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Jeffrey E Biteng STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
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Candylicious flagship store opens in Dubai

At 10,000 square feet, the store is being billed as the largest confectioner in the world based on sweets per square foot.

A home-grown confectioner has opened its flagship store in Dubai, aiming to cash in on the resilient demand for gummy bears, gourmet popcorn and other treats. At 10,000 square feet, the store is being billed as the largest confectioner in the world based on sweets per square foot. Candylicious opened its first store in Dubai Mall yesterday to cater to the growing market for confectionery, said Sunaina Gill, the brand's director of operations.

"When there is a recession, the confectionery business booms because confectionery is an affordable treat," she said. "It's a feel happy kind of treat. And people can go from buying very expensive gift items, to very affordable items." Retailers of all types have had a tough year as consumers cut back on unnecessary purchases in the wake of the economic downturn. But while some retailers have seen year-on-year sales decline as much as 40 per cent, confectionery companies' sales have grown, albeit at a slower rate than in the past.

Worldwide confectionery sales this year are forecast at US$160 billion (Dh587.67bn), up 4 per cent from $156.2bn last year, according to Euromonitor International, a research firm. But in the UAE, confectionery sales are expected to hit $104.9 million this year, up 9.7 per cent from $95.6m last year. By 2014, confectionery sales are forecast to reach $125.6m in the Emirates, Euromonitor said. "Confectionery sales have taken a slight hit in 2009, but much less than other consumer goods. This is because candy and chocolate were seen as a relatively affordable indulgence for tough times," said Gayatri Bhasin, Euromonitor's research analyst for the Middle East and Africa. "While sales for chocolate and sugar confectionery are still rising, they are doing so at a rate lower than previous years."

Confectionery was the fastest growing category for packaged food in the UAE last year, according to the research firm, fuelled by high living standards and a preference for premium products, various festivals and a large young population. The UAE was outpacing many of its global counterparts because it was less saturated than mature markets, Ms Bhasin said. The UAE confectionery market has grown 94.7 per cent since 2004, compared with 19.6 per cent in the US, 40.3 per cent in China and 18.6 per cent in the UK, according to Euromonitor. Confectionery sales have been steady, according to Vivek Sharma, the deputy general manager of Bateel, which produces gourmet dates, chocolate and other sweets.

"The chocolate industry is growing and this year there was a growth, which was not very heavy growth, but positive, at 10 to 15 per cent." Ms Gill, whose Dubai-based group Retail is Detail began creating the Candylicious concept 10 months ago, said the economic downturn had created a window of opportunity. "Especially for retailers, it is very difficult to enter a market when there's a boom. It's difficult to find locations, it's difficult to create a concept," she said. "But during a recession, things become more available. People are more receptive to new concepts."

While the Daffin's Candy store in Pennsylvania in the US is larger, at 14,000 sq ft, Candylicious stocks 3,000 different products, ranging from toasted popcorn flavoured jelly beans to old-fashioned root beer and ice cream, making it the biggest in terms of "candy per square foot", Ms Gill said. She hopes to double the number of products in the next 12 months, she added. "There's nothing like this in Dubai," she said. "The candy that we carry in our store, we can safely say that close to 80 per cent is not found in this market at all."

Candylicious expects its Dubai Mall location to have 2,000 visitors on weekdays and 7,000 on weekends. The group projects annual sales of $10m annually. Candylicious is eyeing another two locations in the UAE: one in Dubai this year and in Abu Dhabi next year, each measuring 5,000 to 8,000 sq ft. Candylicious is also opening its second store in Singapore, with the aim of 10 to 15 stores in the next three to five years. Three outlets will be in Singapore, and the rest spread across the GCC.

aligaya@thenational.ae

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