Mar 18, 2022 - Economy

Chocolate and candy sales hit a record

Illustration of a gold medal made out of chocolate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Consumers gobbled up a record $36.9 billion in candy, gum, mints, chocolate and other confections in 2021 — and are poised to keep buying more, a new report by the National Confectioners Association says.

Why it matters: When times are tough, people turn to sweets to make themselves feel better. The pandemic not only gave people more license to buy goodies, it got them into the habit of buying them online and consuming them at home — for movie nights, etc.

Driving the news: Candy and chocolate sales in 2021 were 11% higher than in 2020 and 15.4% higher than in 2019 — and the trade group attributes the rise to "the incredible permissibility our category enjoys based on the strong connection between emotional well-being and confectionery."

  • Sales are projected to reach $44.9 billion by 2026 — a 22% increase over 2021.
  • Social media has been helping drive candy sales. For instance, 42% of TikTokers engage in food challenges.
  • "Consumers view chocolate and candy as special treats in a happy, balanced lifestyle," John Downs, president & CEO of the National Confectioners Association, says in the report.
  • "Our success in 2021 came in part as a result of Americans re-engaging with the confectionery seasons after a tumultuous 2020 in which we were often physically separated from family, friends and neighbors."

Details: Of the $36.9 billion in sales in 2021, chocolate represented the largest category, with $21.1 billion in sales, followed by "non-chocolate" ($12.7 billion) and gum and mints ($3.1 billion).

  • 71% of consumers "mostly purchase chocolate and candy at their primary grocery store," the trade group says.
  • 88% "share with family and friends at least half the time when buying chocolate and candy."
  • Of the 91% of Americans who take road trips, 83% "sometimes or always include chocolate and candy in their travels."

The intrigue: The candy industry refers to "confectionary seasons" and says that 80% to 90% of Americans "celebrate the 'Big Four' seasons of Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween and the winter holidays by sharing and gifting confectionery."

  • The industry sees "ample opportunity to drive sales during the secondary seasons" like Mother's Day, Father's Day, the summer holidays and the Super Bowl.
  • Fun fact: June is National Candy Month — scheduled strategically to help fill "the confectionery sales gap between Easter and Halloween."

Flashback: One of the last big spikes in sales of sweets happened in 2009 — the height of the big recession — when Americans, particularly adults, were "consuming growing volumes of candy, from Mary Janes and Tootsie Rolls to Gummy Bears and cheap chocolates," per the New York Times.

  • "Theories vary on exactly why," the Times said. "For many, sugar lifts spirits dragged low by the languishing economy. For others, candy also provides a nostalgic reminder of better times. And not insignificantly, it is relatively cheap."

Yum: M&Ms and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are locked in a perennial tie for America's favorite candy, by some reports.

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