Consumers embrace moderation and choice at retail checkouts, industry data reveals.

Choices, that’s what consumers want when it comes to the retail checkout area, and that includes candy and chocolate. This is according to data from market research firm Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) that finds consumers are focused on achieving balance and moderation, noting that for every 10 trips to the store they are purchasing confectionery products at checkout less than once, on average.

In fact, consumers say they feel in control when checking out at grocery stores and other retail locations that sell candy at the front end, according to a national survey by NCA. In addition, 63 percent of parents note they appreciate having the option to purchase candy in the checkout aisle.

Additionally, the “pester power” argument does not hold water as the segment with the highest concentration of children in the household has a low purchase index for instant consumables, according to a Hudson Institute whitepaper, New Realities at Retail Checkout: Challenges and Opportunities for Instant Consumable Candy and Snacks. The whitepaper notes candy does not rank among the top foods and beverages consumers avoid because of health concerns.

The Hudson Institute also found candy ranks among the most frequently purchased items of the numerous categories retailers carry, accounting for more than 30 percent of the instant consumable market and having an 80 percent household penetration rate.

Consumers Practice Moderation

Evaluating the five consumer segments developed by the Natural Marketing Institute that range from “well beings,” who are the most health pro-active, to “eat, drink and be merrys,” who are the least concerned with health and healthy eating, the Hudson Institute found that regardless of group, all segments buy and enjoy confectionery products in moderation.

Despite these findings, the food policy organization Center for Science in the Public Interest continues pressuring retailers to remove chocolate and candy from retail checkout areas, calling on misinformation and the notion consumers are not capable of self control when confectionery products are merchandised at the front end.

Julie Gunlock, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, says that she doesn’t think saying no to a child’s request for candy is the toughest challenge parents face. “The food nannies might say this is an epic problem for parents, but moms and dads know it’s a pretty minor issue,” she says.

“I have three children. I know the challenging decisions we face every day, in the grocery store and in life,” Gunlocks adds. “I have every confidence that parents are more than equipped to deal with the presence of candy at checkout. Many times, if children even ask for a treat, the answer is a simple no. From time to time, like most parents, I enjoy the option to say yes and treat my kids a small sweet. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Cam Cloeter, an expert in the field of retail checkouts, notes adults shopping with children tend to purchase less candy at checkout than they do in center-store sections. He points out this debunks the “pester power” argument many opponents cite in seeking to remove confectionery from checkout aisles.

Front ends are complex store areas with limited space that need to accommodate products meeting a range of usage occasions, continues Cloeter. “These instant consumables fill a plethora of need states, from refresh to reward,” he explains. “Front ends are really about helping shoppers make informed and responsible choices, while maintaining sales productivity.”

“Whether consumers purchase confectionery items in the center of the store or at retail checkout, they understand the unique role chocolate, candy, gum and mints can play in a happy, balanced lifestyle,” confirms John Downs, NCA president and CEO. “Chocolate and candy have always been a treat, and the Always A Treat initiative is a big commitment by the participating companies to keep it that way.”

Companies Support Consumers’ Ability to Make Informed Choices at Checkout

Reinforcing the industry’s commitment to help make informed choices, America’s leading chocolate and candy companies, in cooperation with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), in May announced the Always A Treat initiative to provide consumers with information, options and support as they enjoy their favorite treats.

This voluntary initiative is in line with a recent McKinsey Global Institute study that identified “portion control” as the number one intervention that would make the biggest impact on health and life extension.

This initiative brings together Mars Wrigley Confectionery US, LLC, Nestlé USA, Inc., Ferrara Candy Co., Inc., Ferrero U.S.A., Inc., Lindt & Sprüngli (USA), Inc., Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. and Russell Stover Candies, Inc.

A main component of the Always A Treat initiative is that by 2022 one-half of the individually wrapped products made by these companies will be available in sizes that contain 200 calories or less per pack. Right now, more than 60 percent of the participating companies’ individually wrapped products contain less than 250 calories per pack. In the next few years, consumers will see more options in smaller sizes — and innovative new products, as well, Downs tells CST.

Most Americans enjoy candy about two to three times per week, averaging about 40 calories and about one teaspoon of added sugar per day from confectionery items, notes Christopher Gindlesperger, vice president of public affairs and communications at NCA.

“Today’s shoppers value a variety of food options and in the checkout lane, it is no different. As retailers it is up to us to provide that variety including more nutrient dense options such as fresh fruits and veggies, string cheese, and nuts as well as the traditional treats such as candy and bakery items,” says Stephanie Edson, MS, RDN, LD LMNT, with SpartanNash Co., a wholesale distributor and grocer with approximately 150 stores in the Midwest.

Edson adds that while retailers must make these nutrient dense options easy and convenient, consumers still deserve a choice. “Treats can be part of a balanced lifestyle. They should not necessarily be an everyday food, but should be enjoyed in balance with other food choices and physical activity,” she tells CST.

As confectionery companies step forward in providing consumers with the information, options and support to make choices when it comes to enjoying chocolate and candy, retail checkout remains an important section of the store for shoppers looking to fill a range of need states and retailers seeking to remain profitable. CST