The confectionery industry has fared well in recent years, both during the height of the recession and its aftermath — underscoring the importance of a small indulgence in good and bad economic times. Among more than 300 product categories across the store, confectionery is growing faster than 184 other categories, with 92 of those actually showing declines. Over the 52 weeks through November 1, 2015, confectionery is keeping in lockstep with the total store growth of 3.2%, with a dollar sales growth of 3% for combined chocolate and non-chocolate.

Some of the sales trends that drove the market growth in 2015 were:

• Chewy candy — For several years, chewy candy has led the growth in non-chocolate with high single digit and even double digit growth. These gains are driven by significant levels of product innovation in terms of new and bold flavors (particularly in sour), fun shapes and packaging. Chewy candy is not only a growth leader, but also the largest sub-segment within non-chocolate.

• Mints — In the past year, mints have seen consistent dollar growth around 4-5%, perhaps directly tied to the nation’s intrigue with spicy and flavorful foods.

• Gourmet/premium chocolate — The premium segment has been on fire with double digit growth for several years now, and 11 % for the most recent twelve months. This includes higher-end chocolate with organic claims, chocolate with very high cocoa %ages, but also products from countries such as Germany or Belgium. We also see a rise in the share of premium that focuses on GMO-free, fair trade, etc — even though this very much remains a niche segment to date.

• Fun and daring flavor combinations — Tied to the premium trend is a subtrend of creating and infusing fun and daring flavor combinations — particularly enjoyed by the Millennials. These are things like hot red peppers, bacon, lavender and ginger that give a new twist to an old favorite.

• The infusion of nuts/dried fruits — According to the NCA survey among 1,400 shoppers, 41% purchase chocolate with fruits and nuts when looking for better-for-you alternatives. Actual dollar sales back up these claims with chocolate infused with hazelnuts up 9 %, almonds up 4 % and dried fruits (a much smaller segment) up 56%.

• Minis featured in re-sealable packaging — Resealable packages have been tremendously popular with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of more than 10 % across the globe. They allow people to enjoy a little treat and easily share with others. They also address the on-the-go convenience that is a rising requirement among shoppers. The retail value sales of shareable bags/boxes grew by more than $1.0 billion over 2009-2014, and is expected to continue to grow at a similar rate over 2014-2019.

• Dark chocolate — According to the NCA survey, 70% of shoppers will at least occasionally switch to dark chocolate as an alternative to milk chocolate. Actual sales figures saw dark chocolate sales grow by more than 9%. But even within dark chocolate, the market is slowly shifting from dark to darker: 57% of shoppers said they will shift up to a higher cocoa %age when looking for healthier-for-you alternatives.