CPG Playbook   //   May 7, 2024

Why better-for-you candy brand Unreal is expanding to snacks

For the first time in its 13-year history, candy brand Unreal has entered a new category: snacks.

The confectionery brand, known for making candy that has 51% less sugar and organic ingredients, launched four new products in the snack category a few weeks ago. Its new products in the snack category are developed to have a sweet-and-salty flavor profile, such as chocolate-covered pretzels and almonds. The snacks’ launch day was Unreal’s highest DTC sales day by 54%.

Category expansions are a common tactic for brands to gain more market share and new customers. For Unreal, the goal is to fill a gap in the market while staying close to its roots as a candy brand. Unreal CEO Kevin McCarthy said that the company also plans to roll out different pack sizes in the future, and aims to promote the product as a healthier snack on the go.

“There’s just so much you can do with snacks like pretzels and almonds, in addition to some of our other products,” McCarthy said. By launching products in the snack category, Unreal aims to “expand the reach of the brand and have more consumers get to know us through these products.”

Unreal was originally founded in 2011, but the company attempted to scale too fast and eventually shut down. The candy brand rose to mainstream popularity soon after its launch after being endorsed by former football quarterback Tom Brady, model Gisele Bundchen and actor Matt Damon. In 2014, the brand relaunched with McCarthy as operations manager. The company currently has about 11 SKUs, including its chocolate-covered peanut butter, gems and nougat bars. 

The company said it has grown 10-fold within the past five years. Unreal’s products are available for sale in 35,000 retail doors, including Costco, Publix and Whole Foods. It is also available for sale online, at convenience stores and at airports. 

“We wanted to provide a different consumption opportunity for our core consumer,” McCarthy said. “The goal here is really serving our consumer in an incremental way that our current or previous product lines didn’t exactly meet.” The company said that its pretzels were inspired by Flipz, a classic snack in the 90s.

Unreal said that these snacks are more heat resilient than its other products, opening up more opportunities for new retail partners and shoppers. Already the company is seeing a positive response from shoppers. When the snacks rolled out at Whole Foods, Unreal set its highest sales day record with the grocery chain. The sales were more than 50% higher than its previous record.    

Unreal has been leveraging its social media channels to promote its new product lineup. The company has been marketing the new product lineup as a grab-and-go option for snacking. Several influencers on TikTok have also been posting taste tests of the new Unreal products.

Polly Wong, president of the marketing firm Belardi Wong, said that expanding to new product categories also helps brands expand their lifetime value with existing shoppers because of the additional options it is offering. 

“Basically, the more you put in front of the consumer, the more likely they are to buy. It’s a very proven retail best practice,” she said. These types of snack products could also perform well in airports where Unreal is steadily growing its presence, she added. “When you’re traveling, the idea of eating clean is especially appealing. So you’ve got a great demographic in airports.”

Unreal also sees food service opportunities in the snacking category, McCarthy said. At this time, Unreal products are all offered in the same standard pouch size. However, the company is interested in offering more pack size variations to fit more occasions, like parties or quick snack times.

“We want to serve our superfans in the best way possible,” McCarthy said. “Some people love a larger bag to share with family and friends. But then, [Unreal is] also looking at more on-the-go packs so that if you’re at a convenience store and need a quick snack, we can help satisfy that consumption occasion.”