Peep Insights: Recession’s Sweet Tooth

For some, Easter-time means stuffing yourself with chocolate, jellybeans, and marshmellowy delights. But it’s not just the recent holiday that has crowded the candy aisle. The economic downturn appears to have a distinct sweet tooth. Candy stores around the country are reporting a jump in sales since the slowdown last fall, as people everywhere rush […]

For some, Easter-time means stuffing yourself with chocolate, jellybeans, and marshmellowy delights. But it’s not just the recent holiday that has crowded the candy aisle. The economic downturn appears to have a distinct sweet tooth. Candy stores around the country are reporting a jump in sales since the slowdown last fall, as people everywhere rush to fill up on sugary snacks.

No one knows exactly why the recession inspires candy cravings. A recent New York Times article pondered possibilities for the candy craze: Penny pinchers looking for an affordable pleasure? Stressed adults nostalgic for their childhood? The simple happiness of a quick sugar rush?

Whatever the reason, confectionery companies are reaping the benefits. Cadbury reported a 7% revenue growth in 2008, Hershey’s profits jumped by 8.5% in the fourth quarter of last year, and Nestle saw profits grow by 10.9% during the same period.

The candy business has always thrived in down times, inspiring new treats along the way. The Great Depression of the 1930s introduced an array of tasty inventions: Snickers appeared in 1930, Tootsie Pops a year later, and Three Musketeers bars and Mentos followed in 1932. While classics like Necco Wafers and Peeps remain popular, perhaps 2009 will produce its own collection of modern-day confections?

Not that the ensuing years have been bereft of sweet innovations. The 80s brought Nerds and tangy Airheads. Children of the 90s gobbled Warheads and Nutrageous chocolate bars. At the turn of the century, however, people started to think more about healthy eating and local ingredients. For candy, that meant high-cocoa dark chocolate for heart benefits and organic, sugarless sweets.

Today, candy companies are customizing sweets (order a special message on your M&Ms on the Mars website), reviving old favorites with new flavors and textures (the latest updates include Chewy Lemonheads, Chocolate Pez, and Giant Nerds), and designing modern packaging for the digital age (Nintendo now offers a Wii KLICK-on Candy Dispenser).

Last year, analysts said shoppers looking for a sugar high may soon find more high-end candy products on the shelves, featuring exotic flavors like truffle, wine, or herbs. But will the recent economic troubles mean more fun for the candy industry? Perhaps these days people will abandon responsible sweets for a good, old-fashioned guilty pleasure.

- Contributed by Bridget Lee

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