Special edition: Functional Confectionery

‘Being able to enjoy confectionery that has a health benefit, is still largely untapped’

By Nick Hewitt

- Last updated on GMT

Thew Arnott dark chocolate with raspberries. Photo: Thew Arnott.
Thew Arnott dark chocolate with raspberries. Photo: Thew Arnott.

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‘Concerns about processed sugar and the impending sugar tax means today’s consumers are looking for healthier and natural alternatives across all categories, including confectionery.

Developments in sugar-free ingredients means the lines between confectionery, traditionally seen as full of sugar, and products that can deliver a healthy, low calorie, ‘free from’ or functional component are now blurred. 

Sugar-free boiled sweets 

While indulgence is key in many sectors of the confectionery market, the functional category or at least being able to enjoy confectionery that also gives a health benefit, is still largely untapped. 

Today’s consumers are after ‘permissible treats’ – a little indulgence but without the guilt of sugar and fat, so the combination of a great sweet taste but without the calories or high sugar is essential. 

It is also a given that these products should not contain artificial flavors or colors (NAFNAC). Natural ingredients not only make labelling simpler and easier for the consumer to understand but make them feel that it is okay to indulge. 

Sugar-free chewing gum and sugar-free boiled sweets are good examples of growing product categories since they appeal to consumers who enjoy a treat, but without the guilt of sugar for both their health and teeth.

Both boiled sweets and chewing gum are ideal functional carriers too and the confectionery sector is seeing real growth here. 

Positioned as an integral part of oral hygiene, so already delivering a health message, sugar-free gum provides the ideal opportunity to deliver additional health benefits. These include nutraceutical gums to boost energy, gums to enhance immunity or gums used as a dietary supplement. 

Sugar-free, now extended to boiled sweets, means the increased development of lozenges to sooth sore throats or enhance well-being but without the sugar. 

Pastels and wine gums too are now being used in the pharmaceutical industry to supply added vitamins, minerals and fish oils. 

In the chocolate category, a bar with benefits really is possible; chocolate confectionery manufacturers have hooked on to well-documented studies of the health benefits of cocoa and in line with consumers’ desire to move away from processed sugar, growth in sales of dark chocolate are on the up. 

Rise in sales of dark chocolate

Euromonitor predicts a 3.5% rise in sales of dark chocolate by 2021 in comparison to a slower growth rate of 2.3% in regular chocolate. This is largely due to consumer need to indulge and a move towards premiumization but also fuelled by health concerns. 

The presence of flavonoids in dark chocolate and the ‘chocolate is good for you’ message means consumers now feel they can indulge in a permissible treat.   

This has provided the ideal opportunity for additional functional properties to be added to dark chocolate– fortified and organic or sweetened with fruit and nuts for example deliver even more health benefits. 

We are seeing demand from manufacturers for ingredients used in the production process that allow them to maintain flavors and texture profiles but give added health or nutritional benefits. 

Sugar and fat reduction using natural additives such as plant proteins - almond, Brazil nut, chia, or sunflower and wheatgerm for example, along with fibres and native starches is very much in demand. 

Consumers are looking for more transparent products, which are clean label, healthy, value for money and taste good. They no longer accept what they are given but are looking for added value, which satisfies several criteria. 

In confectionery, we see demand for confectionery for times gone by with old brands being relaunched but added value products such as hand-made chocolates have seen a significant increase in demand as a luxury item – all of which often need to have an added healthy twist too.’ 

Nick Hewitt, is technical manager for Confectionery Europe at Thew Arnott, suppliers of natural speciality ingredients to the food and confectionery industries.

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