By Deborah Cassell
Editor
Confection & Snack Retailing

getting fresh: A sugar-free future?

Not a week goes by that I don’t see a segment on NBC’s “Today” show (watching Matt Lauer and friends is a part of my weekday morning ritual) about childhood obesity. The subject is about as prevalent in the media as updates on Britney Spears’ mental state and criticism of the Bush administration.

Having worked in the food industry for the past 2 ½ years, I’ve been bombarded by press release after e-blast after product promotion citing childhood obesity as a growing epidemic, hence the introduction of so many low-fat and sugar-free confections and snacks.

Traditionally, these products have not been as tasty as their sugary counterparts. But the times, they are a-changin’. New sugar-free innovations offer much better flavor than they used to, as reported in the July/August issue of Confection & Snack Retailing. (Read “A Spoonful of Sugar-Free” at www.cs-retailing.com.)

New sweetener alternatives such as Splenda are partly to credit for tastier sugar-free profiles. So is the public. With more parents clamoring for healthful treats for their youngsters, an increasing number of manufacturers are taking advantage of the basic supply-and-demand side of consumer economics, thus creating more and better products in this growing category. Not only are the results good for consumers, but they’re good for the industry, too. In a time when candy sales are slipping due not just to the economy, but also to concerns over childhood obesity, sugar-free confections are a winning combination.

Just ask Armand Hammer, president and CEO of Innovative Candy Concepts. For years, Hammer’s company has made its products without the use of refined sugar, but just this past August, it went completely sugar-free. The new-and-improved Too Tarts line is made with real juice and some sucralose, Hammer noted in a recent interview, “and the taste is better than it’s ever been.” The flavor is even stronger now that the product is sugar-free, he added.

“Kids like it intense,” Hammer said.

Meanwhile, parents like it sugar-free … and for good reason. After all, one of the main reasons everyone is so concerned with childhood obesity is that it can lead to diabetes. According to Hammer (citing research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), one out of every three Caucasian kids and one out of every two African-American and Mexican children will have diabetes as adults.

The main causes of both childhood obesity and diabetes are a lack of exercise and poor diet. Hammer thinks candy manufacturers should do their part to improve the latter by offering retailers more healthful, sugar-free options for their customers. The result will be a win-win for consumers and confectioners alike. For one, parents can feel better about what they’re giving their kids. But Hammer also likens the success of the diet soda and sugar-free gum categories (once major manufacturers jumped on board) to how confectionery manufacturers could benefit from updating their product lineups to include sugar-free chocolate and candy.

“My feeling is that if the kids’ candy industry is going to rebound, other companies must take the steps that we have taken,” he says, “and if that helps contribute to the well-being of our young generation, it’s well worth it to have a lot of competition.”

Just ask retailers. Although Too Tarts has only been in stores for about six weeks, those who stock the line have had phenomenal feedback from shoppers, Hammer reports.

“They are so thrilled by the fact that they can sell a product to their customers that shows they care about their kids,” he says.

Now that she has visitation rights, here’s hoping Britney Spears treats her kids to some sugar-free confections. Unlike the Bush administration, this growing category will not leave a lackluster legacy.

For more information about Innovative Candy Concepts and its new sugar-free Too Tarts line, check out the September/October issue of Confection & Snack Retailing, available in October at www.cs-retailing.com.

Functional candy drives growth

A new report issued by San Jose, Calif.-based Global Industry Analysts -- which foresees product innovation as the driving force behind continued growth of confections throughout the world -- cites the emergence of exotic flavors, novel ingredients and organic/herbal fillings as one of the catalysts in spurring that growth.

And while children remain a critical demographic for confectioners, the study recognizes that an aging demographic will stimulate continued development in functional and premium products -- everything from energy-enhancing candies to wine truffles. The report also singles out sugar-free candies as growing in popularity as an aging consumer base increases demand for low-carb, diet and medicated treats. With obesity continuing to represent a serious health hazard among developed markets, sugarless and organic candies stand to realize significant market share gains during the coming years, the authors project.

For more information, visit www.strategyr.com.

Cargill hosts start-up seminar

Lititz, Pa.-based Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate will hold a three-day seminar in Lititz, Pa., Nov. 10-12, for aspiring confectioners and chocolatiers intent on starting their own businesses. The course will introduce the basics of successful start-ups and feature a hands-on confection-making session.

