A Sweet Mix: Candy manufacturers modify their offerings

Snack Corner

One thing you can count on is constant change in the world of concession foods and snack options. In the category of candy, there has been a concerted effort to revitalize the uniqueness of confections and appeal to the sweet tooth of movie patrons while still offering something more tasteful on the nutritional side. Yogurt-covered fruits and berries, dark chocolates with higher percentages of cacao, even low-carb candies have graced the selection offerings. Both Hershey USA and Nestlé USA have recently released a collection of modified snack mixes to the cinema channel that challenge its perceptions. Unconventional treats are now a part of the evolving parade and the “Better for you” trend. The new snack mixes offer a sweet taste while modifying the nutritional potential.

Hershey USA unveiled their version of snack mix to the cinema channel in 2016. The product was available in retail markets; however, Hershey gave a push to the theatres as well last year. These snack mix submissions are sub-labeled as a sweet and salty blend. The two primary snack mixes produced by Hershey are the Hershey Snack Mix that blends Hershey mini milk chocolate bars with pretzel bites and almonds. The other package is REESE’S Snack Mix, which includes REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup minis, peanuts, pretzels and of course REESE’S Pieces candy. The two-ounce package announces a calorie count of 270, as two ounces is one portion size. Hershey’s also developed a larger handheld package of six ounces with a hard plastic vessel and replaceable lid for multiple consumptions or sharing. It is interesting that a portion size on the six-ounce vessel lists 190 calories and 12 grams of sugar (25% less than the two-ounce package). Does that mean the Hershey Company believes the consumer will eat less than two ounces if they portion it out themselves? As a sampler of this product, I believe you would eat two to three times more, as it is quite delicious. In comparison, these treats have less than 12 grams of sugar than the counterpart REESE’S Pieces in a peg bag, while REESE’S claims 200 calories per portion. The snack mix dilutes the pure REESE’S candy with other carbs such as pretzels and peanuts. “It’s life’s Illusion I recall,” said Joni Mitchell.

Brandy Wofford, associate brand manager at Hershey, recently reported in Confectionery News that “the company is committed to the snack category” and more may be on the horizon. Hershey also intends to expand its releases with Hershey’s and REESE’S Crunchers as well as Popped Snack mix in 2017.

Nestlé has also penetrated the market in a similar fashion with comparable products: Raisinets Snack Mix and Buncha CRUNCH snack mix. The Raisinets Snack Mix is a blend of milk chocolate Raisinets, shredded coconut and peanuts. This two-ounce package lists 190 calories and 11 grams of sugar on its nutritional panel. The Buncha CRUNCH snack mix stirs together mini Buncha CRUNCH with mini chocolate chip cookies, Toll House Premier White Morsels and peanuts. This treat claims nutritional calories at 190 but 15 grams of sugar in a quarter-cup portion. These snack packs mirror the aforementioned products such as the Raisinets per portion and have the same 190 calories but 28 grams of sugar. Buncha CRUNCH as a candy has 10 fewer calories at 180 and lists 20 grams of sugar.

These items offer “clean label products with sustainable ingredients,” states Tim Farha, customer development manager for Nestlé. Farha continues to report that these types of products are “great-tasting, indulgent and healthier options across the everyday snacking need.” He continues, “People are interested in fresh new flavor experiences; what is considered ‘healthy’ has changed.”

Mars Chocolate also participates in a similar fashion in the “salty and sweet” category. Mars combines the famous M&M’S with roasted peanuts, crunchy pretzels and mini chocolate chip cookies. The packaging currently is most prominent in retail stores as an eight-ounce portion.

It seems that even as confection companies try to deliver what might be perceived as healthier options, confections are confections are confections. Movie patrons are consumers in multiple habitats, whether grocery shops, convenience outlets or drug stores. When people want candy, they want the sweet flavors of sugar. Cinema-goers like to add that flavor of salt; therefore, it seems natural that these two things would merge at a cinema concession stand. The major manufacturers know all too well that to prolong that buying habit, they need to create innovative means to display and sell what they do best.

The theatre patron has been one of the most loyal consumers of the brands of Hershey, Nestlé and Mars. It is most gratifying to have the confection companies explore innovative patterns as they continue to go to market. The chocolate snack mix segment is rapidly growing. Consumers have welcomed the segment as they look to satisfy a sweet craving while fulfilling their need for a salty snack.

Larry Etter is senior VP at Malco Theatres and director of education for the National Association of Concessionaires.