Driving growth for healthier confectionery

Creating indulgent treats is not necessarily a concept that sits easily with healthier product ranges. Sarah Gibbons reports for Confectionery Production 

While the confectionery industry is traditionally associated with high sugar levels and unhealthy indulgence, market research indicates that efforts to also appeal to consumers with a growing interest in health and wellness trends are paying off.

According to GlobalData studies, in 2016 alone, $3.7 billion worth of confectionery with functional or fortified attributes was sold globally. Leading this trend was Latin America, where more than 29.8 per cent of confectionery was positioned as functional/fortified.

Consequently, new ranges of confectionery worldwide are being labelled vegan, organic or ayurvedic, with marketing boasting of ingredients with health benefits that include relaxation or memory boosting qualities, as manufacturers seek to capitalise consumer desires for lower sugar levels and whole food products using unrefined ingredients, including sweetening ingredients.

Manufacturers of confectionery, including chocolate companies, are “keeping an eye on growing consumer affinity for health and wellness lifestyle trends,” said a December 2018 note by Marketresearch.com, a market research on-seller based in Maryland, USA, that also produces its own insights.

It notes that “to that end, producers are shifting toward recipes that employ more natural and organic ingredients, in addition to eliminating GMOs, artificial additives, and high fructose corn syrup”.

It indicates that confectionery companies are expected to incorporate “more nutritious add-ins like nuts, seeds, and fruits to appeal to older, more health-conscious demographics” and suggests chocolate manufacturers may seek to widen appeal with more snacks made from dark chocolate with its “widely noted health benefits”.

In a company note released last October (2018), Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Arnhem, the Netherlands-based Innova Market Insights, noted how the confectionery sector had been caught up in a general food sector consumer switch towards more natural flavours, following an earlier move of tastes towards buying products with more natural colours.
Industry analysts Mintel suggests naturally sourced sweeteners are becoming a “highly attractive option” to curb sugar levels “as such varieties can be perceived as genuinely ‘better for you’ in terms of both lower/reduced sugar content and naturalness.”
Such trends will probably become more pronounced, notably via the mainstreaming of veganism.

Britain’s The Vegan Society (admittedly not a disinterested commentator) claims that more than half of UK adults now view “vegan buying behaviour” positively, with number of full-time vegans in the UK growing fourfold in the past 10 years. According to research by Ipsos Mori for The Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the UK has quadrupled in the past four years: from up to 150,000 in 2014, to 276,000 in 2016, to 600,000 in 2018.

One result of this has been an increase in manufacturers looking to replace gelatine, said Verity Clifton, applications technologist at UK-based Thew Arnott, suppliers of natural speciality ingredients.

“The growth in veganism provides an opportunity for confectionery manufacturers but also a challenge to replace traditionally used shellac based polishing systems for coating and encapsulation,” she told Confectionery Production.

Mintel suggests brands have been tapping growing veganism demand by emphasising attributes such as ‘dairy-free’ and ‘free-from animal ingredients’ and notes that between 2016 and 2018, 11 per cent of pastilles, gummies, jellies and chews launches in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region were vegetarian, and 5 per cent were vegan.

Clifton added that the trend of adding protein, pre-biotics, and boosted vitamins and minerals is becoming popular, “giving an added benefit and taking the focus away from the sugar content,” she said.

The technical challenges that beset this type of innovation, especially when it comes to consumers’ objections to artificial sweeteners” have slowed new product development, Mintel noted that only 13 per cent of global sugar confectionery launches in 2017 featured a low/no/reduced [L/N/R] sugar claim, said the report.

Mintel nonetheless predicted that 2017 “marked a turning point in L/N/R sugar confectionery” with many high-profile companies investing in the segment. This included Werther’s Original Cocoa Crème Soft Caramels and Dutch manufacturer Venco’s Red Band Soft Winegums. This progress has continued into 2018, with launches including Haribo’s Fruitilicious fruit gum sweets, with 30 per cent lower in sugar than the category average, and Mars Wrigley Confectionery’s new Starburst sugar-free chewing gum, using xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, aspartame, and acesulfame K.

Nestlé UK and Ireland cut 2.6 billion teaspoons of sugar and removed more than 60 billion calories from products between 2015 and 2018 “while maintaining the great taste” of its lines, according to a ‘Feeding Change, 2018’ report from the UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

Nestlé researchers transformed the structure of sugar through a new process using only natural ingredients, so that sugar particles dissolve more quickly in the mouth, allowing consumers to perceive the same level of sweetness while consuming less sugar.
This has led to the new Milkybar Wowsomes bar which has 30 per cent less sugar than similar chocolate products and contains no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colours or flavourings, but does include added fibrous oats.

In Asia, the knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda helps consumers in the region accept functional confectionery, said the FDF report, recommending manufacturers communicate the specific health benefits of healing ingredients to boost sales.
A good example is Taiwan’s Chic Grape Yogurt Gummy, which is enriched with collagen to improve consumers’ complexion. And Japan’s Kracie Fuwarinka Mixed Berry Rose Soft Candy, which features beauty ingredients such as collagen, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and damask rose oil, claiming “to freshen breath and body from within”.

As for other recent launches of wellness lines, London-based Supertreats has been developing its line of carob-based confectionery, sweetened with coconut blossom nectar rather than sugar, using natural wholefood and superfood ingredients, such as carob, chia seeds and blueberries.

“Our target audience is health and environmentally-conscious consumers looking to treat themselves in healthier way, without compromising on taste and indulgence and we also appeal to people suffering from conditions whose symptoms are exacerbated by caffeine and refined sugar, such as migraine, adrenal/chronic fatigue, auto-immune diseases, sleep problems as well as menopause symptoms,” said founder Virpi Venho-Jones, who felt the market would only continue to grow for such ranges.

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