Wednesday, June 7, 2006
Today I started out a little later, which is a good thing because I was pretty tired from yesterday but still got up early. My knees and ankles are killing me. It’s not like I don’t walk a lot in my daily life, but there’s something about the shuffling around the convention floor (concrete covered with thin carpet) that really takes its toll.
This morning I started out with an abashed appeal to the powers that be to replace my press badge that I lost yesterday. Because I still had my sample bag (you get issued one to carry for the entire show and cannot carry anything else onto the floor except for business materials) they waived the $25 penalty. The penalty is in place for people that would try to get a new badge each day so that they could get additional bags for filling with candy.
I started out this morning checking in with Bubble Chocolate, whom I’ve become very fond of because the two partners are so open to talking to me about how the process of building buzz and selling is going for them. Bruce Smith, the innovator trying to bring aerated chocolate back to America has an incredible weath of knowlege not only about chocolate as consumers but also about the chemistry and viscosity and all sorts of other things that I’d never considered. I’ll have more on them when I get back to Los Angeles.
I also checked in with Pop Rocks because they have several new products, including Chocolate Covered Pop Rocks ... I got to taste a sample (they don’t have the packaging ready for sampling though) and they’re really interesting. There’s also another product from them, Pop Rocks on a Roll which is a fruit roll up with Pop Rocks!
I sat in a fun session (they not all graphs and charts about grocery endcaps and interruption marketing) hosted by Beth Kimmerle and Will Noonan of Big Tips Candy. They did candy crafts, which sounds like a great idea for a themed party for children. I’ll have more on that and my own take on ideas for having fun with kids (especially on rainy days) in the weeks to come. They have another session later that I hope to sit in on.
Later today is another session called “Chocolate Industry’s Commitment to Cocoa Farms, Families and the Environment” which I hope goes beyond the discussion of fair trade for niche purchases but makes standards for ethical ingredients purchasing.
Also, as I listed yesterday, I tried out the Au’Some Florida Naturals fruit chews. These really are awesome. Tangy, complex and packed full of natural ingredients and no high fructose corn sweetener. It’s all those things that you want in a little morsel without compromise. But what was the most fun (in addition to the fact that they were so interested in talking to me) was the Bubble Roll Message Maker (Candy Addict had a great post on this) which is like the old Dymo label maker but instead of embossing a piece of tape, you imprint a strip of bubble tape. Not only that, you get the bubble tape with it but it can be refilled with just about any standard bubble tape out on the market! It comes with 6 feet of bubble tape and retails for under $2.
I had a nice chat with the Palmer Candy Co folks, who make the Twin Bing. I grabbed one of those to add to my ever-growing collection.
The other wonderful connection I made was over at Sconza candy, which I’ve loved for a while as a company. They’re still family run in Oakland, CA making panned nuts and candies with a great reputation for quality. They’re moving into organics, which I think is really exciting for things like panned nuts. There’s also talk of making a malted milk ball ... I think I need to do some focus group testing with them! I hope that the next time I go to San Francisco I can meet with them and see the operation up close. The Organic Toffee Cashews and Peanuts were pretty darn tasty and just what I needed to carry me through the morning.
You’re wondering if I’ve tried some bad things, and I actually have. There are plenty of things that I’ve sampled and not finished or diplomatically spit out. I’m planning to post my thoughts on those after I leave Chicago ... lest I get myself run out of town!
Tips and Techniques to Grow Confectionery Sales
The first session of the Expo on Monday afternoon was an intricately researched report on the effective techniques for large stores such as grocers to maximize their sales of candy.
Candy is a $27.9 billion business. Confectionery is third to soda and milk as a category of product sold in stores.
Here are some interesting things I learned:
The gross margin (basically profit) on general groceries is 28%.
The gross margin on confectionery (chocolate, sugar candy & gum) is 30%. So basically, candy is one of the more profitable things that a grocer can sell in their store.
Studies have shown that people 70% of people who visit grocery stores buy candy more than once a month.
