By Bernie Pacyniak
Editor-in-Chief
Candy Industry
pacyniakb@bnpmedia.com

getting fresh: Melamine scare heightens importance of transparency

The first time I ever heard of melamine came a couple of years ago, back in April 2006 when reports surfaced about pet food manufactured in China being tainted with the industrial chemical. In order to trim costs, unscrupulous food manufacturers artificially boosted the protein content in the pet foods by introducing melamine. That trick, of course, backfired when pets became sick and, in some cases, died.

Now, I don’t have any pets (unless you count a stuffed toy German shepherd by the name of Alpo that’s positioned by the front door to scare kids during Halloween), but I draw the line at poisoning them.

If that wasn’t horrific enough, the most recent scare, which involves Chinese manufacturers introducing melamine into milk and milk products, borders on the unbelievable.

Melamine-tainted milk sold in China has killed four infants and sickened 54,000 children in China. But the horror didn’t stop there. Investigators discovered that certain processed foods, including confections, had been tainted with melamine-tainted milk powders. 

The harm from ingesting melamine is related to weight and cumulative intake. It can create kidney stones and, in some severe cases, lead to kidney failure. Infants and young children are most prone to its toxic effects.

The first indications regarding melamine-contaminated confections came from Singapore, with the city’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) reporting that samples of White Rabbit-brand Creamy Candy contained the industrial chemical. Within short order, White Rabbit confections were being taken off shelves throughout Asia, Australia, Britain and the United States.

Unbeknownst to me, White Rabbit candies have been a staple in China since their introduction in 1959 on the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. They gained superstar status when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai gave them as a gift to President Nixon during his historic visit as a sign of friendship.

Today, the candy is distributed in 50 countries, with export sales accounting for $160 million for Shanghai-based manufacturer Guan Sheng Yuan Co. This sticky vanilla-flavored taffy candy comes wrapped in edible rice paper and has been a staple of Chinese homes and traditions for nearly 50 years.

The melamine scare, however, wasn’t just confined to White Rabbit candies. In response to reports claiming that melamine was found in Cadbury chocolate, the UK-based confectionery giant, as a precautionary step, recalled all of its chocolate products and Choclairs that were manufactured in Beijing.  

Attuned to the global implications of the scandal, The Hershey Co. issued a statement saying that it has never purchased milk ingredients, including powdered milk, from China. As Cadbury’s sole U.S. distributor, Hershey said that all U.S. Cadbury products are safe to consume.

Following reports in Hong Kong claiming that traces of melamine were found in a Nestlé milk product, Nestlé quickly announced that none of its products in China are made from milk containing melamine.  Mars, including Mars China, also issued a statement about the melamine scare, assuring its consumers that none of its products are contaminated with the chemical melamine.

So how does the melamine scare relate to organic, all natural or functional confections? I believe it reinforces consumers’ penchant to read labels even more carefully.  I recognize that there’s no guarantee that an organic or all-natural confection won’t be contaminated, say, as a result of poor manufacturing practices. Nevertheless, I submit that there’s a greater comfort level with such an ingredient statement than with those carrying polysyllabic artificial ingredients.

More importantly, the FDA recently introduced country of origin requirements for a variety of unprocessed food items, including certain nuts. I predict that will eventually apply to all foods, which will further influence consumer purchases.

Consumers are and will be demanding more transparency from food manufacturers. Those who maintain such a corporate culture while producing confections with the “cleanest” nutritional labels will have the most to gain.

For more information about the melamine scare, see Candy Industry's upcoming October issue.

OTA appoints new executive director

The Organic Trade Association (OTA), Greenfield, Mass., has appointed a new executive director: Christine Bushway. Bushway is the third executive director in the association's 23-year history, according to a Sept. 22 release.

"OTA is very fortunate to have Christine Bushway as its new executive director,” said Julia Sabin, president of OTA's Board of Directors, in the release. “Her passion for this opportunity, combined with her outstanding leadership skills, association experience and great energy will help the OTA move to the next level.

“With recent strengthening of OTA's organizational infrastructure and policy success with passage of the organic provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill, the association is well positioned to continue on a growth trajectory, and Christine is the right leader for OTA at this time,” Sabin said.

The OTA is a membership-based business association for the organic industry in North America whose mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade, to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy. For more information, visit www.ota.com.

Hershey helps raise awareness

For the fourth year, The Hershey Company will help raise awareness in October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To do so, the company will feature pink packaging on its Hershey’s Kisses Brand Milk Chocolates, Hershey’s Nuggets Chocolates, Hershey’s Syrup, York Peppermint Patties and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures. The limited-edition products will be available September through October.

Additionally, the company will sponsor a four-day, 220-mile bike ride for charity from Hershey, Pa., to New York City Oct. 3-Oct. 6. A virtual online charity ride also is available in order to get everyone involved and to support the international non-profit Young Survival Coalition (YSC).

This year, Hershey will donate $300,000 to the YSC to raise awareness for breast cancer and help fund critical programming and research.

For more information, visit www.hersheys.com or www.youngsurvival.org.

Parker Products unveils organic line

Organic and fair-trade candy manufacturer Parker Products has launched its Organic Confections line of barks in new packaging, which will be available on the company’s Web site in February 2009. Made from entirely organic ingredients, the barks come in 100-calorie bars and gift jars, in the following varieties: Pomegranate and Orange Cream, Hazelnut and Chai Cream, Banana Pudding, Pink Peppermint, Sweet and Salty, Coffee and Cream, Raspberry and Cream, and Milk and Cookies. Each bar and bark contains organic inclusions, which give the treats a crunchy texture. For more information, visit www.OrganicConfections.net.

Ferrero Co. fights child hunger in U.S.

One of the world’s largest confectionery companies, The Ferrero Company, has partnered with Share Our Strength for the second year in a row to fight childhood hunger in America. As part of the partnership, Ferrero will donate $150,000 to the organization as well as generate a consumer awareness campaign. Packages of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Rondnoir dark chocolates, Collection assorted confections and in-store displays will feature the partnership.

In addition, Ferrero will make a $1 donation for each message sent on www.sharesomethingsweet.com up to $10,000. The company also will donate $1 for every new member on Ferrero’s fan page on www.facebook.com up to $1,000.

“Ferrero is honored to continue its partnership with Share Our Strength and is committed to helping eradicate childhood hunger in our own backyard,” says Don Stohrer, category manager, Ferrero USA. “Through multidimensional, broad-ranging interactive initiatives, we aim to generate even greater awareness of this significant issue and encourage consumers to join us in sharing the sweetest gift of all: helping those in need.”

“Ferrero’s Share Something Sweet campaign is helping to raise awareness of the critical problem of childhood hunger in the United States while raising funds to solve it,” says Bill Shore, co-founder, Share Our Strength. “We are pleased to continue to work with such a committed partner in the fight against childhood hunger.”

For more information, visit www.ferrerousa.com or www.strength.org

sweet of the week: Live Bright brain health bars

In an effort to enhance brain health, Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. has introduced Live Bright brain health bars, containing 100 mg of DHA Omega-3. What better way to keep one’s brain healthy than by eating chocolate? Double Chocolate and Dark Chocolate Vanilla flavors offer consumers the option of consuming Omega-3 in snack bar form. DHA is a vegetarian source of Omega-3 that does not carry the risk of mercury contamination. Combined with exercise, annual check-ups and a good night’s sleep, the DHA Omega-3 in Live Bright bars supports brain health in a tasty format. For more information, visit www.livebright.com.