Formulation Trends in 2015: Sweets in Moderation

June 29, 2015
Portion control, a fusion of flavors, healthier profiles and millennial favorites dominate the candy and confection scene as the market catches onto 'watching its sweets.'

Called one of life's little pleasures, candy and confections have finally joined most of the other food categories dishing on the health and wellness buffet, as the 2015 Sweets & Snacks Expo in May can attest. The show underscored the increase in requests for lower-calorie, smaller sized (portion controlled) candy options. The theme this year stressed "candy in moderation," as part of a happy and healthy lifestyle.

That doesn't sound like much fun, though downsizing candy bars to "bites" and other individually portioned quantities is nothing new. But products from some of the traditional candy makers are not only smaller, which supports the moderation mentality, they include healthier options. This is being done to satisfy demand from consumers for taste, convenience and more choices.

Evidence includes Mars Chocolate North America's introduction at the show of a pre-portioned, lower-calorie "indulgence" called Goodness Knows Snack Squares. The dark chocolatey squares contain only 150 calories and 100mg of naturally occurring cocoa flavanols, which Mars says provides for the healthy circulation of nutrients and oxygen to the body.

Four of the squares come in a 1.20-oz. pack (the squares are actually a bar divided into four pieces), and five wrapped packs are sold in a carton. Each 1.20-oz. serving has 7g of total fat, 50mg of sodium and 11g of sugars, all of which are listed on the back of the carton. Goodness Knows has no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners, states Mars, which recently also endorsed an FDA proposal to list added sugar on labels. Mars also supports recommendations to limit added-sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of their total calories.

There are three varieties of Goodness Knows: Nutty Apple (apples, almonds, peanuts and dark chocolate), Very Cranberry (almonds and dark chocolate) and Peachy Cherry (peach, cherries, almonds and dark chocolate).

Available nationally beginning in August, after "exceptional" feedback from testing in Dallas, Seattle and Portland, the bite-sized squares are designed to be a healthier, thoughtful treat, made with fruit, roasted nuts and dark chocolate. "We are looking closely at consumer needs and wants, and know that confections aren't meant to be eaten every day or as a meal replacement," says Mary Myers, Mars' director of product development. "We're trying to offer more choices and more options in calories, flavors and product varieties."

Mars says it's committed long-term to providing products that play a role in the health and well-being of its consumers. "Shoppers purchase snacks and confections for a variety of reasons, and we're seeing an increase in requests for lower-caloric snack options," says Timothy LeBel, vice president of sales. "Our new Goodness Knows Snack Squares will fulfill consumers' appetite for a new snack that tastes indulgent at 150 calories per four-square serving."

Mars also unveiled several other, more indulgent treats, such as Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel milk chocolate bars; M&M's To-Go Bottles (reclosable, reusable containers holding 3.5 oz. of M&M's milk chocolate and peanut chocolate candies); Combos Baked Snacks Sweet & Salty chocolate fudge pretzels; and Starburst Orange Sorbet frozen novelty bars.

There were more than 70 new products unveiled at the May show in Chicago's McCormick Place, ranging from Hawaiian Punch fruit chews in a standup bag to Jelly Belly pancake and maple syrup jelly beans. Also Fudge O'Bits, delectable bite-sized pieces of rich chocolate fudge covered in a blend of chocolate, from Diamond K Sweets & More LLC, Spencer, Ind.

Chocolate is always popular in confections, but it is also beginning to surface with unusual pairings, such as Dr Pepper-filled chocolate truffles (from Mexico's GrupoTurin) and Tropical Fruit Bites from Hawaiian Host, Gardena, Calif. which have fruit centers of banana, coconut and pineapple, covered in milk or dark chocolate. Chocolate Bliss Crunchy Coconut Chips from Bare Snacks, Walnut, Calif., easily settle a sweet tooth, while remaining healthy, with 170 calories per serving and 8g. of sugar.

The other big trend in sweets isn't really sweet at all, but spicy. Many chocolates have a spicy hit of jalapeno, sriracha or chili pepper and some are merged with fruit flavors.

When it comes to nuts, in-shell pistachios are a favorite. Paramount Farms, Los Angeles, jumps on the spicy trend with Wonderful roasted pistachios in Salt & Pepper, Lightly Salted and Sweet Chili flavors. Easily recognized in its black and green 7-oz. bags, the pistachios are a zesty choice for anyone craving a salty snack or sweetness with an extra kick of red chili pepper.