The more candy people buy, the more they consume. That sounds like a silly assumption, but when someone buys a lot of toilet paper or paper towels on sale, they don?t use more, they just keep them until they need them. Turns out when people ?stock up? on candy, they eat it just the same. Similar things were found with people who buy ?occasion? candy, such as movie theater boxes but the candy might not actually make it to that movie they?re planning to see.
The candy aisle is not a destination and is usually placed in the worst traveled place in the store ? the center aisle. Studies have shown that people are more likely to buy things that are located earlier in their path through the grocery store and further that most people shop the perimeter of the store.
What really surprised me about the study figures was that 27% of candy buyers will not compromise on what they want. If they don?t see what they want at the store, they?ll either go somewhere else to find it or not buy anything at all. So it?s important for successful grocers to carry the maximum variety.
Within the presentation there were a series of slides that showed ?best practices? from sample stores. These best practices were proven techniques that increased sales. Some of these were colorful and bold headers over the aisle, blocks of colors on the shelves to delineate candy categories and give a sense of organization, using peg bags of candy that span large portions of the aisle to give uniformity to large quantities. And the last thing that I found really surprising was that people were more likely to call a store?s candy aisle well stocked if they saw premium chocolate bars. Even if they don?t like them or don?t want to buy them, it made them think that there was a large variety.
Last year there were 2,767 new consumer candy product introductions and what?s interesting about that is that 1/3 of all sales were for these new items. This means that consumers are interested in incorporating new products into their lives and are pretty much willing to give things at least a try.
The industry as a whole recognizes that there are some trends and concerns.
One of those is diabetes. The curious part about that is that the candy industry invested quite a bit over the past ten years introducing a huge variety of sugar-free candies. But sugar free sales are struggling. The research into why this is turns out that even diabetics don?t buy the candy for themselves ? it?s usually bought for diabetics as a sign that they care about them but want them to have something good. There’s still either a stigma of buying diabetic candy for yourself, or perhaps no one really likes sugar free candy.
On the whole it was a highly technical seminar, but I was able to hold my own. There were a few times where there?s some jargon that I didn?t understand, but I?m getting the hang of it.
It?s interesting to see what grocers or stores might think about our behavior as consumers. And then it?s interesting to see where they?re right and wrong.
One of the things that was stressed (and I didn?t write down the figures) was that a successful candy aisle will be supported by other candy displays elsewhere in the store. They call it interruption marketing. You?re over in the cheese area and you stumble across a floor display of M&Ms and guess what? You?re 200% (or so) more likely to buy some candy, even if they?re not on sale.
It?s good to know how you?re being marketed to. It might not change your behavior, because the marketing plan may actually support what you want to accomplish ? like remember that you wanted to pick up a bag of Hershey Kisses.
One of the great things about my trip to New York, long before the All Candy Expo was that I got to visit Economy Candy, which was great prep. It gave me a chance to look at the huge array of candy, including may European ones that just don’t get distributed here in the states.
There’s quite a difference in candies here and there. But part of the charm of the imported ones is that they’re so different from what we have here.
I thought these would be tiny Altoids, but aside from the appearance of looking like inconsistent pieces of chalk, they’re quite the opposite of Altoids.
One of the main ingredients besides sugar are the gums and thickening agents. One of these is called Tragacanth (which, I found out is not at all related to the living fossil fish the coelocanth). Besides having a cool sounding name, it seems to be add a rather interesting texture to the mints. They’re not chalky but very smooth when they dissolve. They have an almost gooey consistency as they dissintigrate that feels like a glycerine syrup or gelatin.
The fruit ones are pretty and look kind of like little, lumpy conversation hearts discards. They’re about the size of an eraser you’d find on the end of a pencil. The Green Tea ones, not pictured, are a bland brownish-red but have a radically charged bitter tea taste to them. They don’t taste anything like green tea in my mind. More like black tea, but without the wonderful complex aromas. There’s also a strong component of mint at work here. They’re not terribly sweet, more flavorful and long after the bitter taste on the front of the tongue is gone, there’s a pleasant, refreshing taste left in the mouth. (Not at all like lingering tea breath.)
The other interesting thing about these pastilles is that the boxes are identical. There’s a paper overwrap (as shown on the Green Tea one) but once you take it off it looks like the one on its side, you don’t know what’s in there if you have more than one box!
