The Austrian company is already present in 80 countries with the US, Germany and the UK its top three markets by sales.
It plans to enter China in the second half of 2017.
Chinese consumers seek European brands
Gabriele Hofinger, head of marketing & licensing at PEZ International, told ConfectioneryNews at the ISM trade fair in Cologne: "We're trying to start China now.
"Many people in China look for European brands, so we'll start in the big cities where people have more money."
The company will enter China with its regular PEZ dispensers and licenses, which will initially be produced at PEZ's European factories.
It will concentrate on brick-and-mortar retail as it fears the costs of shipping a low-cost brand for the burgeoning Chinese e-commerce market will outweigh potential gains.
Hofinger said: "PEZ is really a kids product and it would be very complicated to transfer it to adults." The company, for example, relaunched mints for adults three years ago - which was its original proposition when the company began in 1927, before it started to concentrate on child-friendly products in the sixties. Hofzinger said that, although retailers loved the retro packaging, it failed to translate into strong sales as consumers identify PEZ as a kid’s brand.
Hofzinger said PEZ had grown sales last year even as consumers became more health-conscious.
“We are also in development to do healthier stuff,” she said. "Healthier sweets: This is a trend.
"We have some advantages already anyway because PEZ is a small pack, it's portion-controlled, there's no fat. It's got sugar, but there are no artificial colors...,” said the marketing chief.
PEZ is only in the development phase, but is debating whether any ‘healthy’ variant would be under its own brand.
"You'd have to teach the consumer that there was a healthy PEZ,” said Hofzinger. "We have 'healthy’ projects, but whether this will be under the brand 'PEZ', we are not sure - because PEZ is a treat, it's a candy.”
She added: "Healthier means natural ingredients, no artificial stuff, less fat, less saturated fat and less sugar.”
PEZ will introduce four emoji-themed dispensers in early 2017: ‘Laughing’, ‘crying laughing’, ‘in love’ and ‘cool’. It comes as Sony will release its ‘Emojimovie: Express Yourself!’ film in autumn 2017.
"Our daughter company PEZ in the US introduced it last year already and it worked really well,” said Hofzinger. “It’s a lifestyle product that is a must-have right now and also for Valentine’s it could work well.”
PEZ has also secured a series of licenses for the year ahead:
Despicable Me 3
PEZ will launch Minions-themed dispensers in April this year to tie-in with the July 2017 movie release of Despicable Me 3.
PEZ has partnered with Nintendo for Mario, Princess Peach, Donkey Kong and Yoshi dispensers. It follows the December 2016 release of of the ‘Super Mario Run’ app for iOS. Nintendo will also launch its new gaming system ‘Nintendo Switch’ this March alongside games such as Super Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Best of Nickelodeon
A partnership with US TV network Nickelodeon will see PEZ launch a ‘Best of Nickelodeon’ range from April 2015, which will include SpongeBob Squarepants, Raphael from Ninja Turtles and Paw Patrol dispensers.
PEZ has created an augmented reality game via its free PEZ Play app that can be activated by scanning three new Transformers dispensers with a smart phone. The launch ties in with the summer release of ‘Transformers: The Last Knight ‘.
Other 2017 licenses include: DC Super Hero Girls, Justice League (Batman, Superman and Flash), Yo-kai Watch, The Smurfs, Hello Kitty, My Little Pony.
PEZ is now tying its PEZ Play app to refill packs. The company’s interactive gaming app was last year linked to Angry Birds.
In August 2016, the confectioner introduced candy codes on PEZ fruit refills allowing its target group of 4-8 year olds to download its free app, which features a mini-game. Other games can be unlocked with codes on refill packs.
Hofzinger said that 80,000 people have so far downloaded the PEZ Play app, while 90,000 have scanned the on-pack codes.
UK tech frim Zappar has developed the app for PEZ and tracks performance data.
PEZ fact file
PEZ is headquartered in Traun, Austria. It has production facilities in Vienna (Austria), Orange (US) and Hungary. The company employs around 750 people and manufactures around 70m dispensers and 5bn candies every year.
Top 20 countries for PEZ
US, Germany, UK, Japan, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Austria, France, Spain, Australia, Netherlands, Hungary, Russia, Belgium, Serbia, Switzerland, Finland and Portugal.