The Germany based ingredients firm, which produces a number of sugar-free ingredients such as Isomalt, claims that while over 77 per cent of all Russians eat confectionery, more than 60 per cent have eaten sugar-free confectionery at least once. Russian consumer behaviour is therefore increasingly fitting with western European models. Recent figures from market analyst Mintel indicate that just over 34 per cent of UK consumers are now actively avoiding sugar, while in France and Germany, the figures are 40 per cent and 37 per cent respectively. With sugar-free gum already occupying 95 per cent of the Russian market, sugar-free looks set to consolidate its position as a mainstream confectionery category. Indeed, a recent study conducted for Palatinit indicates that younger consumers in particular are increasingly favouring 'sugar-free', and that most of them go back to sugar-free confectionery once they have tried it for the first time. "When consumer preferences are analysed according to age, it is clearly younger consumers, in particular in the age group 16 to 34, who prefer 'sugar-free', while older consumers tend towards sugared candy," said the company. "This indicates that the Russian market, too, will tend more strongly towards 'sugar-free' in the future." The study, carried out by IPSOS involved 1,012 telephone interviews across 13 Russian towns and cities with people aged 16 or over who eat confectionery. They were also asked about their general eating habits. More than half the respondents claimed to have a balanced diet. This included, in first place, eating lots of fruit and vegetables (64 per cent), followed by less fat (47 per cent), fewer convenience meals (42 per cent), less cholesterol (30 per cent) and less sugar (22 per cent). "When consumers are asked what the deciding factor is when buying a particular type of candy, 77 per cent rank taste first," said the company. "Next come price with 14 per cent and 'sugar-free' with 13 per cent. This highlights that a 'sugar-free' label is almost as important as price. "This is especially interesting as Russia in general is considered as a very price-sensitive market." Palatinit believes that such consumer research is necessary to identify future opportunities for its Isomalt ingredient. Isomalt, which contains half the calories of sugar and is claimed to have a low glycaemic effect. Because Isomalt is derived from pure sugar, Palatinit claims that it has a smooth sweetness profile similar to that of sugar but with more scope for flavour development. The company also claims that the ingredient has no after-taste. There is every indication that global growth in the sugar-free sector of the confectionery market will continue. Since 1998, the total global candy market has grown by an average of 0.4 per cent per year, and while sugared candy fell by an average of 0.1 per cent, the market for sugar-free candy has grown by an average of 3.5 per cent per annum over the past seven years. In Western Europe, average annual growth for sugar-free confectionery between 1998 and 2005 was 4.8 per cent. This trend is not just restricted to Europe and the US. China is seen by many as the upcoming market for sugar-free products, with a growth rate of sugar-free gum in 2005 of 146 per cent over the previous year.