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Candymakers test appeal of ‘healthier’ sweets

Lemonhead has been cashing health craze late.

Lemonhead has been cashing in on the health craze of late.

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Updated: July 7, 2011 3:03PM

You don’t have to convince a kid to eat a piece of candy. But to help grownups justify indulging in a chocolate bar or a handful of jellybeans, candy companies are flaunting the health benefits of their products.

Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioner’s Association, says that though health benefits are not the direct reason for consumers to grab up the sweet stuff, it is an added incentive.

“Consumers buy candy for the taste,” Graham said. “But it factors in that consumers are more focused on their diets and are trying to be more healthful. I still think it’s more just added benefit.”

One of the best-known “healthy” treats is dark chocolate. “Dark chocolate was among the first to push ‘better for you’ positioning, promoting especially the antioxidant content,” Mintel International marketing analyst Marcie Mogelonsky said. But more recently, Mogelonsky says, fruit candies, like Lemonhead’s assorted flavors, have been getting in on the action and cashing in on the health craze.

“In general, the desire is to provide candy with no artificial colors or flavors,” Mogelonsky said. “Also of interest is candy with no corn syrup (pure cane sugar instead), and products with no additives or preservatives.”

At the Sweets and Snacks Expo last week in Chicago, many products crowed that they contained antioxidants. Pomegranate and other fruit flavors big on health benefits have become a popular addition to many candies. Darrell Lea, a confectionery company out of Australia, came to the expo flaunting their newest flavor of licorice: blueberry pomegranate. And chocolate manufacturers, while still marketing their dark chocolate for its health benefits, have also moved on to chocolate flavors infused with sea salt. Jeff Asher, owner of Asher’s chocolates, said that their new sea salt products and their sugar-free products are big sellers.

Market research suggests that while healthier candies are reaching a niche audience, that audience is growing. “There are groups such as baby boomers and young families that are more inclined to look for health benefits,” Chris Schmidt, U.S. research team analyst for Euro Monitor International, said.

Schmidt goes on to explain that price is a strong factor here. The average consumer will usually choose a less healthy product that is cheaper than pay a premium price for something marketed to be organic. But, Schmidt says, some confectionery health concerns are carrying over to the general public.

“If you’re looking at a package of Twizzlers and a package of Red Vines and they’re both the same price but the Twizzlers package says “low fat”, candy companies know that things like that can be a deciding factor for consumers,” Schmidt said.

However, not all of the hype is anything to get excited over. “The term ‘all natural’ is nebulous. You can still make products that are all natural that are quite bad for you,” Schmidt said. “All the health claims are not as impressive when you turn the package over and see that sugar and those types of things are the main ingredients.” Schmidt also says that because of the recent national health kick, advertisers are being slightly misleading. “Products that were mostly natural to begin with or had no fat to begin with are just now starting to say so on the labels,” Schmidt said.

While it’s clear that candy companies are trying hard to appeal to a more health conscious target audience, the irony is lost on no one. As Mogelonsky put it, “It’s funny because candy companies keep trying to make their products more functional, but if people are buying candy, they don’t want to be functional, they want to be indulgent.”

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