World Confectionery Conference interview exclusive: FMCG Gurus

Exploring industry trends forms a key element of this year’s World Confectionery Conference. Editor Neill Barston quizzes one of our keynote speakers, Will Cowling, of insights group FMCG Gurus, on his hopes for 2022


The past two years have been especially eventful around the world in dealing with the pandemic. What has been the most
significant trends you have observed?

The pandemic impacted the world to a scale we could never have imagined and is still impacting people across the globe today. One of the key trends which has significantly impacted the confectionery sector was consumers actually increasing their consumption of confectionery goods as comfort foods. Consumers wanted an escape from the reality they were facing and in lockdowns turned to comfort foods and indulgent products such as chocolate and confectionery, something in which FMCG Gurus data highlights.

However, as the pandemic slowly fades, we are now seeing consumer turning to a trend we call conscious indulgence, as consumers seek out better-for-you products as they feel as if they have put weight on over the past two years.

What drew you to working with FMCG Gurus, and how has the company evolved since its creation?
I was drawn to working for FMCG Gurus for multiple reasons. Firstly, I understood they were a great team with a lot of potential for me to grow my skills. Secondly, market research and understanding consumers is something which has always been of interest to me, while looking into trend frameworks and how consumers change over time. Finally, I am very much into my health and nutrition as I track my macro nutrients for the gym, and this role has given me an opportunity to understand the market and express my knowledge further to others.

How much are you looking forward to joining this year’s World Confectionery Conference as a keynote speaker?
I am extremely excited to be speaking at this year’s World Confectionery Conference as a keynote speaker. Public speaking is something I have always felt confident in and being able to share our research and expertise is a real honour for me, as we will be able to share some brand new 2022 consumer data.

pic: Shutterstock

For a number of market analysts, 2022 is a year of continued focus on sustainability within industry – will this be the case
with the confectionery sector too?
Yes, I completely agree, 2022 will have a continued focus on sustainability. Sustainability is an area of focus not only for the confectionery industry but for the whole supply chain within the FMCG markets and needs to be address by brands and the individual if we are to sort out the environmental issues we are facing. The idea of being more sustainable has also created the opportunity to launch products around the concept of ethical luxury which in turn allows brands to better target an adult audience through better quality products that are deemed better for the individual and planet.

To your mind, what types of products within the sweets and snacks category are likely to be most popular in 2022?

Our research showed as the peak of the pandemic consumers turned to comfort foods more often. As consumers are coming out on the other side of the pandemic, they will now look to seek out better-for-you options. Our research highlights a number of consumers state they have actually switched from traditional snacking options such as chocolate and confectionery to higher protein/fibre goods. Therefore, I believe these sports nutrition inspired products will continue to grow in popularity as consumers look for functional ingredients which can offer great health benefits. However, taste is still the key factor as consumers state they will not be willing to give up moments of indulgence and must be taken into consideration when providing health related products.

As Confectionery Production has recently reported through you, the clean label product segment in particular is proving popular – what has driven this?
Clean label is of course a key trend relating to naturalness and is something consumers are actively seeking, eg, fewer ingredients and easy to read nutritional labelling. I would say this trend has not been driven by the pandemic as prior to the pandemic we had seen this trend growing. However, the pandemic has accelerated this trend as more consumers have looked to seek out naturally formulated food and beverages. The research has also shown us that consumers find 100 per cent natural claims appealing and are likely to seek out these products more often, something that will continue throughout 2022 and beyond.

What are some of the most surprising consumer trends you’ve witnessed within our sector?
One trend within the confectionery sector which does surprise me is the increase in consumers seeking out functional ingredients within candies. As consumers are adopting a holistic health approach to life recognising all aspect of health are interlinked, they want ingredients that offer
health benefits. One category they are looking to is candies and confectionery that offer great taste and ingredients which can aid immune health, cognitive health, digestive health and so on.

Outside of work, what are you most proud to have accomplished?
I am very active whether this be hiking, going to the gym, or playing football. One thing I am very proud of is managing and founding a football club under my mother’s maiden name. Therefore, my weekends are not so relaxing as managing a team can be very stressful, but very rewarding when you win.

The recent ISM and ProSweets proved live events are returning – how optimistic are you of market recovery this year?

Eingang Ost

I am optimistic about the coming year and so forth regarding the recovery of events within the sector. The virtual shows have been great and have allowed us to stay connected in a time of isolation without travel, however, the live shows present a great buzz and energy for people to connect. As the world recovers from the pandemic, I also believe live events will also follow suit.

  • For World Confectionery Conference sponsorship opportunities, contact events manager Amy Best, at [email protected] and editorial enquiries for the event to Neill Barston, editor Confectionery Production magazine, contact [email protected]

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