“We are excited about this new offering from Cargill,” says Courtney LeDrew, marketing specialist, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate. “We are melding practical business tools with confectionery making. Our goal is to enable new confectioners and chocolatiers to be more effective and successful in realizing their dreams.”

The first two days of the workshop will be held in a classroom setting, where participants will learn about site selection, determining product mix, selecting and purchasing equipment, branding and packaging the product, fundamentals of marketing, advertising and promotion, understanding legal rights and obligations as well as other practical subjects. The third day will focus on hands-on candy making, during which participants will be educated on the theory of chocolate tempering and make their own confections.

 The Chocolatier’s Workshop will be taught and facilitated by a mix of Cargill specialists and industry experts.The Chocolatier's Workshop is limited to qualified applicants and will only accommodate 12 participants. Please contact Becky Cox at 717-626-3246 or e-mail chocolate@cargill.com to sign up. For more information about Cargill, visit www.cargill.com.

Diamond Foods adds new nuts

Diamond Foods, Inc., the Stockton, Calif.-based food company that specializes in culinary nuts and snack products, has launched two new “natural energy” flavors to its Emerald snack line: Cocoa Roast Almonds and Sea Salt & Pepper Cashews. Cocoa Roast Almonds feature a unique combination of dry roasted almonds with a proprietary baked-in flavor of dark chocolate, thus eliminating the added calories and fat found in traditionally chocolate-dipped nuts. Sea Salt & Pepper Cashews capitalize on the rising   popularity of this flavor profile among snackers, while providing a nutritious serving of protein for a boost of energy.

One serving of either Emerald Cocoa Roast Almonds or Sea Salt & Pepper Cashews, which can be served by using the 1.5 oz portion-controlled lid of the ergonomic on-the-go canister, has the same number of calories as a handful of regular almonds and cashews, respectively. Cocoa Roast Almonds are low in sodium and are a great source of vitamin E and protein, while Sea Salt & Pepper Cashews are rich in iron, zinc, magnesium and fiber. Both are trans-fat free snack options. Emerald offers Cocoa Roast Almonds in 11-oz. on-the-go canisters and convenient 2.5-oz packets. Sea Salt & Pepper Cashews come in 10-oz. canisters and 2.0-oz packets.

"Consumers everywhere are looking for snack options that offer new and innovative flavors, without added guilt,” said Andrew Burke, vice president of marketing for Diamond Foods. “With Sea Salt & Pepper Cashews and Cocoa Roast Almonds, we have developed nutritious options that satisfy both a sweet tooth and savory cravings, without an increase in fat or calories."

The Emerald snack line, which has expanded from 14 to 26 products since its national introduction in August 2004, is distributed nationally in a variety of retail outlets and is also available online. For more information, visit www.diamondfoods.com or www.emeraldnuts.com.

HoneyStix offers all-natural alternative for Halloween

With Halloween fast approaching, the new product development team at GloryBee Foods, a family-owned natural foods company located in Eugene, Ore., sought to provide consumers with an all-natural, better-for-you alternative to the eventual onslaught of trick-or-treaters. Anxious to meet the ghoulish deadline, the company has just launched HoneyStix.

The organic, pure honey straws are enriched with a broad range of vitamins, essential minerals, amino acids and antioxidants, thus combining sweetness with nutrition. Each straw contains one teaspoon of honey. The HoneyStix are available in more than 20 different flavors and come packed five straws to a 0.9-oz. sleeve.

For more information, visit www.glorybeefoods.com.

sweet of the week: Gluten Free & Fabulous Brownie and Cookie Bites

What’s sweet, gluten-free and “fabulous?” Its name gives it away. Gluten Free & Fabulous has launched new packaging and sweet treats - Brownie Bites, Butterscotch Cookie Bites and Shortbread Cookie Bites - for consumers with Celiac Disease or anyone looking for gluten-free foods.

Gluten is a protein commonly found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. Millions of people around the world suffer from an intolerance to this protein. While there is no known cure for Celiac Disease, eating gluten-free foods is one way to treat it.

“We want all of our customers to enjoy the great taste of our foods without any of the worry,” says Shari Cole, vice president of marketing and co-founder of Gluten Free & Fabulous. “For that very reason, all of our foods were created to fit the dietary requirements of anyone suffering from gluten sensitivities, or for anyone that simply appreciates great tasting food.”

For more information, visit www.glutenfreefabulous.com.