CPG Playbook   //   March 5, 2024

How Gummy Clusters became Nerds’ hero product

The world was still in the throes of Covid when Nerds Gummy Clusters bounced onto the scene in 2020. The bite-sized candy — a smattering of tangy, crunchy Nerds around a fruity, gummy center — was Nerds’ first innovation since 2018, when it introduced Big Chewy Nerds to the world.

Fast forward a few years, and Gummy Clusters has rocketed to the forefront of its parent company Ferrara’s portfolio. Gummy Clusters — now available in two flavors, Rainbow and Very Berry — were responsible for 81.4% of all Nerds sales from January 2023 to January 2024, according to IRI data. Since adding Gummy Clusters to the mix, Nerds’ retail sales have surged from $50 million in 2019 to some $500 million today. Thanks to the product going viral early on, Nerds is now spending more on marketing to propel sales even further.

Nerds was surprised by the candy’s runaway success. When the company launched Gummy Clusters in 2020, there wasn’t “a ton of advertising” around the product, Joey Rath, Nerds’ marketing director, told Modern Retail. Instead, Rath thinks the candy caught on due to its “multi-sensorial eating experience” and receptive audience. “Consumers love the product so much,” she said. “There’s word-of-mouth around the product… and incredibly strong repeat rates.”

More than one in five Nerds customers (22.4%) bought Nerds six or more times in 2023, per the IRI. What’s more, searches for “Nerds Gummy Clusters” are up 50% worldwide in the last 12 months, per Google Search. Sales of Nerds Gummy Clusters grew 67% in 2023, according to Morning Brew.

User-generated content likely boosted sales, too. For years, influencers and everyday shoppers have made videos singing the Gummy Clusters’ praises. In 2021, Kylie Jenner posted a series of Instagram Stories when trying Nerds Gummy Clusters for the first time. “I’m obsessed,” she whispered in one video. A December TikTok video that showed that Costco was selling the candy racked up 85,400 likes. “I ate one of those bags in one sitting,” a user commented.

Encouraged by the Gummy Clusters’ success, over the past two years, Nerds “nearly doubled” its marketing budget, Rath said. It also funneled millions of dollars into its first Super Bowl spot this year, an ad that placed Clusters at its center. Featuring TikToker and singer-actress Addison Rae, the 30-second commercial showed a larger-than-life gummy creature dancing and then pouring Nerds on himself while “What A Feeling” from “Flashdance” played in the background.

The commercial was part of a larger marketing campaign that Nerds began in the fall. “The Super Bowl was a key opportunity to drive top-of-mind awareness for the brand,” Rath said. “But ultimately, we do want to drive consideration and also drive metrics further down the funnel, as well.”

Sarah Engel, president of the marketing firm January Digital, has anecdotally noticed that the younger generation now thinks of Gummy Clusters as the older generation likely considered Nerds’ original candies. “I think Gen Alpha actually sees Gummy Clusters as Nerds, as opposed to out of the box,” she said, citing her experience with her own children. “They consider Nerds Rope or Nerds Clusters to be Nerds.”

Part of this success, Engel said, likely has to do with Nerds’ distribution channels, which today span from AMC Theaters to Amazon to DoorDash. “You see these every time you go into Five Below or Target or whatever the case may be, the grocery store or the gas station. They’re at the front of the shelves,” she said.

Gummy Clusters are so popular that they seem to defy changing consumption trends. Over the past several years, shoppers have taken more of an interest in “better-for-you” snacks with natural ingredients and flavors, as well as benefits like gut health. Brands such as Poppi soda, Blume instant lattes and Simply gum have seen sales grow. SmartSweets, which promises candy free from sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, enjoyed a 20% sales bump last Easter.

In contrast, Gummy Clusters, whose first ingredient is dextrose, fall into the traditional candy lane. And yet, they have managed to stand out thanks to internet buzz and collaborations. The Dungeons & Dragons collaboration, which launched in 2021, remains so in demand that a pack is listed on eBay for $45.

In the end, while some consumers may be interested in “better-for-you” candy, “confections [are] an affordable treat that consumers will always engage with,” Dan Sadler, principal of client insights for Circana, told Modern Retail. Today, he said, some 98% of households still purchase candy.

“Innovation will help drive continued success, and consumers have responded strongly to innovations within confections,” Sadler said.