Walgreens has a cult ‘peelable’ candy, courtesy of the Tik Tok craze

Walgreens has a cult ‘peelable’ candy, courtesy of the Tik Tok craze

It’s small, smooth, chewy. It’s shaped like a cute baby mango and GenZers have gone crazy for it. Walgreens can’t keep it in stock.

For the beleaguered drugstore chain, the odd “Gummy Mango” candy is a much-needed victory. It arrived last fall in about 2,500 of the 8,700 US stores, and sold out quickly because of, of course, TikTok. Online, Walgreens imposes a limit of one bag per customer on small remaining inventory.

The unexpectedly viral product comes at a time when Walgreens has a lot going on that isn’t fun — debt piling up, employee unrest, competitors grabbing market share, store closings, shoppers spending less on things they don’t need. It also struggles with having to keep everyday items such as shampoo and shaving cream locked up over theft concerns, which is a huge annoyance to customers. Walgreens desperately needs some — anything — good news.

Fortunately, the mango-flavored treat plays into the company’s long-term strategy to strengthen its storefront department, said Morningstar analyst Keonhee Kim.

The product itself is a $1.99 bag of candy that belongs to the trending candy genre called gummy candy. These candies are from Walgreens’ Nice lower priced! home brands of snacks and drinks are different because they can actually be peeled.

In early January, a video explaining its uniqueness by TikToker @Trinhdoesthings got 8.9 million views.

In the video, she picks up a bag of candy at a Walgreens store “after seeing it all over social media.” He tore it open on his kitchen table and then peeled off the mango-shaped rubbery outer skin and popped the smooth, shiny inner pulp into his mouth, remarking, “This is so much fun.” He then proceeded to eat the skin, praising its chewy texture.

Other TikTok videos compare the treat to peelable gummies in peach and grape flavors from Japanese or Korean brands available on Amazon, or show how to spice up the flavor by adding spice to the mango version.

Walgreens says it does not work with any paid influencers to promote its mango candies but that they are produced organically. It also declined to disclose how many packets have been sold so far or the total sales so far.

Catching waves
“The interactivity is really cool and that’s what makes the peelable candy so fun,” said Marty Esarte, Walgreens’ vice president of brands, in an interview with CNN. “It also creates a discussion point: Is the outer layer better than the inner rubber or better together or apart?”

Esarte admits that he didn’t expect the smooth dish to go viral. “Literally in about four to five days after we launched it, we sold through almost all the products,” he said. “If we had expected that to happen, we probably would have had more.”

The idea for the candy first emerged in 2023 during discussions between the Esarte team and supplier Walgreens.

“One of our suppliers who has worked with us for over 20 years identified this peelable candy trend last year that had emerged in Asia and brought it to us as an opportunity,” Esarte said.

The timing matches perfectly with the latest candy consumption trends. The non-chocolate segment as a whole, which includes gummy candies, has seen a decline mainly due to Gen Z and millennial consumers, according to the National Confectionery Association.

Sweet nostalgia
Younger consumers, especially Gen Z are enamored with anything retro and vintage and this trend also translates into food. According to industry publication The Food Institute, Millennial and Gen Z shoppers love the fruit-flavored gum they grew up with.

In the US, the segment saw a 12.1% increase in dollar sales in 2023 compared to a year ago to reach $19.2 billion in total sales. It also accounts for more than 30% of all confectionery sales in the US.

As Esarte and his team scrambled to restock last year’s gummi mango, a bigger challenge emerged. Their need coincided with Chinese New Year when all factory production in China was halted for several weeks. The situation is not ideal.

“Whatever product is still overseas, we send it by air to get it to the store quickly,” Esarte said.

After weeks of scrambling and hustling, Walgreens is more than ready to make a bigger splash with mango gummies. “We have bought a larger amount of candy and it will be in 8,000 stores by May,”

New taste, and new CEO
But Esarte tipped CNN for the next flavor to come. “We are launching banana rubber that can be peeled next,” he said. “Banana is a common favorite flavor across the US and the world and we thought it was another great item to add to the peelable gummy mix.”

Banana gum ($1.99 a pack) will launch in 5,000 Walgreens stores in May. Retailers already sell pineapples and orange gum, but they’re not as fun because you can’t peel them.

Morningstar analyst Kim, who covers the health care sector, said the candy was a good win for Walgreens at a time when its problems have been mounting over the past 12 months and its stock is down 50% during that period.
“There was a big leadership change with the CEO leaving and a new CEO Tim Wentworth coming in. As Tim took over the company, he thought about where the future growth for Walgreens was going to come from and where were some areas where they could cut costs,” said Kim.

One area is the front of the drug store, usually where candy, snacks, and other private label items are sold.

“The space is a very important part of the business,” Kim said. “That area is definitely more profitable than the back end of the prescription dispensing business. Focusing on that piece with newer offerings will be key for Walgreens.”

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