Better for you

Jonathan Thomas, CP editorial board member and principal market analyst at Leatherhead Research, discusses how confectionery manufacturers are improving the nutritional qualities of their products.

One effect of the global wellness trend has been the growing evidence of ingredients associated with functional health benefits, both in the food industry as a whole and in the confectionery market in particular. That said, functional products (defined as those making a fairly specific health claim) remain fairly thin on the ground within the world’s confectionery sector, certainly compared with other areas of the food industry. According to the latest report on the subject from

Leatherhead Research, dairy foods accounted for 35 per cent of the global functional foods market in 2013, ahead of bakery and cereal products (30 per cent) and beverages (17 per cent).

Nevertheless, worldwide sales of what might be termed ’functional‘ confectionery have grown over the past decade. Confectionery manufacturers are coming under ever greater pressure to improve the nutritional profile of their products – as a result, sugar and saturated fat levels are being lowered, while portion sizes are also being reduced. Another effect of this trend has been greater interest in ingredients associated with health, and how these might be incorporated into confectionery manufacture. Attempts to utilise these have met with varying levels of success within the category.

Dark chocolate

The expansion in the range of functional health ingredients used in confectionery has coincided to a large extent with the growth in popularity of dark chocolate in many parts of the world. This has frequently occurred at the expense of more traditional forms of milk chocolate, since dark chocolate has a higher cocoa content and is therefore increasingly recognised as possessing a greater range of potential health benefits.

In the US, for example, more than 70 per cent of consumers view dark chocolate as intrinsically healthier than milk chocolate. Although milk chocolate is still the preferred variety for more than half of US consumers (51 per cent), the percentage who favour dark chocolate – which currently stands at more than one third (35 per cent) – is thought to have grown sharply in recent years.

The situation is similar in the UK, where dark varieties now account for more than 10 per cent of the chocolate blocks category, up from five per cent during the middle of the previous decade. In both markets, it is older people who tend to favour dark chocolate over milk chocolate.

The higher cocoa levels found in dark chocolate mean that manufacturers are placing more emphasis on its rich polyphenol and antioxidant content. The presence of large amounts of antioxidants remains a key selling point as far as health and wellness is concerned, given their well publicised links with heart health.

According to data from Mintel, 257 new products were launched within the global chocolate confectionery market making some claim relating to the presence of antioxidants between 2012 and 2014 (Figure 1). The trend remains upwards – in 2014, for example, 120 new products were introduced, significantly up from 63 in 2012.

The majority of new product development activity occurred in sectors such as dark chocolate and chocolate blocks and tablets. In some instances, other ingredients associated with health also featured – examples include goji berries, cranberries and quinoa.

A 2011 study from Cambridge University was one of the most recent pieces of research to link cocoa intake with improved cardiovascular health – for example, study participants who consumed the greatest quantities of dark chocolate had a 37 per cent reduced risk of developing cardiovascular problems, while they were also 29 per cent less likely to have a stroke.


Antioxidants remain central to the claims made in relation to the Acticoa brand by Barry Callebaut. Acticoa is produced using a special process that retains the high level of antioxidants within the cocoa bean, and has been shown to increase the elasticity of blood vessels by up to two per cent.

In 2013, EU authorities granted Barry Callebaut the right to make claims relating to the cardiovascular benefits offered by Acticoa, which has already featured in the manufacture of chocolate brands such as Thorntons, Stollwerck and Guylian. However, chocolate products bearing heart health claims have yet to appear in large numbers, which suggests that manufacturers have yet to fully embrace the concept of functional confectionery. It is possible that the failure of the CocoaVia range from Mars may be a factor here.

Besides heart health, it has also been suggested that chocolate that is rich in cocoa polyphenols (and hence antioxidants) can help to slow the ageing process, as well as offering mental and cognitive benefits. Barry Callebaut has again been active in this area, having suggested that Acticoa can help prevent wrinkles, while protecting the skin from damage.

In 2012, the UK biotechnology firm Lycotec claimed that eating chocolate modified with its coco-lycosome ingredient could help to slow the ageing process. Coco-lycosome is composed of either lycopene or lutein, and has been shown to boost epicatechin, the part of cocoa flavonols linked with health.


Probiotics and prebiotics (which are associated with improved digestive health) are considered suitable for use in confectionery manufacture, especially chocolate. However, it should be noted that robust scientific evidence for this remains fairly thin on the ground. As a result, the global market for confectionery offering digestive health benefits remains a niche sector.

