Confectionery Makers Sweet Talking with Candy Innovation

A little less sugar, a few more healthy ingredients can make confections respectable snacks.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Experimenting with flavors, flexibility and variety, confectionery makers are thinking outside the bar to provide consumers with chocolate and candy innovation that will drive purchasing over the next five years, according to the National Confectioners Association's (NCA) Confectionery Industry Trend Report 2009. Even in economic uncertainty, the industry (valued globally at more than $145 billion) continues to post gains.

NCA surveyed 40 confectionery experts -- including top manufacturers, market researchers, award-winning chocolatiers, nutritionists and confectionery makers – to come up with the trend report. Collectively, those experts believe the next "big" trend in confections will be healthier confectionery options, specifically a growing demand for health benefits and "better-for-you" ingredients (according to 88 percent). Meanwhile, consumers are embracing portion control-sized treats and the potential heart-health benefits of higher cacao content in chocolate. As consumers pursue healthier lifestyles, manufacturers should respond with healthier confections.

Since 2005, the confectionery industry has responded to market demands by introducing hundreds of portion-controlled, calorie-controlled, reduced-fat, sugar-free and fortified products. And there's no sign of a slowdown, according to those surveyed experts. Forty-three percent say health-related influences will be the leading influence on new product development in the confectionery industry overall.

Along with opportunities come challenges, but suppliers to the confectionery industry offer some pretty sweet, healthy solutions.

Removing some sugar
"Dietary concerns are today's main challenge in confectionary products because [confections] are so nutrient-dense in sugar and other high-glycemic ingredients," says Robert Miltner, in sales & marketing at Hughson Nut Inc. (www.nut-trition.com), Hughson, Calif. "Type II diabetes is rising at alarming rates. These high-glycemic index foods pass through the digestive system in a very short time and result in a glucose overload that calls for a sudden jolt of insulin to reduce blood glucose levels.

"On the other hand, adding non-nutritive sweeteners and fibrous polysaccharides can reduce the appeal of what are, after all, foods eaten more for enjoyment than for nutritional value," he continues. "One solution is to use whole rather than refined functional ingredients. Healthier formulations can be achieved by incorporating more fiber, together with complex carbohydrates. Rather than use a long list of refined food additives, it is more efficient, more effective and more label-friendly to use whole food rather than refined chemicals for functionality in formulated confectionary products."

One obvious dent can be made by removing sugar and all the empty calories that go with it. The natural, non-nutritive sweetener stevia has made headlines in the past year in beverages, but it's still to make a sizable dent in the confectionery category.

Angela Palmieri, business development manager for Vancouver-based GLG Life Tech Corp. (www.glglifetech.com), is excited about the prospect of stevia use in confectionery products. "As stevia goes mainstream, we believe there will be numerous opportunities to use the natural, no-calorie sweetener in confectionery products by itself or combined with sugar for low-calorie treats," she says.

Hillside Candy
Hillside Candy chooses sucralose to remove the sugar in its GoLightly sugar-free candies.

"The major issue is bringing products containing the sweetener to the broad consumer market and making the public aware of its healthy, positive characteristics," says James Kempland, vice president of marketing at GLG. "Stevia's capabilities are just starting to be recognized. As it grows more popular, we are confident it will be used routinely in beverages, foods, and confections and candies."

There have been challenges, however. "Previously, there was a concern about the aftertaste of some products using rebaudioside-A," the primary sweetening extract of the stevia plant, says Palmieri. "GLG has addressed those concerns through our extraction technology. Our heat-stable, stevia sweetening systems can reduce caloric content while maintaining the taste required to meet consumer expectations."

"How to make the healthier or ‘good-for-you' candies look and taste like their counterparts on which they are modeled is the biggest challenge," says Pete Jamieson, lead food scientist at Corn Products U.S. (www.cornproductsus.com), Westchester, Ill. "To address this, the formulator needs to first understand the roles the current ingredients -- such as sugar, corn syrup, hydrocolloids, etc. -- play in their application.

"Does the ingredient being replaced or reduced provide crystallization, as in the case of a mint crème center, or does it provide the body and texture expected in a chewy caramel center?" he asks. "In most cases, these attributes are functions of the bulking agents [typically sugar and corn syrup] used, and their physical characteristics can be separated into basic categories such as form (liquid or liquid), carbohydrate make-up, sweetness, solubility, reactivity, cooling effects, and melt point.

"Once the formulator identifies these attributes they can effectively look to modify their traditional formula with other ingredients, such as polyols [sugar alcohols], fibers and vitamins, which offer those ‘good-for-you' qualities. If the product developer has done his or her homework thoroughly, the result can be a confection that is not only healthier but tastes good too."

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