Candy makers are also playing with breakfast flavors, such as maple, waffle and bacon, and comfort flavors that evoke childhood memories, such as s'mores, birthday cake and lemonade.

And speaking of cake, Project 7's new guilt-free, sugar-free Birthday Cake gum replicates the flavor of birthday cake in 12-count pouches. A Most Innovative New Product award winner at Sweets & Snacks, the gum and mint brand offers 11 specialty, "gourmet" gum flavors (Coconut Lime, Grapefruit Melon and Front Porch Lemonade are among the others ). San Clemente, Calif.-based Project 7 gets its name from partnering with nonprofit organizations to give back to seven areas of need.

In the non-chocolate candy categories, artificial fruit flavors this year are being replaced with real fruit, further exemplifying the healthier trend. For example, fruit snacks such as Welch's Fruit 'n Yogurt Snacks, have real fruit centers, covered in creamy yogurt and contain vitamins A, C, and D, and calcium. The flavors in these fruity items are becoming more of a fusion, with sophisticated profiles such as blood orange, savory pineapple, Meyer lemon and pineapple jalapeno, the ubiquitous coconut notwithstanding.

The role of millennials

"The big changes in snacks and candies are being pushed by millennials, who like to experiment with flavor combinations such as coconut and bacon, honey, cream and coffee and wasabi," said Larry Levin, IRI executive vice president, during his keynote address at the show. Levin explained that 49 percent of candy's growth was contributed by millennials. "They have a grazing mentality, are multicultural in nature and are experimental," he said.

Millennials might have had something to do with Tic Tac's launch of Tic Tac Minions by Ferrero USA Inc., Somerset, N.J. Winning the Best in Show award for new products, the limited-edition, yellow mints look like and are packaged to resemble the animated movie characters in the "Despicable Me" and the soon-to-debut "Minions" movies. The first licensed candies in Tic Tac's lineup, Minions feature the faces of different characters in the movies, courtesy of specialized printing technology.The tiny sweets flew onto shelves across the U.S. in May.

Tic Tac Mixers, which rolled out last month, capitalize on the fruity trend with flavor-changing technology that allows one mint to transition from one fruit flavor to the next: Peach to Lemonade and Cherry to Cola. The concept was based on consumer feedback from millennials, according to the company, and took nearly a year to create.

According to Levin, top confection brands are offering smaller portions to appeal to a culture of grazers and millennials who like smaller portions they can take with them on-the-go. Millennials check package labels for benefits such as organic, natural and non-genetically-modified (non-GMO), and tend to consult social media for more information on snacks and treats. But no matter the form or flavor, candy must be affordable, honest, authentic and transparent to win favor with consumers right now.

Vitamins co-opted gummy candies a few years back, and now at least one candy is reversing that role. New Jake Vitamincandy sugar-free hard mints in six flavors (including Peach, Tangerine, Green Tea Lime and Coconut Blueberry) are enriched with vitamins C, B, E and/or green tea extract. They're available from Packom LLC, Wayne, N.J., a family owned business that originally started marketing the candies in Europe and is bringing them here.

The triangular candies are made and packaged like vitamins, using pharmaceutical-grade ingredients and production equipment. Available individually sealed in push-through blister-packs, each tablet-shaped candy has 45 calories, and no fat, sodium or gluten. Described by CEO Nicholas Busuioc as a healthy alternative, Jake Vitamincandy isn't a supplement. "We’re a candy and a food; an impulse product, not a nutraceutical,” he says, explaining the product was developed to provide a healthier version of an item people already consume and incorporates vitamins to allow consumers to close a gap in nutrition.

Sponsored by the National Confectioners Assn. (NCA), the 18th annual Sweets & Snacks Expo was a busy event; there were more than 630 exhibitors, an early exhibitor sellout, an estimated 16,000 attendees and almost 100 international companies from more than 20 countries exhibiting. The NCA says this year's show marks its most successful in the event's 18-year history. Despite the drive for sweets in moderation, NCA president and CEO John Downs Jr. said the worldwide market for candy and snacks is growing briskly, and pegs the category at $428 billion.

The confectionery industry is stronger than ever, as consumers spent an average of $102 on confectionery products in 2013, according to projections from NCA and figures from Dept. of Commerce and Euromonitor International. Sales of sweets grew at a solid rate of 2.5 percent, which translates to about $33.6 billion in total sales. A major force behind sales are seasons, and chocolate represents nearly 60 percent of all confectionery sales in the U.S., says the NCA.

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