The sweetener xylitol could be found in newly released gums from companies large (as was the case with Ice Breakers from The Hershey Company) and small

(an example being Fruit XyliChew from Tundra Trading).

The sweetener xylitol could be found in newly released gums from companies large (as was the case with Ice Breakers from The Hershey Company) and small

(an example being Fruit XyliChew from Tundra Trading).

According to “Snacking Trends: A World of Opportunity” from the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, Americans snack nearly as often as they eat regular meals, and nearly 90% of U.S. consumers have a snack every day. Canadians are likewise embracing snacks. Based on the results of “2006 Eating Patterns in Canada,” 23% of all Canadian meals are snacks, and 55% of the 30,000 people surveyed said they frequently check nutrition information labels to make healthier snack choices.

Making it easier for consumers to get the nutrition they need in the format they prefer is a goal for many manufacturers. To encourage younger people to make healthier food choices, the U.S. business of Mars Inc. forged a partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to offer healthier snack choices for sale in U.S. schools. The Alliance and such industry leaders as Mars agreed to support specific guidelines for competitive foods. As such, Mars will introduce a new line of snacks with the specific purpose of meeting the guidelines for calories, sugar, fat, saturated fat and nutrients for children in elementary and secondary schools. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, “The Alliance’s nutritional guidelines reflect a number of the recommendations contained in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which … recommend that people consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages within and among the basic food groups while choosing foods that limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt and alcohol.”

One key way companies have discovered to communicate healthfulness has been the incorporation of vegetables and/or fruits in their snacks. Frito-Lay will be the latest to take this route when it debuts its Flat Earth line early this year. This range of snacks boasts half a serving of fruits or vegetables per ounce (about 11 chips). The products are made with real fruits and veggies, as well as from rice and potatoes. The crisps, to be sold in 6oz bags, are similar in fat and calorie content to other baked goods in the company’s portfolio. Each 28g serving of Flat Earth has less than 5g of fat and about 130 calories: a 31.8g bag of Baked Ruffles Cheddar & Sour Cream has 4g of fat and 140 calories. By way of comparison, Classic Lay’s Potato Chips have 230 calories and 15g of fat in a 42.5g bag.

The unit’s first new homegrown brand in over a decade, Flat Earth’s flavor combinations include garlic and herb, tomato ranch and peach mango. "More than half of us are struggling to get enough fruits and vegetables into our diets," explained Al Carey, the snack division's president and chief executive. "Fruit and vegetable chips are the next frontier."

Growing Veggies

According to Mintel, the U.S. saw 45 veggie snack launches in the past year, possibly heralding a successor to the wholegrain trend of recent years. Kraft launched Roasted Vegetable Ritz Crackers in June. Robert’s American Gourmet offered Veggie Booty, puffed rice and corn with spinach and kale, and promised Vegetable Sticks are coming soon. Terra Chips, which has been developing veggie chips since 1990, launched Sweets & Beets Chips, made from beets and sweet potatoes. The trend has not been limited to people either. Splintek launched Pegetables in May; these dog treats are made to look like actual vegetables using carrots, corn and celery.

Health can mean different things to different people, however. The Life and Special K brands from Quaker Oats and Kellogg, respectively, are cereals already positioned for health. Now the companies are each adding an element of indulgence to their product.

Quaker Oats is adding chocolate and launching Life Chocolate Oat Crunch, billed as “a chocolate cereal for adults that’s healthy, too,” boasting 3g of fiber, 10 essential vitamins and minerals and 1g of oat soluble fiber. The Special K with chocolate takes a bit of a different route, one that puts it squarely in snack territory. Special K Chocolatey Delight is designed to be an evening snack option that will help consumers meet weight management goals. The lightly roasted rice cereal flakes with chocolate pieces contain 160 calories per serving when eaten with a half-cup of fat-free milk.

Chocolate continued to get sweet press coverage over the course of the year, with dark chocolate a particular beneficiary. ACNielsen reports sales of dark chocolate have risen 42% over the last five years. Fueling these numbers is the fact that the trend has gone mainstream, with dark versions of Hershey’s Kisses, M&Ms, Raisinettes, Snickers, Kit Kats and pretzels. Even breath mints went to the dark side, as Wrigley dipped Altoids in dark chocolate. Altoids Dark Chocolate Dipped Mints were available in peppermint, cinnamon and ginger flavors, the first Altoids brand extension since Wrigley took over the 223-year-old mints from Kraft in 2005.

"It seemed like the most natural opportunity to take the current product," explained Rory Finlay, vice president and managing director of Wrigley’s new confectionary business. "When you look to create the perfect flavor balance of mint and chocolate, dark chocolate is the perfect place to start."

Darkening Skies

As Tinka Gordon, vice president of marketing for the Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., notes, "The nation's chocolate palate is growing more sophisticated, and people are beginning to crave a more intense-tasting chocolate experience.” However, the healthful benefits cannot be overlooked, especially considering the research:

n A University of California-Davis study found a direct relationship among certain flavanols in cocoa, their absorption and effect on cardiovascular function, including blood pressure and anti-clotting effects.

n Pennsylvania State University researchers compared low-flavonoid and high-chocolate diets, finding that consumers who ate chocolate had higher antioxidant levels in their blood and less “bad” LDL cholesterol.

n A Johns Hopkins University effort found chocolate thins the blood and protects the heart in the same way as aspirin, the key being flavanol, which slows platelet clumping that can block blood vessels. The benefits required at least a couple of tablespoons of dark chocolate per day and admittedly were not as effective as a single baby aspirin.

