By Deborah Cassell
Editor
Confection & Snack Retailing

getting fresh: Ain't nothin' like the real thing

At the Woman’s Club of Evanston in Evanston, Ill., I am known as The Flick Chick for my role in organizing a monthly “girls’ night out” at the local movie theater. There, I also am known as The Candy Girl, as I bring with me to every film (mostly chick flicks, hence my nickname) a bag bursting with free product samples, courtesy of my job as editor of Confection & Snack Retailing . (My apologies to concession channel buyers. Note: My friends and I still shell out the big bucks for popcorn and cola, and we never pretend to be students or senior citizens in an effort to get cheaper tickets, unlike other movie-goers.)

Last Friday, my fellow club members and I saw “The Women,” a remake of the 1939 movie (based on the play by Clare Booth Luce) starring Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, this time featuring a load of well-known leading ladies, including Annette Bening, Meg Ryan, Debra Messing, Candice Bergen, Eva Mendes, Bette Midler, Jada Pinkett Smith and Cloris Leachman (who, at 82 years old, now can be seen doing the mambo and the quickstep on “Dancing with the Stars”).

“The Women” was an entertaining take on the lives of four wealthy friends in the New York City area. But what’s this got to do with Sweet & Healthy? I’ll get to that in a sec.

In a climactic scene from “The Women,” Meg Ryan’s character finally confronts her husband, who has been cheating on her with the “spritzer girl” from the perfume counter at Saks Fifth Avenue. The argument can be heard throughout the house. As her husband takes off in his car, Ryan storms into the kitchen, where her housekeeper (the comically talented Leachman) and nanny pretend not to overhear what’s just happened. Ryan then starts scouring the cupboards for “junk food,” which cannot be found anywhere in her largely healthy household. She eventually makes do with a stick of butter, which she proceeds to dip in a canister of cocoa powder and then in a glass of milk before taking a big cocoa-buttery bite.

Resisting the urge to gag, I instead laughed out loud. The scene perfectly illustrated a (largely true) stereotype long associated with women. Not only do we love chocolate (especially dark chocolate) for its flavor (and healthful antioxidants), but we appreciate its emotional healing powers, as well. And, as with many things in life, although substitutes sometimes suffice, we’re always looking for the real thing.

Case in point: Last Friday, NBC’sToday show reported on The Hershey Company’s use of vegetable oil in certain products and the resulting fallout from some consumers, whom NBC says actually convinced the chocolate manufacturer to bring back the real thing in at least one popular line item:Almond Joy.

The report, which includes interviews with NPD Group’s Harry Balzer andCandy Blog creator Cybele May (who calls the new products “mockolate,” an oft-used term for mock/fake chocolate), discusses Hershey’s decision to discontinue real milk chocolate as an ingredient in brands such asWhatchamalcallit, Milk Duds, Mr. Goodbar, Krackel and Hershey’sKissables (the last of which now is labeled “chocolate candy” rather than “milk chocolate,” due to FDA regulations).

Reportedly, the changes have been made in light of rising commodity costs, which are affecting the food industry as a whole. Commodity costs also are said to blame for price hikes affecting consumers of confections. In an August press release from Hershey, for example, president and CEO David J. West says, “Market prices for ingredients such as cocoa, corn sweeteners, sugar and peanuts are up 20 to 45 percent since the beginning of the year. As such, in 2009 we expect our commodity cost increase to be more than double the 2008 increase.” But that’s a whole other subject.

Hershey’s use of vegetable oil formulations contrasts sharply with statements made by one of its main competitors, Mars Snackfood US, which at the 2007 All Candy Expo announced its support for the current definition of chocolate (vs. some industry efforts to change the standards of identity for chocolate to include products made with cocoa butter -- the naturally occurring vegetable fat found in cocoa beans -- substitutes such as vegetable oil) and pledged that it will continue to make “pure, authentic chocolate with 100% cocoa butter for all of its U.S. chocolate products,” according to a press release. In that same release, company president Todd Lachman adds, “Even though we could save millions of dollars, we simply won’t compromise the purity and authenticity of our chocolate by diluting it with a cocoa butter substitute.” Mars reaffirmed its pro-cocoa butter stance during a press conference at this year’s All Candy Expo.

The substitution of vegetable oil for cocoa butter in some of Hershey’s products is not something the company has kept secret, by any means. Its ingredient statements follow the letter of the law. However, both theToday show and May’sCandy Blogassert that the packaging of these newer products is none-too-subtle, calling little attention to the change.

I, for one, would like to believe that consumers are not stupid. Nowadays, food label reading is a must, and I often see shoppers at my local Jewel-Osco doing just that. That said, people who pick up certain products on a regular basis may not notice that the ingredients have changed when the package looks almost exactly the same … until they taste it. After all, tasting is believing … and disbelieving. While some may be disappointed by a change in chocolate flavor, others may like it even better. After all, half of theToday show’s taste-testers preferred Hershey’s chocolate-flavoredKissables (made with vegetable oil) to those made with real milk chocolate.

I have to admit that I, too, enjoy certain “chocolate-flavored” products, such as Oak Leaf Confections’Sixlets, but I certainly can taste the difference between these colorful candy-coated treats and, say,M&M’s, which are made with real milk chocolate and not “partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil.”

Although there is no doubt that some "chocolate" products will continue to “veg” out, like Meg Ryan, I’m always on the lookout for the real thing.

