A year of the chocolate bunny and the pandemic

Last year’s trends already indicated that 2020 would not be the best year for confectioners. Last year, Easter suffered one of the biggest declines in the domestic confectionery market, with sales of seasonal Easter confectionery products falling by 20-25 percent.

Approximately 5% of the annual chocolate consumption takes place in this season. Under normal circumstances, 900-1000 tonnes of Easter sweets, primarily chocolate bunnies and eggs, are consumed annually on the Hungarian market in the amount of about HUF 4-5 billion. During Easter in 2020, 820 tonnes of Easter confectionary was sold, in the value of approximately HUF 3 billion.

This year’s Easter coincides with the third, and thus far most dangerous wave of the pandemic affecting the most amount of people. We hope that even if the demand becomes more subdued at Easter, we will move in a positive direction from last year’s rock bottom – said Sándor Sánta, President of the Association of Hungarian Confectionery Manufacturers. According to his optimistic estimate, the Easter confectionery market may grow by 3-4% this year, which means 850 tonnes of sweets, and the sales revenue may exceed HUF 3 billion.

The effects of the pandemic were felt most strongly by the smaller domestic manufacturers, who had previously managed to get their products into airports, downtown stores and exclusive cafes. While online sales have skyrocketed almost everywhere, in the case of sweets, this can’t completely replace traditional sales channels. These smaller producers in particular are eagerly awaiting an increase in the vaccination levels and the subsidence of the epidemic, so that their sales will take a powerful positive turn, Sándor Sánta said.

We compensated at Christmas

According to Alíz Némethné Szabó, Manager of the Sweets and Confectionery line at METRO last year, it was a challenge to predict the volume of sweets available for sale. Forecasts are made for the Easter season in November-December, while they are made for the Christmas season around May. Therefore, obviously, in 2019, when we could not guess that a pandemic would break out, the Easter sweets demands of 2020 were overestimated.

As a result, by Christmas, merchants already placed restrained orders, reduced by 10 to 20 percent. At METRO Kereskedelmi Kft., however, the Christmas seasonal confectionery, the chocolate Santas and Christmas candies eventually sold beyond expectations and they were able to satisfy the demand by re-ordering these products. Thus, the Easter losses in 2020 were somewhat offset by the period that followed when consumption showed a step-by-step increase. At the same time, regardless of epidemic, a longer-term trend is that fewer and fewer people celebrate in the traditional way during the Easter period, many families go on hikes, take trips, the traditional custom of spraying women with water or perfume is skipped. This brings about a slow decline in the sales volume of Easter confectionery, this is also expected for 2022.

Based on the experience of METRO Kereskedelemi Kft., customers are increasingly looking for quality sweets. They prefer more expensive or even smaller-packaged sweets rather than being satisfied with a lower quality. For example, products made of coating paste have been completely pushed out of the market. The demand for quality also encourages manufacturers to provide a quality offering. The power of this process is shown by the fact that this trend could not be reversed by the pandemic either.

Alíz Némethné Szabó hopes that come Christmas 2021 manufacturers and traders will both be able to close a traditionally good season.

We are hungry for innovation

The demand for quality is also strengthened by the continuous innovation of manufacturers. There is a growing demand for sugar-free, organic, natural or vegan snacks, and premium products are also selling increasingly better, Sándor Sánta explained.

Ingenious innovations such as the masked Santa Claus of Rimóczi Art (a family-run confectionery factory) also attracted the attention of the international press. This year, the family business came up with the bunny of hope that brought about the vaccine, and in 2021 both products won the Innovation Award of the Association of Hungarian Confectionery Manufacturers.

Manufacturers have also introduced several innovations in the field of production and packaging, which make the products even more attractive.

The old often fits well with the new, because fortunately traditional sweets often meet the new expectations. There is a constant need for confectioners not only to innovate but also recall familiar or childhood flavours.

Sándor Sánta explained that the traditional Easter inspection ordered by the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (ITM) of the nearly 50 inspected products found all chocolate bunnies to be in order, and thanked the manufacturers committed to quality for this result.

Both domestically and internationally, the Association is experiencing an increase in demand for confectionery products other than chocolate, such as biscuits, wafers and fruit-rich products. This is well exemplified by the global ISM Confectionery Expo’s Innovation Awards, which were organized virtually for the first time this year. Here, fruity cereal balls and wafer snacks filled with cream cheese deserved an innovation prize in addition to a unique, natural tea-extract chocolate.

2020 Confectionary Innovation Award goes to Rimóczi-Art

Rimóczi-Art Kft. From Lajosmizse won the Innovation Award of the Association of Hungarian Sweets Producers with the innovation of “Santa Claus with Mask”.

The Association established the award in order to recognize the outstanding confectionery innovation that emerged during the previous year, based on the votes of its membership.

According to the Association, masked Santa Claus, who gained great popularity among customers and attracted the attention of news agencies, is an outstanding example of the fact that innovation and product development cannot stop in the current situation. Hunbisco underlined that “Masked Santa Claus” goes beyond an approach that links food innovation solely to changing recipes.

