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."

Corn Products offers a variety of ingredients designed for use in the confectionery industry. These products, which aid in the production process, include thin boiling starches for use in starch jellies, such as jellybean centers. "The starch has a very low hot viscosity so the cooked candy can be deposited cleanly and quickly into molds," according to Eric Shinsato, technical sales support manager at Corn Products. "These molds, which are starch-based, contain the desired level of mineral oil that allows for clean, crisp impressions that form the shape of the candy."

Corn Products also offers a special grade of dextrose to manufacturers of tableted candies to ensure proper tablet characteristics, including hardness (for both texture and durability) and compressibility (to make the desired shape or design.) Although corn syrup is a primary, and sometimes overlooked, ingredient in candy making, high-maltose corn syrups are available and improve the quality and stability of hard candies, provide excellent color and shelf life stability and may improve deposited candy production through lower viscosity, he says.

Balance taste and texture
"One of the biggest challenges in creating confectionery products is getting the right texture, desired chewiness or mouthfeel while allowing for a clean flavor release," says Joshua Brooks, vice president of sales at Gum Technology Corp. (www.gumtech.com), Tucson, Ariz. "Since confectionery products are treats, the organoleptic balance between taste and texture needs to be just right."

Brooks points out that certain hydrocolloids do better than others in allowing for clean flavor releases in candies. "Gelatin, for example provides a firm, elastic gel with a high breaking strength in gummy candies without masking flavor," he says. "It is also used for marshmallow products along with starch, but over-use of the starch may interfere with the flavor release. Typically the gelatin and starch interact and create a synergy in providing elasticity, and the gelatin also allows for air entrapment.

"Pectins, used in jelly confections, create a less elastic gel than gelatin and will also allow for a clean flavor release. Gum arabic is not typically used as a texturant, but is used in coatings and as a film former to prevent fat migration to the outer shell of a chocolate covered peanut, and gum arabic does not impact flavor," he explains.

"As we see the functional food industry grow, we are presented with more challenges to develop confectionery delivery systems and products that are oriented toward health and wellness," says Brooks. "Gummy candy delivery systems for nutritional products are not just for kids anymore. Gum Technology has many requests to create a gelatin substitute for use in vegan marshmallow and gummy candy confections. A blend of gum arabic and iota carrageenan can provide the aeration, structure and texture of the replaced gelatin in marshmallow. In gummy candy, blends of agar, carrageenan and locust bean gum can be substituted at a much lower concentration than gelatin."

Healthy additions
Research shows almonds are the No. 1 ingredient nut in new chocolate confectionery products around the globe, according to Mintel's Global New Products Database. Launches of almond-containing confectionery products have increased almost 50 percent since 2006. This is a major advantage for multinational confectionery manufacturers seeking to grow through geographic expansion of product lines.

"Fundamentally, chocolate is based around fulfilling the need for sweetness and indulgence, and almonds are the perfect way to add even more value to such a rich, experiential category," says Harbinder Maan, manager of North America ingredient and category marketing for the Almond Board of California (www.almondboard.com), Modesto, Calif. "Think real satisfaction, new flavor dimensions, and delightful crunchy texture."

When it comes to demand, almonds and chocolate are both rising stars. It's been reported that the global retail sales of chocolate confectionery increased 20 percent from 2003 to 2008, according to Euromonitor. During the same time, global almond shipments increased 28.3 percent. And even with such extraordinary current demand, 99.8 percent of North American target audience consumers still said they wished they could find more almond product options, according to a Sterling-Rice Group study.

"Just as consumer demand for almonds is on the rise, so is the craving for more premium chocolate pleasures," says Maan. "This means there is a giant growth opportunity when almonds are added to the mix. While almonds fit well in the world of premium chocolate due to their high-end image, they are also ideal in mass-produced CPG [consumer packaged goods] candy products."

