It’s been a weird week for candy. First we learned that Hershey’s had prevailed in its legal fight against a small supply of imported British brands like Cadbury, leading everyone to wonder what kind of threat, really, was posed by a few cartons of Yorkies. Now here’s news that the company has plans to install vending machines everywhere from gas stations to inside the self-checkout kiosks at grocery stores, which sort of seems like a cry for help.
The strategy was outlined by Chris Witham, an executive, who indicated that the advent of apps and self-checkout tech was “challenging” the traditional “impulse buys” of things like Whatchamacallit bars. Pretty much all mobile payment apps for smartphones are predicated on the idea that using them will enable you to avoid lines, and, as Consumerist notes, “when customers aren’t waiting in a checkout line, they don’t pick up impulse items.” So the Hershey Company needs more places where you can mindlessly spend a couple of bucks on candy. They want to install Almond Joy-dispensing kiosks at locations where customers roll up to pick up app-enabled orders, or build chocolate-bar-dispensing slots right into self-checkouts machines.
Taking inflation into account, chocolate sales grew 6 percent between 2006 and 2011, and while that may seem encouraging, the “Let’s Move”-era push for healthy snacks signified a broad change within the industry to jumbo bags of “snack size” candies. It led Hershey’s competitor Mars to announce in 2012 — the day after Valentine’s Day, no less — that it would stop making bars containing more than 250 calories. Large format, or “King Size” chocolate bars, have been going extinct for a while.
While the bean-to-bar business of companies like Mast Brothers Chocolate has grown in the age of artisan everything, it seems the medium of mass-produced chocolate bars has been witheringly free of innovation: In 2013, Hershey’s first new candy in 30 years was not a bar but a soft caramel creme sold by the eight-ounce bag, and only sales of Kit Kat — the so-called “most influential candy bar of all time” because it can change its flavors for worldwide appeal — grew by double digits. Hershey recently had to raise prices by 8 percent; meanwhile, non-chocolate candies like gummy bears and Sour Watermelon Peeps continued to usurp a greater market share. (Gum sales, it should be said, haven’t done so well either by focusing on energy-boosting and teeth-whitening strategies better deployed by mints.)
Perhaps the strongest indication of shifting corporate strategy away from chocolate bars came yesterday with the announcement that Hershey is buying Krave jerky for an estimated $200 million, which an analyst took as a possible sign the company “is less enamored of candy’s growth potential than it previously was.” (The chocolate giant itself said it was looking to “tap into the rapidly growing meat snacks category.”) Krave, as it happens, is entertaining the idea of launching jerky bars later this year. In other words, the new Mr. Goodbar may turn out to be made of free-range venison.