People don’t just buy sugar-free candy because of health conditions anymore. Instead, it stems from a growing awareness and desire to maintain a healthy diet.

According to the NPD Group, sugar is neck-and-neck with calories as the top item consumers look for on nutrition labels, and as a result of increased efforts to avoid sugar, more and more sugar-free, unsweetened, or reduced-sugar products are being consumed.

And, says NPD, consumption mirrors concerns. Although all adult groups say they try to avoid sugar, the concern is highest in the 55+ age group, which also consumes more sugar-free, unsweetened, and reduced-sugar products than any other adult group. Meanwhile, children younger than 6 consume the most sugar-free, unsweetened, and reduced-sugar products among all age groups.

Today, sugar-free candy is becoming more mainstream.

“Over 90 percent of consumers who purchase sugar-free candy do so as part of a conscious drive towards a healthier lifestyle,” says Alex Levine, brand communications manager, Russell Stover. “Sugar-free candy is no longer niche, with one in five consumers purchasing sugar-free candy in the last 12 months.”

Although candy with sugar is still the norm, increased demand has driven manufacturers to provide sugar-free alternatives in their product ranges, he says. And with the technology involved in developing sugar-free candy evolving rapidly over the last few decades, manufacturers now have much more room to create and develop new candies that are on par, taste-wise, with sugar candy.

“Russell Stover was among the first major U.S. candy manufacturers to offer sugar-free variants of our consumers’ favorite candies,” says Levine “Responding early to what was at the time a niche consumer demand, has enabled Russell Stover to become the undisputed market leader in sugar-free candy with over 75 percent market share in the US.”

As far as what’s new, manufacturers are constantly coming up with new ways to appeal to consumers’ tastes.

Coming up, Wrigley is launching a handful of new flavors that put a new twist on beloved classics.5 Maze (a new and unique mint), Extra Berry Burst (a combination of raspberry and strawberry), andJuicy Fruit Starburst Watermelon all appeal to flavors that consumers know and love while mixing things up to provide a fresh spin.

They’re also tweaking packaging, offering mega packs of Extra Polar Ice and Spearmint gum, which hold more than twice as much as the standard 15-stick packs so consumers won’t run out as quickly.

But there are also concepts that try to tap into completely new areas of the market.

This year, ingredient supplier Beneo expanded its “Sweets Collection” to include a new range of product concepts for sugar-free and low-glycemic hard candies. It’s part of an effort to appeal to European consumers, who are looking for healthier confections with more adventurous flavor combinations.

To that end, Beneo introduced a series of concepts made with Isomalt, a sugar replacement made from beet sugar that boasts a mild, sugar-like sweetness. It’s both low-glycemic and tooth-friendly.

One of Beneo’s concepts, the Bitter Aperitif Candy, appeals to adult palates with its slightly bitter taste. The White Chocolate Hazelnut Candy, on the other hand, has a mild, velvety flavor that is ideal for those looking for a dessert-like alternative. The Rhubarb-Vanilla Candy offers a less common flavor for those feeling more adventurous, while the Mint Blue Burst Candy features a transparent shell and shiny blue liquid core for a little visual intrigue.

The sugar-free segment can also lend itself to functional treats.

Beneo showcased tooth-friendly concepts this year meant to help with oral health. They have concepts for gum and chocolate lentils that have successfully undergone scientific testing with plaque pH telemetry and are made with a low-glycemic carbohydrate, Palatinose, that replaces sucrose.

The banana-flavored gum can be produced using existing gum technology, and the chocolate lentils retain a similar mouthfeel and taste to conventional chocolates. It’s one avenue that manufacturers can explore while looking for nutritional and technical benefits without sacrificing taste.

And Beneo isn’t the only one looking to improve oral hygiene.

Developed at Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, BasicBites are a chocolate-flavored soft chew that supports healthy enamel and nourishes good bacteria on tooth surfaces to maintain a normal pH level in the mouth.

They’re designed to mimic saliva’s natural benefits by releasing a blend of nutrients that feed the good bacteria on tooth surfaces. Those bacteria then generate base, or alkali, which keeps teeth in a healthy pH zone. They also bathe the teeth in calcium to help maintain good tooth structure.

But regardless of the innovation, it’s the experience that matters.

“Consuming candy, and particularly chocolate, should always remain a moment of pleasure and indulgence,” says Levine. “Consumers know that candy is there to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, and sugar-free candy makes it easier for them to do just that as a lower calorie choice, and an easy way to watch their daily sugar intake.”