Many almond products are ideal for the confectionery industry. "Almonds can be processed into more forms that almost any other nut, a versatile value that has been greatly appreciated by the confectionery industry," explains Maan. "For small molded or bar products, many confectioners purchase large sizes of almond kernels and then cut the almonds into pieces to be embedded in the chocolate. As ‘versatility' of almond forms also refers to different sizes of whole kernels, some small sizes of whole kernels or varieties with a short, plump shape may be directly used in small molded or bar products without further cutting (thus improving the confectionery process by eliminating a step)," she adds.

"In addition to bringing a premium image to confectionary products, almonds deliver on distinctive taste, antioxidants and crunch that perfectly balance the smooth, creamy nature of chocolate," says Maan. "In fact, the synergy of antioxidants in both almonds and chocolate is ideal for the ‘guiltless indulgence' consumers crave."

The naturally occurring antioxidants in almonds can increase the flavonoid content of chocolate by 50 percent when the two are combined in confection products, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

"Almonds are a good source of dietary fiber (3.5g) and provide protein (6g), a combination that can help consumers feel more satiated," says Maan. One serving of almonds (28g) has 13g of unsaturated fat and only 1g of saturated fat. Clinical studies conducted over the past 13 years found consuming a handful of almonds a day as part of a diet low in saturated fat helps maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels and an overall healthy heart.

Hughson Nut markets a novel ingredient based on almonds. "Almond Bran is ground almond skin that is removed during the almond blanching process," says Miltner. "Because many healthful benefits of the almond are from substances found in its outer skin, Almond Bran is a concentration of these healthful benefits -- without the calories of fat.

"Almond Bran incorporated into snack bars, pastries, candies and inclusions for ice creams functions as an agent for nutrition, color, flavor and binding," he explains. Marketed under the Nut-trition label, it's suitable for inclusion in ice creams, candies, cereals, bakery items and any other food product in which nuts are used.

Almond Bran is a rich source of almond sterols and essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and a natural source of powerful antioxidants that are both bioactive and bioavailable. "Total antioxidant capacity of Almond Bran is more than 13 times greater than that of almonds alone, and it contains less than half the fat and nearly four times the dietary fiber," says Miltner. The ingredient adds insoluble fiber, natural color and a mild nutty flavor to many food products.

Another healthy option is the addition of fruits. "Using fruits, such as blueberries, to build up the healthy halo of confections provides exciting possibilities," says Tom Payne, industry specialist for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (www.blueberry.org) San Mateo, Calif.

"On the USDA website, candy is identified as one of the foods with the most of added sugars in American diets," says Payne. "But it doesn't have to be that way. "The combination of ingredient pairings -- chocolate and blueberries, blueberry with green tea, blueberry and flax, or blueberry and oatmeal -- provide interesting opportunities to push confections into the healthy snacking arena, positioning them in a whole new direction and not just simply a dessert ‘extra,' " says Payne.

Processors can use blueberries to improve confectionery products, since they are jam packed with health benefits, virtually fat-free, a good source of fiber and vitamin C, contain vitamin A, potassium and folate, are very low in sodium and contain just 80 calories per cup. Plus, there is mounting scientific evidence that blueberries are powerful little disease fighters.

"Blueberries can be used to create real fruit-filled jellies, and crushed berries can be easily incorporated into luscious fillings, and there is also the opportunity to take advantage of real fruit-piece identity in confectionery products," he says.

"There are many innovative blueberry formats today that have expanded the horizons of what is possible," says Payne. "For example, dried blueberries are available as 100 percent fruit, and there are blueberry powders, fibers, concentrates and purees. The development of real fruit formats that work in a range of confectionery products along with good availability make it a superb time to incorporate more real fruit into confections. One-fourth cup of dried fruit equals a fruit serving, so a manufacturer can combine dried blueberries with whole grains to provide healthy goodness and satisfy a sweet tooth."

Consumers equate blueberries with antioxidants and readily accept them as an ingredient in products. Payne says consumer research finds they are willing to pay more for products that contain real blueberries over imitation blue bits.

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