A closer look at coatings

The key challenge for the confectionery industry is to exploit seasonal opportunities all year round in order to keep production high. Easter and Christmas have been the traditional high peaks, but we are now seeing this extended to Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, as well as an expanding range of character-based products. Consumers are increasingly after new taste sensations and are concerned about health and the provenance of their food too.

All these present the confectionery industry with many opportunities to drive business of course, but also challenges, from sourcing ingredients that meet consumer demand to performing well in production and across a number of applications.

Trend aware
Keeping ahead of emerging trends is essential for brand owners across all categories to be able to launch products with the potential to drive sales. Knowing what the next ‘hot ingredient’, flavour or texture is will help brands gain a competitive edge and appeal to consumers’ emerging tastes.

Key trends such as texture and indulgence, natural flavours, as well as grab and go are very much driving the confectionery sector, reflecting trends in other categories such as bakery. According to Innova Market Insights, consumers are looking for sensorial benefits from their products, but still want to see ingredients that are natural and can offer health benefits. Even in the confectionery market where demand is about everyday treats, indulgence and impulse purchase, there is increasing interest in natural inclusions and nutrient functionality.

Coating fruit and nuts has been a popular type of confectionery product for many years, but we are now seeing a variety of new inclusions and complementary coatings to create texture and added mouth feel. Centres such as ginger, banana chips, honeycomb and biscuit in combination with different type of chocolate such as milk, dark, white, sugar coatings such as hard, soft or dusted. And in tune with consumer demand for perceived healthier products, carob and yogurt, for example, are increasing in popularity.

Texture is certainly key with consumers seeking different types of texture and flavour combinations. While core products such as Maltesers, Aero Bubbles, Minstrels and own label ranges of chocolate coated raisins and peanuts remain a staple in the weekly family shop, indulgence and special occasions are driving the demand for new product innovations and brand extensions. By combining crispy, crunch, chewy and gooey textures with ingredients exploding with flavour and taste, confectionery products can play with the senses.

While indulgence is still central, today’s discerning consumers are also looking for confectionery that appeals to their concern for provenance, sourcing and lifestyle preferences.

In today’s climate, manufacturers need to look carefully at their ingredients lists and consider the colours and coatings they use. Are they allergen free? Organic? Clean label? Are they vegetarian or vegan? Halal or kosher? Being able to tick as many boxes as possible will ensure that products appeal to many different type of consumer as possible and help to maximise sales. Free from, clean label and ‘acceptable indulgence’ are driving the sector due to natural ingredients. Consumers are increasingly aware of the need for healthy and blanket nutrition – even in confectionery – and the rise of ‘clean label’ means that consumers can satisfy themselves that as many of the things they are eating as possible are natural.

So what are the key areas for expansion in the next five years?

Organic options

Confectionery has always been seen as a cheeky addition to the weekly shop, or as a way to keep the kids quiet at the end of a busy day, so if you can give them a more natural alternative, consumers will accept a premium.

The removal of sweets from supermarket tills is part of a drive to provide more acceptable options. There’s a growth too in niche organic confectionery lines to meet consumers’ desire for perceived healthier options and we have seen free from lines becoming more mainstream too.

Sugar free

The sugar debate continues and is reflected in confectionery as well as the bakery industry. It is now possible to offer sugar free sweets, which appeal to parents buying for children. The main push for sugar free products has come from the chewing gum sector, where suppressing appetite and keeping teeth clean is a big sales driver. Obesity concerns in the Western world is also helping to boost the popularity of sugar free ranges.

Vegetarian and vegan

Shellac has been used historically in the confectionery industry as a moisture barrier, helping to protect the appearance of the product when being eaten – so it melts in the mouth and not in the hand.

While the market will always like to move to more natural alternatives, Shellac is a by-product of the Lac insect, similar to beeswax, so it meets vegetarian requirements, but cannot be considered vegan.

Speciality ingredients supplier to the food and confectionery industries, Thew Arnott, is developing products to meet the demands of organic, sugar free, vegetarian and vegan consumers. The company recently produced a product which it says polishes and seals the surface, creating a durable layer. As a result, it can be packed immediately with no need for any standing time.

Alternatively, if environmental stresses on the finished product cannot be controlled, a vegetable based ingredient called Zein is available which is a derivative of corn.

Thew Arnott is working with clean label potato starches, dietary fibres, psyllium husk, chia seeds, quinoa to offer new age products which offer the health benefits without the associated E numbers.

The tag line of no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives is often a prerequisite of today’s food products, but the industry has often got to look to go beyond what is generally acceptable and see what is possible.

Whichever components are used, the coating, polishing and glazing system needs to be flexible enough to meet existing factory conditions and also offer the flexibility to work with the variety of confectionery ingredients.

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