery industry brings a reminder that life is sweet and worth celebrating, so it doesn’t look like it will be going completely bitter anytime soon.