According to industry analysts Euromonitor, combined sales of the sugar-free confectionery category - which includes sugar-free gum, sugar-free confectionery and sugar-free chocolate - increased by 26 per cent between 2002 and 2004, taking an estimated £229 million in sales, with sugar-free gum alone accounting for £174 million.
But for the majority of UK food manufacturers, however, sugar-free confectionery continues to be lower down the list of priorities, accounting for just 4 per cent out of a UK confectionery market estimated to be worth £5.5 billion.
This comes in stark contrast to the UK's European counterparts - in Spain, for instance, sugar-free confectionery has an 18 per cent share of the total confectionery market, with Finland, Norway and Germany all showing similar statistics.
Christiana Benkouider, head of health and wellness research at Euromonitor, suggests that the majority of British consumers still fail to see the connection between sugar-free confectionery and its associated health benefits.
Furthermore, sales of sugar-free chocolate have been particularly slow, as consumers still consider it a so-called 'for-me' product, appealing predominantly only to consumers vying for an indulgent treat, and not the more health-conscious consumer.
A number of product innovations, particularly in the sugar-free mint category have, however, recently bolstered sales figures. Sales of Wrigley's Extra Mint brand have increased to £0.6 million since its launch last year and Cadbury continues to strengthen its collective sugar-free portfolio, rolling out sugar-free alternatives to traditional brand names such as Trebor.
Speaking to ConfectioneryNews.com, Jeremy Cunningham, senior Euromonitor analyst for the UK confectionery market, said that "up until recently there has not been a lot of manufacturer interest in sugar-free confectionery, with the notable exception of sugar-free mints."
"Sugar-free is not very much an issue for UK consumers, interest is low and taste and product image are much more important factors. UK consumers also have strong loyalty to long-standing brands, which may be sugarised or sugar-free," he added.
Euromonitor predicts that growth over the next five years will be an estimated 3.5 per cent - significantly slower than in the previous two years.