For more information on all things chocolate, check out “The Chocolate Report” in the November/December issue ofConfection & Snack Retailing, coming later this year.

Snacking still sticking around

Twenty-one percent of all meals are snacks. That’s according to Harry Balzer, vice president of market research firm NPD Group and author of “Eating Patterns in America.”

That said, according to the NPD report “Snacking in America 2008,” snacking numbers fell from 1996 to 2002, but are predicted to rise again, increasing by 14% by 2017.

Out of those eating snack foods, consumers ages 6-12 consume the most snacks, while snacking among adults ages 18-34 and 55 and up, and children ages 2-5 is declining. NPD forecasts that by 2017, children younger than nine and adults ages 30-39 and 50-59 will be the biggest groups of snack eaters.

The report also notes that most snacking still occurs during the evening, but that, too, is on the decline. Morning snacking now shows the strongest growth, as snacks replace more breakfast meals than any other meals throughout the day.

Of these snacking items, fruit is the number one food eaten between meals. Cookies, candy/gum, ice cream and chips are the other four top snacking items consumed between meals.

“Regardless of age, lifestyle or health, snacking, whether mindful or mindless, is a component of our daily eating patterns,” says Balzer. “Mom’s warning about spoiling our appetites with snacks is definitely going unheeded.”

For more information, visitwww.npd.com.

Dove Chocolates go pink

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and at least one chocolate manufacturer is already promoting the cause. Dove Chocolate, a Mars Snackfood US brand, has partnered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to let breast cancer survivors share their stores via the brand’sPromises of Hope, a line of pink-packaged chocolates. Each Dove Chocolate wrapper contains a special message written by a breast cancer survivor to provide inspiration to others. The messages include the survivor’s first name, city and state. DovePromises of Hopecome in milk and dark chocolate, and are available in lay-down bags at a suggested retail price of $3.69 per bag. Dove will donate 10% of all orders of thePromises of Hopechocolates to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Also in recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Mars is offering other limited-edition candies, including pinkM&M’s and aPromise BlendofMy M&M’s.M&M’sRacing is lending its support to theNASCAR track by featuring a limited-edition pain scheme onM&M’sNo. 18 Toyota -- driven by currentNASCAR points leader Kyle Busch -- showcasing pinkM&M’sand the Susan G. Komen for the Cure logo. The car will hit the track in the pink car during the Bank of America 500 race on Oct. 11 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.

For more information about Dove, visitwww.mydovechocolate.com, where consumers also can create their own personalPromises of Hope. For more information about Mars orM&M’s, visitwww.mars.comorwww.m-ms.com. For more information about Susan G. Komen for the cure, visitwww.komen.org. For more information about National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visitwww.nbcam.org.  

Campbell joins Chocolate Council

Niel Campbell, president of Seattle Choc. Co., Seattle, Wash., has been named to the National Confectioners Association’s (NCA) Chocolate Council.

The Chocolate Council’s mission is to serve as the voice of the American chocolate industry and through research, education and information, work to ensure a continued supply of cocoa and consumption of high value and quality chocolate products for consumers. The council also provides direction to the NCA on matters involving the global cocoa supply chain.

Earlier this year, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association merged with the National Confectioners Association, which then created the Chocolate Council. Campbell will serve on the very first Chocolate Council, which will convene for the first time in September.

For more information about Seattle Chocolate, visitwww.seattlechocolates.com. For more information about the National Confectioners Association, visitwww.candyusa.com.

Emerald unveils 100-calorie packs

San Francisco-based Diamond Foods, Inc. has introduced 100-calorie serving packs of itsEmerald brand snack nuts, which will be available in January 2009. The portion-control snacks will come in four varieties: Cocoa Roast Almonds, Natural Walnuts & Almonds, Natural Almonds and Dry Roasted Almonds.

Cocoa Roast Almonds are low in sodium with a baked-on cocoa flavor. Natural Walnuts & Almonds contain Omega-3 fatty acids along with protein, iron and Vitamin E. Natural Almonds are sodium-free and contain Vitamin E, magnesium and fiber. Dry Roasted Almonds contain unsaturated fat, antioxidants, Vitamin E and calcium.

“Those looking to improve their eating habits without sacrificing taste will find unique combinations of nuts and flavors, such as Natural Walnuts & Almonds and Cocoa Roast Almonds, unavailable anywhere else,” says Andrew Burke, senior vice president of marketing for Diamond Foods. “Rather than snacking on empty calories, consumers will find that all of our 100-calorie packs are a source of iron and protein, free of trans fats and offer 100 calories of nutritious energy.”

Each 100-calorie pack contains about 0.6 oz. of nuts. The nuts are sold in boxes of seven at a suggested retail price of $3.69.

For more information, visitwww.diamondfoods.com.  

sweet of the week: Sorbee Crystal Light Candy

AsCandy Industry’s August issue sugar-free hard candy article states, sugar-free confections finally have the technology to taste like the real thing. But Sorbee International Ltd. goes beyond being just sugar-free -- their products are functional, too. During the fourth quarter of 2008, Sorbee’sCrystal Lightbrand (a registered trademark of Kraft Foods Holdings, Inc., used under license) will introduce two new products: Immunity, a pomegranate-flavored, sugar-free hard candy containing vitamins A, C and E, and Energy, a strawberry-flavored hard candy containing caffeine and B vitamins.

For more information about Sorbee products, visitwww.sorbee.com. To find out more about sugar-free hard candies, visitwww.candyindustry.comandwww.cs-retailing.com.