According to the Croatian firm Milsing, chocolate represents a more effective delivery system for probiotics than supplements. Preliminary research has shown that probiotic bacteria can help to metabolise the flavonoids present in chocolate, so that they are better absorbed. It has also been suggested that survival rates for probiotics are higher in chocolate than in many types of dairy food, especially for strains such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.

Milsing has helped to develop the market for probiotic chocolate, having launched the Chocowise range under its Biorela brand during 2014. Chocowise is marketed as helping to improve digestive health, and is also fortified with vitamin D. It is also produced for own label customers, and is available in countries such as Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia. Milsing’s range also includes Up&Sharp, dark chocolate fortified with caffeine and vitamin B.

A number of other companies supply probiotic chocolate and confectionery, although relatively few are mainstream. Barry Callebaut did experiment with probiotic chocolate with its launch of ProBenefit in 2009, although much of its recent focus has been on the other functional health benefits offered by its products, such as anti-ageing.

By contrast, probiotic chocolate remains a significant part of the range from US based Attune Foods. It supplies probiotic chocolate bars in varieties such as dark, milk and mint.

In the UK, the Ohso Goody range of probiotic chocolate bars was extended during the summer of 2015 to include two new children’s products. The fact that manufacturers are now seeking new audiences for probiotic chocolate confectionery suggests that its market potential is still considered
to be fairly high.

Vitamins and minerals

As the global market for sugar confectionery offering functional health benefits has expanded, so too has the range of products that are enriched with various vitamins and minerals. While demand for sugar free sweets continues to increase in many parts of the world (largely as a result of factors such as health concerns and pressure from the authorities to reformulate), some manufacturers are also looking towards the functional foods category as a way of improving the nutritional profile of their respective products.

One of the largest and most well developed sectors is the market for sugar confectionery enriched with additional vitamins (eg vitamin C) and/or minerals (eg calcium). These products have emerged in sectors of the sugar confectionery market such as boiled sweets and chewy/gummi products.

Within the German market, for example, Storck supplies the Nimm2 Lachgummi range of vitamin-enriched fruit gums. The range has recently been extended to include new flavour varieties, examples of which include apple and milkshake. Vitamin enriched forms of sugar confectionery have proved to be popular with German consumers in particular.

Also worthy of mention is the growing overlap between functional forms of sugar confectionery and over the counter pharmaceuticals, a trend that may offer up future opportunities for confectionery manufacturers. In 2014, US sales of vitamin-enriched gummi sweets (a sector that is dominated by pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Bayer) reached €591m, with an annual market volume of more than 150 million units. By 2017, market value is expected to exceed €1bn.

Much of the recent new product activity occurring within the US market has been targeted at children and teenagers, as illustrated by the widespread use of bright colours and fruity flavours (eg orange, cherry and lemon). However, the use of brand names such as Men’s Vitacraves Gummies and Women’s Vitacraves Gummies suggests that adult audiences may represent the best prospects for future growth.

The coming years are expected to witness the launch of more condition specific products, marketed on functional health platforms such as bone health and immune support.

Vitamin enriched products have also appeared within the global chewing gum market. This is partly as a result of the trend towards more functional products offering additional health benefits, of which Wrigley’s Airwaves brand is one of the best examples.

More products have come to market in recent years, although further development in the sector is likely to depend on how companies can overcome the challenge of vitamin addition without compromising on flavour and texture.

However, that said market leaders such as Mars/Wrigley have yet to fully embrace the concept of gums enriched with vitamins and minerals. Wrigley’sAustralasian unit did launch Extra Professional Calcium in 2011, which, as its name suggests, was enriched with calcium. However, the fact that this no longer appears on the company’s website suggests that it has been discontinued. In Europe, Wrigley’s German unit supplies Orbit Balance, which claims to assist with muscle function on account of the fact that it is fortified with magnesium. Initially launched in a green mint flavour, it has since been extended with varieties such as blueberry and papaya and aloe vera.

Gums containing vitamins have also been launched by smaller operators. One example is the Vitamingum range in the US, which includes both chewing and bubble gum. The gums are fortified with a number of major vitamin types (eg A, C, D, E and most of the B vitamins), and most are targeted at active children and teenagers.

As a result, gums fortified with additional vitamins are now starting to overlap with the sports nutrition sector, and this may represent one possible way forward for the market. In Europe, vitamin enriched chewing gum appears under the Vitamize label, which is owned by Raisun Trading of Switzerland.


Ongoing health concerns mean that confectionery manufacturers are likely to keep seeking ways to improve the nutritional qualities of their products.
However, for the time being it seems that confectionery is likely to remain a niche within the global functional foods industry, at least until scientific research is sufficiently developed to allow definitive health claims to be made.

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