It is possible and necessary to innovate, to implement new ideas in packaging, in the development of forms (as the masked Santa Claus proves), in production technology, logistics, or even in everyday operation. Rimóczi-Art has already produced a number of innovative products before the famous Santa Claus, such as non-melting dragees developed for vendors in tourist places.

The award was presented in Lajosmizse to the masked executive László Rimóczi, Sándor Sánta, the president of the Association in a mask. The ceremony, held in a narrow circle, was completed by the greeting of the mayor of Lajosmizse, András Baksy.

Muesli is immune to the economic effects of coronavirus pandemic

Whilst the economic impact of coronavirus pandemic has led to declining sales in several categories of confectionery products, muesli, having consistently shown the fastest growth rate together with biscuits in the last two decades, continues to do well, reported the Association of Hungarian Confectionery Manufacturers at their press event that could be attended both in person and online in accordance with the epidemiological regulations. Guest speakers of the press conference provided an overview of the state of the confectionery industry in the shadow of COVID-19, that has a more encouraging prospect for the Christmas season after the difficult Easter period.

During the pandemic the food industry was primarily hit by the loss of the catering industry, the HoReCa sector including hotels, restaurants and cafés, and the significant decline in exports, which accounted for nearly 40 percent of turnover, said Dr Beáta Olga Felkai, Head of the Department of Food Economics and Quality Policy of the Ministry of Agriculture in her presentation, providing a comprehensive overview of the sector. Most of the more than 4,500 players in the domestic food industry are micro-enterprises, with about seventy large companies and three hundred medium-sized companies operating in the field. Whilst their profitability is constantly improving, the widespread use of advanced digital technologies needed for modernization and automation is not yet typical of the sector, making it more difficult for companies to adapt to the rapidly changing market conditions. Therefore, the Ministry of Agriculture subsidized food processing enterprises with nearly HUF 8 billion from the National Food Crisis Management Program developed as part of the Economic Protection Action Plan, which could be quickly accessed by the applicants with simplified administration.

Consumer demands in the confectionery market are also changing tangibly, and COVID-19 has also accelerated this process, said Sándor Sánta, President of the Association of Hungarian Confectionery Manufacturers. Mass interest is turning to healthy products, which represent a trend rather than a specific category. Functional sweets (e.g. products with high protein or increased vitamin or mineral content and energy bars) can be included here as well as various ‘free-from’ products – lactose, sugar or gluten-free items, which are no longer consumed only by those who has sensitivity to an ingredient – and light, i.e. energy-reduced products.

Judging from the signs, functional food increasingly got in the focus of consumers’ attention, who – stuck in teleworking and home office conditions – are looking for solutions that can ensure the adequate nutrient intake without time-consuming cooking or food ordering. Weight control, aiding digestion, maintaining the immune and vascular systems, or following a clinical (medically prescribed) diet also appear in their ambitions in addition to maintaining supplementary nutrition for doing sports.

The global market for functional products, which amounts to USD 189 billion worldwide, is projected to grow at an average of 8 percent annually over the next five years to reach USD 276 billion by the end of the period. Confectionery industry is mobilizing significant resources for innovation to serve the evolving needs of consumers, as Dr Ernő Gyimes, Associate Professor of the Institute of Food Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Szeged analyzed in his presentation.

Cerbona brand name appeared in the domestic market in 1988, the following year our company started the production of muesli and cereal bars, which were new product categories in Hungary at that time – said Tamás Török, Foreign Trade Director of Cerbona Élelmiszergyártó Kft. Our corporate innovation has since responded to consumer needs with ever newer products, making Cerbona a market-leading brand in the categories of muesli, cereal bars, oat-flakes and puffed cereal bars too. Muesli, cereal bars and porridges rich in protein, fibre, vitamins and trace elements and are sugar-free, consumed before, during and after workouts being available in the Cerbona Sport program, as well as the new gluten- and lactose-free porridges are popular among domestic consumers. The company’s latest Raw Bar slices, for example, expand the range of the ‘free-from-all’ category, as they are purely plant-based, their natural taste and sugar content is yielded only by fruits, of which they contain an outstanding amount. Another product innovation of Cerbona is the family of dessert-flavoured cereal bars, with which followers of a healthy diet can also treat themselves.

Although the history of the cultivation of cereals dates back thousands of years, the story of muesli – at least under this name – surprisingly only began in the first half of the 20th century, we learned from the presentation of Dr Róbert Török, Deputy Director and Chief Museologist of the Hungarian Museum of Trade and Tourism. According to the manuals, muesli is a food consisting primarily of cereal flakes and crumbs of dried fruit, which can be consumed mostly with milk. Our word muesli, which is one of the main components of the German word Gemüse (i.e. greens, pottage vegetables), was formed on the basis of the reduced form of the Swiss German word Mus, i.e. pulp, puree, porridge. The word ‘muesli’ originated from its Swiss dialect and spread all over the world.