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Q&A: Sconza Chocolates builds on 85 years of success while innovating for the future

Sconza Chocolates President and CEO Ron Sconza talks about the company's "Bites of Joy" rebrand and how it it solidifies the company's ability to bring joy and creativity to the confectionery industry for years to come.

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Sconza Chocolates celebrates 85 years

Sconza Chocolates

As Oakdale, Calif.-based Sconza Chocolates celebrates 85 years in the confectionery industry, the family-owned-and-operated business has a sharpened focus and a “Bites of Joy” rebrand that honors its legacy while planning for a ground-breaking future as both its own brand and as a private-label manufacturer for other brands. Here, CEO and President Ron Sconza discusses the company’s past, its future and its robust innovation pipeline which has generated a THINS platform launch and the brand’s Creme Brulee Almonds — a finalist in the Most Innovative New Product Awards‘ premium chocolate category at the National Confectioners Association’s 2024 Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Sconza Chocolates recently rebranded their packaged items around the concept of “Bites of Joy.” Why now and what was the driver behind this rebrand? 

Our recent rebranding around “Bites of Joy” was deeply rooted in foundational consumer research. We started by listening to our consumers

Sconza Chocolates President Ron Sconza
Ron Sconza

and chocolate category users, understanding how they view the category and our products, and exploring the impact they have on their day-to-day lives. Over and over again, we heard that our products delivered unbelievable flavors that could infuse moments of joy into their everyday, while also providing both physical and emotional satiation. Out of this research, “Bites of Joy” was born and we really feel like it captured not only the future of the brand, but also our legacy of crafting delightful and high-quality confections for 85 years.

We felt like launching this rebrand on the anniversary of our 85th year was an excellent way to pay homage to our family’s legacy. My grandfather, Vincenzo Sconza, came to America from Italy in 1922 with dreams of being a candymaker. He used to practice his recipes in the family kitchen, absolutely perfecting his peanut brittle, which helped fuel the launch of Sconza Candy in 1939. Since that day, we’ve thrived and expanded, with the business being passed down through generations from my grandfather Vincenzo to my father Jim and now I’ve been leading the helm while my children start to learn the business. As a family-run organization, we cherish the fact that our products have brought joy and happiness to families, and “Bites of Joy” is a nod to the honor we feel to be a part of the joyous memories made around our confections for 85 years.

How does Sconza Chocolate Company balance tradition with innovation in its approach to chocolate making? How has it evolved over the past 85 years?

Quality confections, customer-centricity and innovation have been our core principles that have guided us for the past 85 years.  We’ve been committed to crafting confections that honor our heritage while embracing new ideas and manufacturing capabilities. I think we’ve done an excellent job of honoring the techniques and recipes that have been passed down through generations while also investing in the manufacturing capabilities and talent that allow us to continuously improve our processes and ensure the highest level of quality and consistency in our products.

We not only offer our Sconza-branded packaged products, but we also have an extensive B2B segment of our business where we offer a vast portfolio of products ranging from nostalgic classics, like our French Burnt Peanuts, Boston Beans and Jordan Almonds, to on-trend flavors and ingredients, like our Hot Cocoa Almonds and Dark Chocolate Espresso Beans. Our goal is customer-centricity, and that goes for all customers big and small, so we’ve built a product portfolio that allows us to be a great solution regardless of the consumer segment that our customers are seeking to serve.

We also understand the importance of putting a focus on innovation, having a sense of curiosity and cultivating an environment of continuous learning and improvement. We’ve made an ongoing investment in manufacturing capabilities, research and development and talent. We’re constantly upgrading our facilities with the latest equipment and technology, ensuring that we can meet the demands of our customers and a rapidly evolving market. And we’re always on the lookout for the best and brightest minds in the industry, because we know that it’s our people who truly set us apart.

What are the most unique ways in which you work with partners on private-label products and co-manufacturing?