To augment the healthful attributes, some companies sought to fortify their chocolate candy offerings. Under the Botticelli brand, Dynamic Confections featured a heart-healthy “Cardio” bar with 400mg of omega-3s at June’s All Candy Expo.

Possibly as a result of all the attention chocolate has received, some consumers are getting quite selective when it comes to the cocoa content in their dark chocolate. “Special,” “extra dark” and “intense dark” chocolates can be found with cocoa contents of 62% to 90%, a far cry from the days when dark chocolate’s cocoa levels hovered in the 50% range. According to Leatherhead International, sales of dark chocolate comprise 19% of the global chocolate market.

Just in case consumers are a bit unclear about the content levels, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA) released a guide to cacao content labels. The CMA guide defines cacao percentages as “the total percentage of ingredients (by weight) which come from the cacao bean.” The ingredients can include chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Furthermore, the guide makes it clear that a higher cacao level does not necessarily mean a greater number of flavanols. “While these compounds are associated with the non-fat cocoa solids, actual levels of flavanol content may fluctuate widely depending upon recipe, cocoa bean selection, subsequent processing practices and storage and handling conditions,” the document notes. “Therefore, ‘% cacao’ may not necessarily indicate the flavanol content of chocolates.”

Creating Life

RD Foods attempted to expand the healthful perception beyond dark chocolate with Right Directions Chocolate Chip Cookies. According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, the cookies lowered cholesterol, improved lipid subfraction profile and reduced the risk of heart disease. Eating two of the cookies a day resulted in a 10% reduction in LDL cholesterol, as well as shifted LDL particles toward a “less atherogenic pattern.” The cookies were made with a combination of psyllium and plant sterols.

One healthful snack was aimed specifically at children this year, as Abbott Labs launched NutriPals, a line of balanced nutrition bars and drinks tailored to appeal to children’s palates. The line’s bars boasted roughly twice the protein and fiber of other bars for children, and the NutriPals drinks had 44% less sugar per ounce than similar yogurt drinks.

While not targeting children and not actually released to the market yet, research at the University of Arkansas holds promise for beneficial snacks. Researchers used a soy oil rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) to prepare CLA-rich potato chips. The oil was produced by “simple isomerization of linoleic acid in soy oil by photo-irradiation. As a result, dietary CLA content was greatly increased with no significant elevation of fat intake.” A 1oz serving of the chips contained approximately 2.4g CLA, versus 0.1g in a 3oz steak fillet and 0.06g in an 8oz serving of whole milk. The researchers believe the study may lead to the commercialization of CLA-rich foods.

New launches in sweets tended to focus on reduced-sugar content, and vitamin/mineral fortification eased some concerns parents may feel about candy. Vitamin C-enhancement tended to be the most common positioning. Brach’s Confections’ Orchard Fruit Range included Gummies, Jelly Beans and Sour Jelly Beans, and all are enriched with vitamin C, as were Energizing Jelly Beans from Jelly Belly. While more functional ingredients have been seen elsewhere in the world, these have yet to make their way stateside.

Chewing gum products, meanwhile, focused a great deal on sugar content, with xylitol gaining particular favor as a sugar replacer. Oral hygiene benefits are poised to propel this segment in the U.S., as products such as Spray Dental Defense System Sugar-free Gum from Xlear incorporated the sweetener and promised “substantial benefits for oral hygiene.” Another product boasted vitamin enhancement as well, as FineMedi Co. Ltd. introduced Vitamin Gum, a vitamin C gum containing 20% xylitol. Elsewhere in the world, consumers saw minerals and ingredients such as guarana added for a further functional boost, and the trend will likely reach the U.S., as well.

Much of the information in this article was derived from the Mintel Global New Products Database,, 312-932-0400.

Going Global—Sweet

Cadbury Schweppes turned some of its attention to Asia, announcing a $20 million expansion to “tap into Asia’s growing liking for the sweet brown stuff,” as chocolate grows in popularity in China and has room to grow in Vietnam. Japan already has the sweet tooth for chocolate, a fact not escaping Nestlé. Its limited-edition Kit Kat Exotic Hokkaido featured white chocolate, cheese and blueberry flavors. Kit Kat Mini Uji Green Tea, meanwhile, was a limited-edition product featuring a green tea and soybean powder flavor.

In the U.K., pressure forced chocolate companies to offer extra nutrition information to consumers. As a result, Mars announced it will display the number of calories its chocolate bars contain on the front of the packaging, though the move will take three years to implement. Fat and sugar content will remain on the back.

Entering the U.K. chewing gum market in 2007 will be Cadbury Schweppes. Its Trident brand will face serious competition in the form of Wrigley, which holds more than 95% of the market share in the country. Cadbury made a couple of major sugar-free launches: Trident Sphere Sugar-free in a peppermint flavor in Spain and Hollywood Sphere Sugar-free in a “Menthe Polaire Polar Mint” flavor in France.

The coming year is likely to see a surge in healthy, natural and sugar-free ingredients among sweets. One ingredient manufacturer, for instance, is launching a range of fruit gums suitable for fortification with omega-3, minerals or antioxidants. Also, a U.K. machinery supplier has announced “products designed to incorporate the sugar alternative xylitol,” a range capable of producing hard candies suitable as sweets or functional products such as breath fresheners or lozenges.