Obesity Issue Discussed At NCA Conference

By Mary Ellen Kuhn
With a record number of candy industry executives assembled in Orlando, Fla., last month for the National Confectioners Association's State-of-the-Industry Conference, NCA took the opportunity to focus on the national obesity crisis and how it will affect the candy category. Speaker presentations addressed opportunities and risks for manufacturers and retailers, approaches to public policy, and consumer behavior trends.
"We need common sense in the food court and not legal action in the courts."
— Rep. Ric Keller , R.-Fla.,
sponsor of proposed legislation to ban frivolous anti-obesity lawsuits
Russ Case, director of sales for Los Angeles-based candy maker Adams & Brooks, set the stage with an overview presentation that included an analysis of the current low-carb craze.
There's no disputing the scope of America's obesity problem, he pointed out. In 1971, 14.5 percent percent of Americans were obese (dangerously overweight), but by 2000, that total had climbed to 30.9 percent, Case reported.
The way consumers approach nutrition and dieting has evolved over the past four decades, Case explained. In the 1960s and 1970s, the focus was on reducing sugar consumption. In the 1980s, the emphasis was on reduced-calorie products, followed by low- and no-fat in the 1990s. Now carbohydrates have assumed the status of No. 1 nutritional no-no, thanks to popular diet regimens such as Atkins and South Beach.
Case outlined the following opportunities and risks associated with bringing low-carb candy products to market.

  • The market is large — two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese
  • Consumer interest is high. Ten million Americans already are committed to low-carb diets.
  • Retailers are moving to address the opportunity. 7-Eleven, the nation's largest convenience-store chain, stocks 50 SKUs in its new "Better Choices, Better Year" section.
  • Even one product that fails to meet consumers' taste expectations may scare them off from the category.
  • Carbohydrate labeling terminology confuses consumers. Among the many terms currently in use are low-carb, net carbs, zero carbs, sugar carbs, and impact carbs.
  • Consumers like the way that sugar and fat tastes, which means that convincing them to make long-term diet and lifestyle changes is always challenging.
Legislation explained
Rep. Ric Keller, R. -Fla., brought conference attendees up to date on his proposed legislation, "The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act." The bill, which was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this month, discourages frivolous lawsuits that attempt to make food companies liable for an individual's obesity or obesity-related illnesses. The American public supports such a stance, Keller said, citing a Gallup Poll, which found that nine out of 10 Americans are opposed to holding food companies responsible for our national obesity problems.
"We have got to get back to the old-fashioned values of common sense and personal responsibility," Keller emphasized. "We need common sense in the food court and not legal action in the courts."
Kids spend too much time watching television (1,023 hours annually on average) and too little time in physical activity, Keller said, calling for public schools to increase their commitment to physical education.
Conference speaker Michael Mudd cautioned that while the public currently is not laying the blame for the nation's expanding girth on food companies, that situation may change in the years ahead — and the industry needs to be prepared for that eventuality.
"I don't think it would be prudent to assume that public attitudes will be quite as benign as they are today," said Mudd, who is executive vice president, global corporate affairs, for Kraft Foods.
Added sugars in product formulations will come under close scrutiny, he predicted, noting that the World Health Organization is proposing a recommendation that added sugars account for no more than 10 percent of an individual's daily caloric intake.
Mudd said Kraft is moving to address the obesity issue in a variety of ways. The company already has announced plans to adjust pack sizes to reflect more moderate portions on some of its products. In addition, product formulations are being adjusted — not dramatically, but slightly wherever possible, to make them more healthful without compromising taste. Kraft also plans to introduce more easily recloseable packaging in order to allow consumers to limit consumption.
Such approaches reflect Kraft's Nutrition Policy, which encourages consumers to make small dietary and lifestyle changes to improve their health. The policy further recommends balanced portions and an active lifestyle.
By Mudd's calculation, four key factors will affect how consumers view food companies. They include the following:
  • The nutrition of its products;
  • Its marketing practices;
  • Consumer information;
  • Advocacy and Outreach programs.
Finally, Mudd pointed out that the current environment affords opportunities as well as challenges for food makers.
"We see a world of opportunity in all of this," said Mudd, noting that the category of wellness foods is showing eight to 10 percent annual growth — significantly higher than overall food category growth. Wellness foods can be subdivided into foods geared toward weight management, nutrient delivery and performance enhancement as well as natural and organic foods — and all represent areas of growth.

Service, Achievement Awards Presented
NCA presented two major awards at the conference.
Jim Myerson, vice chairman of Ben Myerson Candy Co., was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award.
NCA chairman from 1996 to 1998, Myerson also served on the Board of Trustees for several years. A strong supporter of the All Candy Expo, he was chairman during the first Expo in 1997.
Al Allured, publisher and editor-in-chief of MC – The Manufacturing Confectioner, received the Lifetime Achievement Award. A veteran of 54 years in the candy industry, Allured is widely known and respected for his dedication. n
Harmony Foods, Golden Stream Join Foces

General line candy manufacturer and marketer Harmony Foods has been acquired by Golden Stream Quality Foods, a 20-year player in the business of producing candies, snack and trail mixes, roasted nuts and dried fruits. Here Harmony Foods President and CEO Jim Hanlon (left) and George Pappas, CEO of Golden Stream Quality Foods, shake hands in celebration of their new cooperative venture. Golden Stream will continue to manufacture products in both its Fishers, Ind., facility as well as in the Harmony Foods plant in Santa Cruz, Calif.
New Stops on the Information Highway

Madelaine Chocolate Novelties, Rockaway Beach, N.Y., has re-designed its Web site to provide detailed information for retailers, brokers, distributors, and consumers. The Web site features Madelaine's complete line of everyday, holiday and special occasion foil-wrapped molded chocolates, as well as a host of new offerings. It can be found at www.madelainechocolates.com.
Ford Gum, a leading U.S. manufacturer of retail candy and gift products, private-label gum and mints, and bulk vending confectionery and toys, with offices in Akron, N.Y., and Lincolnshire, Ill., has a new Web site. Check it out at www.fordgum.com.