Hail Category Drivers, 2006
By Renee M. Covino
There were a few new categories/surprises this year in Confectioner’s fifth annual award program for recognizing excellence in candy and gum vendors.
Just like winning strategies from winning companies are “works in progress,” so, too, are Confectioner’s Category Driver Awards that honor those winners.
The proof of that can be found in the evolution of the categories themselves: What was once the “low-carb” candy category quickly changed last year to “better-for-you.” And now the value-added category labeled “functional” is gaining ground.
A separate gum category was added this year to recognize all those that are neither breath-freshening nor functional, and yet deliver notable innovation. A “gift box” category was also added. And finally, bulk was dropped this year for lack of a clear winner. Apparently, that sub-segment of the confectionery category needs a lot of work to bring it back to excellence.
Beyond that, though, there is a lot of positive press. And so, with changes in place, and perhaps a few surprises to report, we present the top confectionery suppliers driving the growth of the candy industry for 2006. Looking at them in more detail, here are our 2006 winners with some samples of the words of praise they earned.

Cadbury Adams
• an “overall great partner” with “fast-selling SKUs”
• “great new flavors and new combinations of flavors”
• “very innovative lately”

Ghirardelli Chocolate Company
• “love the way their display vehicles help promote their items”
• “the packaging is excellent”
• “great quality and packaging”

Godiva Chocolatier
• “they’ve been very aggressive with their marketing campaigns, promotional contests and sweepstakes”
• “great partners, good at giving us whatever we need”
• “very successful seasonally”

Gum Runners LLC
• “they found something very good — a mix of innovative product in a well-defined brand that is very well placed”
• “they’re a good supplier; they’re very supportive; they work very closely with us”
• “the brand name (Jolt) conveys perfectly what it is; people understand this line without it being explained”

The Hershey Company
• “their innovation and product design is second to none”
• “absolutely the best at what they do”
• “they’re looking at consumer trends and addressing them directly”
• the company was highly praised for “bringing out a lot on the dark side” of chocolate
• “they drive the category for me overall”
• “they just keep rolling out with more and more seasonal stuff”

Jelly Belly Candy Company
• “great quality from an innovative player”
• “they keep improving upon themselves; they know which items to take out, too”
• “they’re always ahead of the game”
• “they have the freshest quality — their name is synonymous with fresh”

Just Born, Inc.
• “getting better every year”
• “their limited editions are a hit with our customers”
• “really developing the lines they do best”
Kandy Kastle Inc.
• “their innovation in package design and product design, and their interaction with the market is phenomenal”
• the company was also highly praised for its “branding” and “licensing”

Lindt USA
• “they were the reason our customers discovered premium”
• “they keep improving upon the presentation while maintaining a well-defined brand”

Masterfoods USA
• “works very closely with us on promotions”
• “tremendous brand name visibility”
• “the Dove items are premium with our customers”

Nestlé Confections USA
• “they are consistent and have a loyal following”

Russell StoverCandies, Inc.
• “they’re innovative and address the market needs with quality offerings”
• “they know how to keep changing with the trends; when low-carb was hot, they were on it, and when that slowed down they went towards Weight Watchers — just phenomenal strategy”
• “their Private Reserve line did very well at Christmas — very well”

The Topps Company
• “so innovative in a long-lasting product way, and they’re starting to advertise more, which is awesome”
• “they support their items with good contests and promotions”

Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company
• “great new products introduced; Doublemint mints were a good hit; the new flavors they brought out of Altoids have been very good; Orbit is awesome; it blows everything else away”
• “does the best job with gum,very innovative and our customers love that their items seem to last”
• many praise the company for being a “trendsetter player,” which “isn’t always easy for an established company” n

Retailer/Distributor Wish List
To push the industry toward even further excellence, retailer/distributor respondents were asked to name their top “wish list” item that would not only help make their buying job easier, but also raise the bar for the entire candy industry. Here are their top (anonymous) picks:
“Put the reps back on the street,” says one popular alternate-channel retailer. “We need people that can go back in the stores and check the goods to make sure they’re not expired and just properly set up the displays like they used to. Once upon a time everyone did it, now they’re cutting it out completely or using a third party.” He adds that it’s getting harder and harder to get “hands-on” assistance at the store level.
“As a supermarket operator, we’re definitely looking for more effective ways to merchandise candy in the store,” says a buyer. “We struggle to sell confections to more customers; because of the impulse nature of the category, we’re trying to figure out how to do more than just stack it up.” Therefore, he’d like to see more suppliers bring creative merchandising ideas to the table — ideas that move beyond what’s been done in the past.
“We need more lead time on new-item introductions,” relays a distributor. “Candy suppliers bring us new items and they say they start shipping in five weeks, but that doesn’t work for us. We look for a six-month lead time, and this is true industry-wide: retailers and wholesalers want more lead time, period.”
“The industry should band together in a promotional way to tout that candy is not a ‘bad’ food,” believes a drug buyer. “It’s not good the way we all sit back and take these industry knocks when we can do something about it. Kids sit on their butts all day — that’s the problem. But I’d like to see us all take out ads together in a cohesive, positive way for candy.”

Category Driver Criteria
Developing new and innovative products that are meaningful to the consumer and are performing well at store level
Creating in-store merchandising/marketing programs that drive impulse and special-occasion purchases, such as POS materials, packaging, etc.
Providing excellent customer service (to retailers and distributors) that demonstrates a knowledge of the category and the customer
Assuring on-time delivery and fulfillment of promises
Displaying willingness to partner (with retailers and distributors) to achieve specific customer objectives, such as program flexibility, custom packaging, etc.
Winners are chosen from a tally of unaided interviews. Votes were tabulated from confidential retail and distributor sources, which, all together, represent more than 40,000 stores within a large variety of channels.