Children are sweet on classic candy flavors, Comax finds

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Dive Brief:

  • When it comes to candy, milk chocolate and berry flavors are the favorites among children, according to a study emailed to Food Dive by flavor technology company Comax. Seven in 10 say milk chocolate is their favorite in a candy bar. More than half chose it as their favorite for filled and coated chocolate treats.
  • For soft chewy gummies, berry flavor reigns supreme among kids. Strawberry and watermelon are the most popular choices for hard candy. More than half (53%) like strawberry hard candy, and a majority would choose both berry-flavored (58%) and watermelon (52%) lollipops. The watermelon affinity even spreads into sour candy, with 58% eating that flavor in the pucker-inducing sweets.
  • The study found children’s candy preferences have one big thing in common with preferences of most consumers: Taste is the number one purchase driver. More than half of the children Comax surveyed found taste as their top attribute for purchasing chocolates, soft and chewy candy, hard candy and prepackaged cotton candy.

Dive Insight:

While there is a wide variety of flavors on the market, this study shows that the majority of children prefer only a handful of them, and they are the classics.

Watermelon, cherry, strawberry and milk chocolate are all standard flavors that have been available for generations. Despite these preferences, candy companies looking to innovate and capture larger numbers of consumers are pulling out all the stops and venturing into uncharted flavor territory. Just last month, Brach’s announced it would release Thanksgiving dinner-flavored candy corn and Ferrara’s Trolli brand launched Crunchy Crawlers. Although intriguing, it will be worth it for these manufacturers to pay attention to the staying power of these innovations, and tracking them against sales of classic offerings with familiar flavors.

At the same time, candy consumption in the United States is rising, and manufacturers are likely looking to take advantage of that trend with new offerings. Data from the National Confectioners Association shows overall sales of chocolate and candy increased 3.8% between March 15 and Aug. 9. This increase in indulgent purchases was more prevalent for chocolate, which saw a sales increase of 5.5%. Premium chocolate outpaced the rest of the category, with a sales spike of 12.5%.

It is no surprise chocolate is continuing to be a favorite treat for Americans. The global cocoa and chocolate market is projected to reach $67.22 billion by the end of 2025, with a compound annual growth rate of 5.7%, according to Trusted Business Insights figures cited by Comax. Non-chocolate chewy candy generated $3.9 billion in the year ending June 14, up 5.2% from a year ago, according to IRI. Adult consumer preference in the category has also consistently been dominated by milk chocolate per Mintel research.

There haven’t been as many studies of adult consumer preferences for other types of candy. Outside of studies looking into the cultural role of candy, most of the data comes from reader surveys on online platforms to identify readers’ favorite candies. In one such survey from Popsugar, fruit flavored fillings were the favorite for 20% of respondents, which is similar to Comax’s findings in children’s preferences.   

This Comax study adds more to the growing amount of research showing that tried and true flavors remain favorites for both children and adults. As consumers continue to comfort themselves with treats and the sweets-fueled Halloween holiday gets closer, it may behoove candy companies to pay attention to what consumers prefer, rather than working to reinvent what candy looks and tastes like.

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