The mixed flavors one went something like this:
Lavender - Violet. It reminded me of flowers, of course, it’s sweet without being sticky. There’s an American version of this from C. Howard which is very similar.
Yellow - Lemon. Very pleasant. An equal mix of the essence of lemon but with a slight tart bite to it that reminded me of a conversation heart, only about 10 times the price.
Green - Lime. Sweet and also with a slight tangy edge to it. It didn’t have any of the associations with disinfectants, which is good!
Pink - Strawberry. Beautifully fragrant, with nice floral overtones, like standing at the edge of a strawberry field, but with fewer bees. Only a slight tangy element here and it didn’t feel artificial at all.
White - Vanilla? I’m not quite sure on the flavor on this one. It was pleasant and bland, but no real flavor. I couldn’t tell if I’d burned out my tongue with the other flavors.
Pastiglie Leone has a beautiful, if strangely programmed website. The products flash by or you scroll horizontally (one of my least favorite directions to scroll) but there are so many different varieties.
Overall, I loved the texture and the way that the pastilles dissolved. But I never really loved any of the flavors. The tartness or tang to some of them was refreshing, but I found the flavor overall to be a little washed out like the colors. Not something I’d buy again unless one of the flavors really caught my eye. (I’m a sucker for a classic package like this.) In a world where everything has become blisteringly strong, it’s kind of nice for a little mellow.
Last night I went to a party.
It was hosted by Salvatore Ferrara II ... the man behind Ferrara Pan and those fantabulous Lemonheads and the latest generation of the panned candy empire of Chicago.
I wasn’t on the guest list, but I was lucky enough to be invited along by Jon of CandyFavorites.com. The night just got better from there.
The party was lovely, held at Fulton’s on the River. The spread of food looked incredible and I loaded up a plate of shrimp immediately. It was one of those parties with music and nice looking people and some women dancing on top of boxes to the smooth tones of the live band. (The band was actually pretty odd, there was one guy on drums in one room, and another guy with a keyboard in a different room, and in the opposite corner was a saxophonist. It was like they were collaborating via cellphone or something.)
After a plate of shrimp I hooked up with my sponsors for the party, which is good because no one had on a name tag at the party, so I couldn’t tell who anyone was.
A drink and some chatting and I met one of the big confectionery brokers from Pittsburgh, Keith from J. Carrol & Associates. He was fascinated and perhaps a bit confused by what I do. Frankly, I have a hard time understanding it myself, so communicating it to others can be tough. There were a lot of questions. Part of it is that I don’t have a “business model” or clear goals for what I want to accomplish at All Candy Expo. I just wanted to come here and get a sense of the candy industry. Well, Keith was charmed by the notion that I write about candy every day from the consumer standpoint. He ran off somewhere and returned with three men:
First, it was the host of the party himself, Sal Ferrara. At his side was Mitchell Goetze, who makes Goetze’s Caramel Creams and Cow Tales. (Goete’s has been around for 111 years!)
Mr. Ferrara seemed mystified at what I wanted from the candy industry and sat me down in front of them and had me do my pitch. I had a drink, and though I was feeling very happy, I’m certainly worried that I was making a bad impression and perhaps not portraying this blog properly. Or maybe the concept of Candy Blog actually more elusive than I thought. Ultimately, I don’t know what I want. I didn’t expect to meet Mr. Ferrara on the first night of the Expo.
But I told him what I thought anyway. I told him he should make grapefruit lemonheads. He took my card and said he would.
Okay, there was lots more conversation than that, and he also took me to get another drink and we ran into Michael Rosenberg of Promotion in Motion, which doesn’t sound like it, but it’s also a candy company. They were pushing the new Creamsicle Orange & Cream candy twists out on the Expo floor, I’ll have to look at those today.
I held my own, as far as I can tell, I’m not going to become a mouthpiece for the candy industry, I just want to give my objective evaluation of their products and then my opinions on my experiences with them. I wasn’t afraid to tell Mitchell Goetze that I didn’t like the Strawberry Cow Tales. (But I didn’t tell Mr. Ferrara what I thought of Narbles.)