I think a great example of our commitment to innovation is in the private label and co-manufacturing partnerships that we’ve cultivated. We work closely with our partners to bring them on-trend product ideas or to bring their visions to life, leveraging our research and development expertise along with our vast supplier network to create innovation that stands out in the marketplace.

We collaborate with our partners to develop innovative packaging solutions that not only protect and showcase the product but also capture the attention of consumers on the shelves. From eco-friendly options to innovative print processes, we’re always exploring new ways to make our products stand out.

Our focus on always putting the customer first pushes us to continuously move faster in our new product development and production processes, allowing us to rapidly bring new products to market. Whether it’s responding to changing consumer trends or capitalizing on seasonal opportunities, our team is always committed to delivering high-quality products to our partners in an expedited manner.

Sconza’s Crème Brulee Almonds were named a Sweets & Snacks Innovation finalist in the premium chocolate category. Can you tell us about how this product came to be?

The journey of creating Sconza’s Crème Brulee Almonds is a testament to our team’s dedication to researching trends and transforming unique flavors into poppable bites. We’re constantly on the lookout for trends and we don’t limit ourselves to the boundaries of the confectionery aisle. We draw inspiration from a wide range of sources, including international cuisines, emerging flavor trends, restaurant menus, and even consumer feedback. We’re not only trying to stay attuned with food and beverage trends, but we try to look more broadly at “human trends”, ie. what are people feeling, what are their frustrations, what do they need to make their lives just a little bit better. By staying in touch with what’s happening in the broader landscape, we feel like we’re better able to anticipate consumer preferences and create products that resonate with their evolving tastes and desires, which is essentially to meet them where they’re at in life at that moment.

The idea for Crème Brulee Almonds emerged from our team’s observation of a growing trend towards indulgent, multi-textural dessert flavors in confectionery and beyond. We recognized that consumers were increasingly seeking out unique flavor experiences that offered a combination of sweetness and complexity. Drawing inspiration from the classic dessert, Crème Brulee, with its smooth custard and crunchy, caramelized sugar, we saw an opportunity to transform this into a convenient, poppable format, without the need for a chef’s torch!

Ultimately, the success of Crème Brulee Almonds is a testament to our team’s commitment to innovation and our relentless pursuit of creating products that bring joy to our consumers’ lives. It’s a delicious example of how we’re constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the world of confections, one bite of joy at a time.

How does the chocolate category differ from other confectionery categories, and what are the most exciting trends to you right now in this space?

I think the chocolate category holds a unique space in the world of confectionery, primarily because of its deeply emotional connection with consumers. Unlike many other categories, chocolate is often associated with feelings of comfort, indulgence and nostalgia. It’s not just a sweet treat; it has a way of pulling you instantly into so many different cherished memories. This emotional resonance sets chocolate apart and its why people feel so strongly about their favorite brands.

However, like any other industry, the chocolate category is not immune to the influence of broader societal trends and economic factors. In recent years, there’s a growing demand for chocolates that not only taste good but also offer health benefits. We’re also seeing a shift in consumer behavior driven by economic factors. With many people feeling the effects of inflation, there’s a growing emphasis on value for money and affordability. This has led to an increased demand for products that offer high-quality ingredients and craftsmanship at accessible price points. This has always been a focus for us at Sconza Chocolates and we’ve been diligent in our efforts to drive down controllable costs to help offset some of the volatility that we’ve seen in the ingredient markets. 

Despite these challenges, the chocolate category continues to innovate and evolve, driven by a desire to meet the changing needs and preferences of consumers. One of the most exciting trends in this space right now is the fusion of traditional flavors with modern twists. We’re seeing an explosion of creativity with unique flavor combinations, innovative textures and unexpected ingredients. We feel like we’re perfectly positioned around “Bites of Joy” to capitalize on this trend and we’re building a pipeline of products that we think will delight and surprise consumers for years to come.  

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