Candy's sweet spot goes beyond food beat

In recent weeks, there's been a flurry of coverage on how candy sales are surging despite the economic downturn.

In recent weeks, there's been a flurry of coverage on how candy sales are surging despite the economic downturn.

Yet, industry insiders say that while the confection business is surviving the economic downturn, it is not exactly thriving.

“It makes for a great story, but I'm not sure that's the truth behind the industry,” says Bernard Pacyniak, editor of trade outlet Candy Industry. “There may be pockets that are doing well, but it's not recession proof – at best it's recession resistant.”

That increase in business-page coverage illustrates how America's sweet tooth enables confectioners to expand coverage beyond traditional food and gourmet outlets, says Susan Fussell, VP of communications at the National Confectioners Association.

“Most of the calls we get are from reporters in business sections,” she says. “Over the past month, they're asking whether overall sales are up or down, and why the candy industry continues to grow at the same 1 to 3% pace.”

Pacyniak adds that the documented medical benefits of some treats, notably dark chocolate, are triggering health and nutrition media coverage and providing a positive contrast to stories on sweets and their role in the national obesity debate.

The rise of high-end chocolates and other sweets is also making candy an increasingly review-driven media category. Darin Linnman, PR manager with Portland, OR-based Moonstruck Chocolatier, says some reviews are taking place online and on blogs. Yet, he considers traditional media a primary coverage area.

“For us, those reviews are still primarily a food-page story, mostly in the daily newspapers,” he explains.

Unlike a few years ago, Linnman adds the reviews are shifting away from an obsession with the percent of cocoa found in a chocolate bar.

“That trend has come and gone, especially among the public, which has realized that 85% cocoa-content chocolate may be a bit bitter for American palates,” he adds. “So now the focus is more on the overall chocolate experience.”

Pacyniak estimates there are more than 1,000 candy products introduced annually, so keeping up can be a challenge. He adds that trade journalists want to know in advance about new products, and also want a taste for themselves.

“We always want to be ahead of product launches, and we always want samples,” he says.

Yet, Linnman argues that sampling alone might not be enough.

“I've never had an editor tell me, ‘Stop sending us chocolates,'” he adds. “But... there are a lot of chocolatiers out there, so it's getting tougher to break through.”

Moonstruck handcrafts all its chocolates, which also enables Linnman to pitch the process and products.
“There are no machines in on our production, and so it's become very popular for... TV crews because it's very visual,” he says.

Pitching... Candy and Confections

Candy as a recession-proof industry likely won't last as a story, but its holiday role will always interest the press

Gift guides are becoming increasingly focused on affordability, and candy fits that bill, so begin an aggressive sampling-based outreach to editors this summer

Online sites like Epicurious.com are becoming more influential among gourmands, so take the time to figure out what blogs and sites drive sales and pitch both product and the candy-making process as story ideas

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