What I am looking for is access. I’m looking for information and perspectives. Yes, money would be nice, but I don’t want to lose my independent voice (and I don’t think you, my readers, want that either). Right now Candy Blog is a labor of passion, there is no profit in it. It’s all love now.
Chime in .... how do you want to see Candy Blog grow? Factory tours, candy history, more high-end chocolatiers, commentary, politics, economics, nostalgia, photography, essays, interviews?
(Note, that’s not one of the cocktails I had last night ... just an illustration of my mood this morning.)
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
I’m finally back in my hotel room and I’ve downloaded my photos and dumped out my sample bag for the day.
I’m dazed. Literally ... to the point where I’m slightly dizzy. I’m probably just tired. Probably? Definitely!
The show floor is huge and wonderfully colorful. The booths are in a great linear pattern that makes it relatively easy to navigate, but I got lost and I don’t think I did all the rows completely. But that’s why I’m here for three days.
I picked up a lot of samples but tried to focus on a few things that I’d read about or wanted to try. I tried not to eat too much on the show floor, but I did a terrible job of eating properly.
In all fairness, I did try to start the day right (as suggested by desertwind). I met my husband for breakfast (as he is also in town for work) but my eggs arrived at the table so salty that I wanted to spit them out upon the first bite. I sent them back, but there was no way they’d be remade in time, so I just downed a little yogurt smoothie (more sugar than I wanted with my protein) and some toast.
I went to a marvelous session this morning about high end chocolate and the health benefits which I’ll post more about later.
Out on the show floor I did my best to seek out nut products for sampling in the first hour, finding some excellent cashews and then some panned peanuts.
Here are a few things that I tried (and I’ll try to get photos later on):
Golden BonBon Soft Nougat - yes, it’s turrones or French nougat ... whatever country it is that’s making it, I’m in love with it. They had a great selection of flavors and I loved the Orange and Maple. A good honey hit. Not as good as the Nougat de Montelimar, but hey, if I could get this stuff on a regular basis, I’d be a happy candy blogger.
Dreamers - high milk content candy chews that provide 8% of your calcium. Sweet and chewy, they don’t taste at all like a calcium supplement - more like an extra creamy Tootsie Roll.
Hershey’s Peanut Butter Kisses - yes, they’ve been on the market for a while, but I hadn’t tried them. And apparently they’re so successful they’re going to stay. I wasn’t as fond of them as I was of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (the little football ones) for Easter. The center of these Kisses is more emulsified than a Reese’s cup. Wonderful smooth quality with a satisfying hit of salt ... but lacking in that crumbly thing that I dig.
Bubble Chocolate - I’m going to have lots more to post about these guys, but this looks like it may be a big hit. I’ve written about quite a few aerated chocolates before, but this is by far the highest quality stuff. The cocoa content on the dark chocolate is satisfyingly high and of course the aeration gives it a light texture that allows the flavors to come through. There’s even a coffee version that I think might be my favorite.
Koppers - amazing booth (I hope I can go back and photograph it). I got to try so many different morsels. My favorites at the moment are the “savouries” line that incorporates herbs and florals. The very spicy cayenne that I got in NY is part of this line but they had black pepper (awesome), orange blossom, lavender, rosemary, and salt. I hope I can spend more time there tomorrow with the woman who is the next generation of the company. Fascinating stuff.
Yummy Earth - organic lollipops. Simplicity itself. Really flavorful lollipops. I had an orange one and chatted for quite a while with one of the sales guys and have an array of samples for later tasting. I’m hoping these will be available at Whole Foods soon.
Chocolate Dipped Pirouline - it’s about time! Pirouline has come out with several varieties of their filled wafer sticks dipped in chocolate. They’ll give those Nestle Stixx a run for their money!
I picked up lots of samples, including some other kinds of popping candies, different flavor versions of Mike & Ikes, more Rockaletas (what was I thinking?), the new Snickers Xtreme and some Jelly Belly.
The sad thing is that I tucked some candies into my bag and they’re not well marked and I have no clue where they were from at this point. Maybe reconstructing my path and looking at my photos will help.
(I’ll try to link up some of these items a bit later on when I get home.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.