This comes even as the overall US chocolate and sugar confectionery markets are growing.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll of 1,883 adult Americans, conducted between 15-21 of January 2016, found 58% of people tried to limit sugar intake in the past 30 days.
But IRI data shows in the first half of the year (26 weeks ending 26 June 2017) dollar sales for sugar-free chocolate was down -1.93% and unit sales were down -5.9% compared to the same period last year.
The overall chocolate market was up +2.5% in value and +1.6% in volume over this time.
The top three companies in sugar-free chocolate – Russell Stover, Hershey and Whitman’s - all recorded sales declines for operations in this sub-segment.
Russell Stover’s sugar-free chocolate – the leading US brand in sugar-free chocolate by some distance – recorded a -3.35% decline in dollars sales and lost market share.
The Lindt-owned brand earlier this year introduced its first sugar-free chocolates sweetened with stevia extract. Its existing range uses sweeteners such as malitol and sucralose.
Top US sugar-free chocolate brands
[Source: IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm (@iriworldwide), H1 2017, Total U.S. Multi-Outlet w/ C-Store (Supermarkets, Drugstores, Mass Market Retailers, Gas/C-Stores, Military Commissaries and Select Club & Dollar Retail Chains)].
However, Lily Sweets experienced strong growth (+96% in dollar sales) for its sugar-free chocolate brand in H1, taking sales over the period to $2m.
Sugar-free chocolate’s share of the overall US chocolate dollar sales in H1 fell to just 0.86%.
Average prices for sugar free chocolate in H1 were static at $2.52 per unit, compared to $1.99 for the overall chocolate segment.
Non-chocolate sugar-free diet candy also experienced declines in the US.
Segment dollar sales declined -5.65 and unit sales dropped -9.74% for the 26 weeks ending 26 June 2017.
The overall non-chocolate segment increased dollar sales by +4.47% and +3.68% over the same period.
The leader US sugar free candy - Storck USA’s sugar-free Werther’s Original – posted flat dollar sales after raising prices, but volume sales for its brand were down -9%.
Number two brand in the segment, Wrigley’s sugar-free Lifesavers, also recorded a -7% decline in both volume and value sales.
Private label sugar-free candy registered the biggest drop, falling -15% in dollar sales and -16% in unit sales.
Sugar-free diet candy lost share in the non-chocolate market to make up just 1.24% of dollar sales.