“Sugar is the most avoided ingredient among Americans, but that doesn’t signal doom for the confectionery category,” Darren Seifer, food and beverage analyst at The NPD Group says. “The thing is, consumers still love your products. How do we turn that love into profit? How do we maintain usage of your products?”

“They want you around, but they don’t want you around as much as they used to,” Seifer told industry professionals at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 23-25 in Chicago.

Sugar is the most avoided ingredient among Americans, but that doesn’t signal doom for the confectionery category, Seifer said. The key, he said, is meeting consumers where and when they want to indulge. And this happens at about 8 p.m.

“That’s when we say, ‘I’ve been good all day … I’m going to allow for this sweet treat into my diet,’” Seifer said. “We are concerned about sugars, but at the same time there are times of the day when we allow ourselves those sweet indulgences, and we need to make sure we are connecting with these consumers on these motivations during these specific times when consumers are allowing themselves that sweet indulgence.”

Sweets shops can take these insights and run with them! Advertise extended hours. Talk about how everyone deserves a little treat after being good all day. The new AudienceSCAN study found 22% of Americans will shop at candy or chocolate shops this year!

During the day, consumers seek quick, convenient and healthful snacks, but at night they choose snacks as a reward or to satisfy a specific craving. Consumer perceptions of indulgence have shifted, too.

“When we think about indulgence, it used to be about bigger is better,” Seifer said. These days, smaller bites and handcrafted pieces are winning in the marketplace, he said.

Confectioners can emphasize their small, handcrafted treats in newspaper (print, online, mobile or tablet) ads because 32% of Candy/Chocolate Shop Shoppers took action after seeing them in the past month, according to the new AudienceSCAN research results.

Additionally, manufacturers are balancing indulgence with ingredients positioned as healthful or natural. The Hershey Co., for example, combines dark chocolate with pomegranate in bite-size treats under the Brookside brand.

“This is not trying to be a health product, but they’re trying to say this is something you can indulge in with a little less guilt,” Seifer said. “This is something you can portion control because you gave the consumer little bites in a resealable bag. The consumer has a lot of power here we haven’t seen in a lot of areas of the market.”

Advertising could feature chocolate bars with healthy nuts, dark chocolate and fruits all made in-house. The new AudienceSCAN survey reported 30.5% of Candy/Chocolate Shop Shoppers took action after seeing daily deals in the past month.

Confectioners should be true to themselves and to consumers, Seifer said. “Don’t try to reformulate your products to mitigate the sugar concern because consumers love your products the way they are,” he said.

Artificial sweeteners will not attract more consumers, he warned. Just over a third of adult consumers say they would consider using sucralose, and even fewer say they would use aspartame or saccharin, Seifer noted.

“Even though it’s somewhat natural, stevia still only garners 38% of adults who say they are willing to use this product,” he said. “To me, this says the answer is not about replacing sugar with something that’s non-caloric. This is not the way to go to try to bring more users to your products.”

Sugar, on the other hand, is perceived as real and natural by consumers.

“More consumers these days are heading toward that clean eating routine, whether it’s non-G.M.O. or getting rid of artificial flavors or colorings,” Seifer said. “They are looking for foods that are more authentic, and we’re seeing that in snack foods as well.”

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.