As usual, this year’s Sweets and Snacks Expo was amazing and incredible and a sensory overload, and it also left me with a sugar hangover I’m still trying to kick.
But for a candy show, I have to say, there seemed to be a ton of focus on healthy eating.
The most notable news came from Mars, which announced its support for labeling “added sugars” on nutrition facts panels just days before the show started. And then followed that up by launching a new brand focused on healthier options, goodnessknows.
The brand includes three bars — Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate, Apple Almond & Peanut Dark Chocolate, and Peach & Cherry Almond Dark Chocolate — and as Mars relays, they are all, “crafted with the goodness of whole nuts, real fruits, toasted oats and dark chocolate, and [are] divided into four snackable squares per serving — all for 150 calories.”
The bars also have no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners. And the company was quick to point out that one individual, two-bite square contains about 40 calories — although I have yet to meet anyone who can have just one square of a chocolate bar, even if they are a health nut.
For its part, another major player in the industry, Hershey, was promoting a pledge it announced back in February to, “transition to simple and easy-to-understand ingredients.”
“We all want and deserve to know what’s in our food,” said John P. Bilbrey, president and ceo, The Hershey Co., back in February. “We will continue to make our great-tasting, high-quality iconic brands that people know and love. We also will share more information about what goes into our products in ways that are easy to understand and access.”
The company also launched Brookside dark chocolate fruit and nut bars at the Expo, which feature real fruit, whole roasted almonds and Brookside dark chocolate. They’re also an attempt to appeal to health-conscious consumers.
However, Jeff Beckman, Hershey spokesman, said at the show that Hershey is not in favor of the FDA proposal to include, “added sugars” on nutritional labels. He added, however, that the company obviously would comply if the new regulation was implemented.
Mid-size and smaller confectionery and snack companies were getting on the “healthy candy” bandwagon at the show as well. It seemed like everywhere you looked a manufacturer was promoting something, “Gluten-free,” “Non-GMO,” or “Sugar-free.”
There was Ferrara Candy Co’s, new RAP Protein Energy gummies, featuring whey protein isolate as the number one ingredient; Gourmet Nut’s High Energy Mix, “loaded with protein, nutrients, and great taste”; Gullon’s gluten-free cookies; and Laughing Giraffe’s Snakroons, “nutrient-rich and power packed,” that feature proteins and good fats.
There was also gluten-free licorice from both The Lovely Candy Co.’s and YumEarth; Old Wisconsin’s Fast Fuel Sticks and Bites, touting the protein in jerky; and Partner’s Cracker gluten-free Free for All Kitchen Brownie Thins.
And that’s just a small sample of all the companies I saw at the show making some sort of health claim on their products.
So what does all of this mean for an industry often demonized as purveyors of “junk food”?
Well, as a consumer, I think it’s amazing that so many companies are trying to create healthier products. But, as a consumer, I also know that nothing really beats a full-sugar Snicker’s bar when all I want is a full-sugar Snicker’s bar.
It’s kind of like how it’s nice to know in your brain that McDonald’s offers side salads as a swap for French fries, but it’s much harder to actually put that knowledge into action and order the side salad instead.
During a presentation about the goodnessknows launch, Mars reps talked about balancing taste, healthy attributes, and price — because if even one of those three is off, consumers won’t buy the so-called healthy product. Unfortunately, I think those are three extremely hard things to balance.
So, I remain skeptical of how many consumers will actually purchase healthier candy and snacks. Shoppers saying they want something, and shoppers actually spending the money to buy that something are two totally different things.
Although I have to admit, those goodnessknows bars are pretty delicious — especially the Apple Almond & Peanut Dark Chocolate one.