The Mannheim, Germany-based company supplies a low-calorie sugar replacer called Isomalt to sugar-free confectionery market. It is drawing on data supplied by ACNeilsen and Euromonitor as evidence that this area is ripe for serious development. Head of marketing Claudia Meissner told FoodNavigator.com that although sugar-free confectionery has seen ups and downs on a year-by-year basis, the data "show sugar-free will be the winning horse". She says accumulated findings from the market research firms show industry at large that sugar-free is emerging from the niche where it was cosseted ten years ago. Then, the main market for sugar-free confectionery was made up of diabetics and calorie-counters. Now, in the light of healthier eating trends, consumers are seen to actually prefer sugar-free products - as long as the taste remains unaffected. For instance, in Italy sugar-free products were seen to grow by some 41 per cent between 2001 and 2006, thereby significantly contributing to total market growth. In France, the sugar-free category is said to have had a 40 per cent share of the market overall last year, contributing eight per cent to overall confectionery growth. In Germany, sugar confectionery experienced a seven per cent loss, Palatinit has observed - but sugar-free sweets more than made up for it with 31 point growth. Meissner confirmed that Palatinit has seen a corresponding growth in sales of its sugar replacer - although precise sales figures are not broken out from that of its parent company Sudzucker. Isomalt is claimed to be the "most used" sugar replacer for sugarfree hard-boiled sweets, featured in around 1800 products worldwide. The focus of Palatinit's activity is on the European market, which are generally more advanced and where trends develop more swiftly. However it is also seeing progress in smaller and emerging markets, such as Russia. The firm has been present in Russia for a number of years, but a market such as this needs year rather than months to attain its potential, she said. Other Eastern European countries have also shown promise. According to the data, the Polish sugar-free segment is still "fledgling", but a 15 per cent increase last year is taken as a sign of clear potential. In South America, Meissner said Palatinit has been active in Brazil and Argentina for a while, and some interesting product development has been seen there. However it cannot expect growth on a par with Europe since the market is affected by economic and political situations that are not so stable. Palatinit's global presence includes subsidiaries in the US and Singapore. It has sales agents in some 45 countries. In addition to Isomalt, Palatinit also offers food companies a new sugar called Palatinose, "characterised by long-lasting energy supply". This ingredient is targeted primarily at sports and wellness foods and beverages.