This annual list of the best chocolate/candy franchises was revised and updated on April 18, 2023.
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The confectionery industry is one of the few that seems impervious to the ups and downs of the economy. Even trends that should diminish people’s interest in candy are unable to dent its financial power, and especially the near-legendary allure of chocolate. This appeal makes candy and chocolate franchises an easy sell.
Sweet treats are deeply embedded in American culture. 99% of American households buy chocolate or candy at least once a year, and 72% of Americans say that these products are important to their wellbeing. Confectionery is even bound into holidays and festivities, such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day – 78% of Americans consider seasonal candy sharing to be a great American tradition. Chocolate and candy franchises aren’t just retailers, they’re a vital pillar of the cultural and emotional wellbeing of their community. As a result, the size of the confectionery market is impressive: confectionery sales totaled $42.6 billion in 2022, and chocolate production alone is worth $20 billion per year.
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That said, the industry faced conflicting economic forces even before the Covid pandemic. On the one hand, rising disposable income meant that people had more money to spare for candy and chocolates. On the other hand, rising concerns about health and the sources of products put some off. The industry was looking for ways to address these issues without damaging existing revenues.
The pandemic added to this disruption, with interruptions to global supply chains and a fall in sales to some international markets. As a comfort food, confectionery saw a rise in sales in the lead up to lockdowns, but some outlets suffered from closures and changing buying habits. Total candy sales went up 4.1%, but it wasn’t until restrictions eased that this mixed picture turned into something truly positive, with retail sales growing by over 11% in 2021.
46% of Americans say they are more likely to purchase candy when in a store than when shopping online, making retailers a powerful outlet for candy. While online marketing can be valuable, and 59% of active social media users have searched for confectionery content, the goal of online candy marketing is often to lure consumers into a shop. There, they’re more likely to make impulse purchases or be drawn in by the sites, smells, and tasty samples.
Despite its eternal appeal, the candy industry is going through changes, which are creating new opportunities for producers and retailers. Some parts of the consumer market have shown that they are willing to pay extra for premium products, whether made with higher quality ingredients or demonstrating more refined candy design. Ethically sourced ingredients can appeal to certain market sectors, with fair trade and sustainably sourced sugar and cocoa drawing in socially conscious consumers.
There has also been a push toward products with lower sugar content, whether for diabetics or out of general health concerns. The demand for sugar-free chocolates in the US is expected to rise by 6.3% per year.
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The result is a more segmented market, in which brands and retailers can appeal to different customers through different approaches, such as cheap bulk bags of sweets, prestige boxes of chocolates, healthy treats, and even traditional candies produced in deliberate reaction against other trends.
This segmentation creates the opportunity that franchises need to make them stand out. 71% of consumers purchase most of their candy and chocolates at a regular grocery store, and franchises need to provide something extra to draw customers’ attention. A specialist selling point, such as luxury chocolates, catering to special occasions, or healthier candy, can make an outlet distinctive and give customers a reason to give them attention.
32% of online searches relating to candy are looking for candy as a gift, reflecting the important role this plays in the market. Selling chocolates and candy isn’t just about appealing to what people want, it’s about presenting something they’d like to share with others, and about encouraging a giving attitude, tying products to seasonal giving and important moments in people’s lives.
Chocolate production is slowly falling, but it remains an industry worth billions of dollars, and one whose consumers are constantly being attracted to interesting new things. 61% of shoppers look for confectionery products they have never purchased before, meaning that there will always be customers looking for something new. If you can present the right novelty or fill the right niche, then it’s a market with potential.
The Top 5 Chocolate/Candy Franchises of 2023
1. Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory makes a wide array of chocolates and other candy in its 53,000-square-foot production facility for distribution to its franchised shops. Each location also demonstrates candy making, including fudge in big copper kettles, candied and caramel apples, and other classic confections. A big part of finding success in this kind of candy making includes premium chocolates and candies that make good gifts during the holiday season, and Rocky Mountain makes the most of this approach.
This is a publicly-traded company on the NASDAQ exchange under the stock symbol RMCF. Franchisees can choose between two different models, including a full retail store or a kiosk approach for airports, malls, and resorts.
Founded by Franklin Crail in Durango, Colorado in 1981 and franchising since 1982, the number of locations has been declining in recent years from 306 in 2012 to the current total of 162 (down from the previously reported total of 165), of which two are company-owned and five are located outside the US.
2. Kilwins Chocolates
Kilwins Chocolates has only changed ownership twice since its founding in the 1940s. Don and Robin McCarty have been the principal owners since 1995. Each location has its own kitchen where the chocolates are made fresh using premium ingredients and proprietary “Heritage” recipes. The company uses Fair Trade Certified cocoa beans carefully selected, roasted, and ground into chocolate liquor.
It makes a full range of chocolates and candies, including caramel apples and its own brand of ice cream. With live candy making, Kilwins is a good choice for areas that get a lot of tourists.
Founded by Don and Katy Kilwin in Petoskey, Michigan in 1947 and franchising since 1982, the number of locations has climbed in recent years from 82 in 2012 to the current total of 153 (up from the previously reported total of 150), of which three are company-owned and all are located in the US.
3. River Street Sweets – Savannah’s Candy Kitchen
River Street Sweets – Savannah’s Candy Kitchen is a combination of two candy store concepts, both originating with the Strickland family. Savannah’s Candy Kitchen was started by Stan “The Candy Man” Strickland, while River Street Sweets is owned and operated by siblings Tim and Jennifer Strickland.
Unlike the other companies on this list, chocolates are not the primary focus, but just one category of product among its huge array of handmade Southern sweets. Franchisees can also add in ice cream and gelato to their stores if they desire.
Founded in 1973 but franchising only since 2015, the number of locations held steady for three years at the current total of 19 but has now dropped to 18, of which 10 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
4. Schakolad Chocolate Factory
Schakolad Chocolate Factory makes everything it sells fresh in each store location with an ambience that feels like the family-owned corner stores of yesteryear. The recipes come from the Schaked family of Argentina and three generations of chocolate making.
Like other boutique chocolate and candy shops, this chain’s products are promoted as making great gifts for any occasion. They make a full range of chocolates and chocolate novelties, and will also create customized flavors for events, corporate gift giving, and special occasions.
Founded by Edgar Schaked in Winer Park, Florida in 1995 and franchising since 1999, the number of locations has been declining in recent years from 18 in 2018 to the current total of nine as listed on the company website (a gain of one from last year’s listed locations).
5. Oh My Gosh Brigadeiros
Oh My Gosh Brigadeiros has the challenge of constantly explaining its name, since most people in the US are not familiar with the brigadeiro, a traditional Brazilian treat made with condensed milk, cocoa powder, butter, and chocolate sprinkles. It can be categorized as a kind of truffle. OMG Brigadeiros brings its own twists and turns to the candy, with 15 different signature flavors.
In addition to several other kinds of desserts, the company is making a name for its hot chocolate and cappuccino rimmed with Nutella and various toppings.
Founded in 2014 and franchising since 2018, there are currently two locations in Miami, one in Coral Gables and the other in the MiMo district on Biscayne Boulevard, and the company website lists another two as “coming soon.”
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.