General Mills attempted to capitalize on the Curves brand with chewy granola bars in chocolate peanut and strawberries + cream versions. The Curves-branded, weight-management line was part of a long-term partnership between the companies.

A spate of positive health news spurred consumer interest in chocolate--and the darker, the better, at least from a health perspective. New introductions opted to increase the healthy quotient even further--be it by incorporating some of dark chocolate’s benefits into milk chocolate or through attempts at “low-in” claims, notably sugar. Furthermore, while the category’s bread and butter would seem to be children, a number of introductions have positioned themselves for grownups.

For example, few children likely have expressed concern about fair trade issues, yet this has emerged as a strong point of differentiation for chocolate geared to adults. Chocolate was one of the first segments to concern itself with fair trade issues, and the trend has continued, with consumers more aware of the issues surrounding the welfare of workers responsible for the products they eat. The trend is by no means confined to the U.S.; Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) has found launches around the world, including such ingredients as cacao from a farming co-op in Kuapa Kokoo in West Africa and from plantations in Ecuador, Ghana or Cuba, as well as salt harvested in Brittany and Sicilian blood oranges.

Canada saw a couple of notable fair-trade chocolate introductions. Hot Chocolates introduced Fair Trade Bittersweet Chocolate with 62% cocoa, and Vintage Plantation launched a 65% Dark Chocolate Bar with Cocoa Nibs. The latter company offered a range of Rainforest Alliance Certified Chocolates, which were harvested and processed at a plantation in Ecuador, under social and environmental standards that sought to safeguard the farming communities in the country. In addition to the 65% Dark variety, the range includes 100% Dark; 75% Dark; Dark with Salted Macadamia Nuts; 38% Milk; and 38% Soy Milk varieties.

The U.S. also saw notable fair-trade chocolate introductions, with Whole Foods Market releasing a Milk Chocolate Bar under the Whole Treat brand. Made with 100% natural ingredients, it was filled with caramelFleur de Selsaid to be hand-harvested from salt marshes on the shores of Brittany, France. Fleur de Selprovided a floral flavor to the creamy milk chocolate and caramel bar.

Manufacturers, however, had other means to lure consumers. “Low-in” claims could also be found on products, with low-sugar options appealing to health-conscious consumers looking for a treat that indulges while not impacting their health or weight too much. A Mintel report (“Chocolate and Seasonal Chocolate Confectionery--U.S.”) found 23% of consumers saying they have purchased sugar-free chocolate, and a closer look at sugar-free/low-calorie products introduced over the past year includes such sweeteners as fructose, maltitol, lactitol, sorbitol, erythritol and oligofructose, in addition to polyols. Maine Cottage Foods’ Milk Chocolate Peanut Bark included erythritol and oligofructose sweeteners, which boast a low glycemic index and, according to the company, are “less likely to cause bloating.” Free from sugar, gluten and maltitol, it is part of a line that includes dark chocolate almond bark; dark chocolate pecan bark; dark chocolate macadamia bark; and milk chocolate almond bark varieties.

The Nestle Crunch opted for the low-calorie route when adding a wafer to its line. Nestle Crunch Cappuccino Stixx Chocolate Wafers, light and crispy wafer sticks filled with cappuccino cream and coated with Nestle milk chocolate and a crispy rice sprinkle, contained 90 calories per stick.

Premium releases saw a slight surge of activity late in the year, and sales of premium chocolates in the U.S. hover around 15% of all chocolate sales, according to Mintel’s report “Chocolate and Seasonal Confectionery--U.S.” The term “luxurious” was used to describe Marich Confectionery’s Tripple Chocolate Toffee Balls in Canada. The spheres of premium almond toffee were wrapped in milk chocolate, dark chocolate and marbled dark and white chocolate.

Hershey’s Cacao Reserve spoke to a couple of trends of interest to consumers: first, the positive health news surrounding dark chocolate and, second, the increased concern about the source of the product being consumed.

Playing the Organic

Organic formulas are not uncommon in the chocolate segment, as consumers seek to avoid overprocessed foods and elements regarded as detrimental, such as additives or preservatives. The previously mentioned Mintel report notes that 16% of Americans prefer organic chocolate brands to non-organic varieties; the number is even more striking for those between the ages of 25-34: 25%--suggesting manufacturers could benefit by targeting this group.

Major companies are certainly joining the organic fray. The Hershey Company introduced Milk Chocolate under the Hershey’s Organic brand. The description of the product is simple: “delicious chocolate created from organically grown ingredients.” It is also available in a dark chocolate version. Love-N-Cacao takes a different route in describing its Organic Chocolate Bars under The Great Cocoa Project Mighty Choco-Minis brand. Processed at a low temperature, the product is described as “handmade with all organic, carefully selected ingredients with a low-sugar, high-mineral content and maca, a herbaceous biennial plant.”

For similar reasons as organic consumers, many have turned to natural products, and chocolate companies have responded. Joby & Marty’s Chocolate Company introduced Peanut Butter Chocolates under its Amazing All Natural Chocolate brand. Containing all-natural colors and flavors, Natural Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Milk Chocolate Pearlies feature candy-sprinkled Belgian chocolate with a peanut butter flavor center. The line also features dark, raspberry, orange, mint and milk chocolate options.

In Mexico, a release from Chocolate Rey Amargo S.A. de C.V. had a dual purpose. The candy bar obviously could be eaten, but the 100% natural Handmade Mexican Style Chocolate (Chocolate Tipo Mexicano Hecho a Mano) was claimed to be “ideal” for preparing hot chocolate.

Gender Bender

While chocolate is primarily marketed toward children, recent years have seen a number of efforts to woo based on gender and age. Seattle Chocolate’s Chick Chocolates expanded its line of all-natural, premium chocolate marketed to women. Survivor Chick is a preservative-free mix of white chocolate with raspberries, wrapped in dark chocolate. The company claims 100% of the profit is donated to help the fight against breast cancer. Japan saw Lotte release a 65% cacao chocolate called Bitas (Light) targeting women between the ages of 20-40, a driving force of high-cacao chocolate.

The health benefits of dark chocolate have been well reported across media, and manufacturers are increasingly noting the percentage of cocoa concentration in their products. Hershey’s Cacao Reserve is one such example, highlighting not only cocoa concentration but also source details. In its 100 Calorie Bar line, Hershey noted on-pack that the product was a “natural source of flavonol antioxidants.”

The year saw the introduction of a number of chocolate items enhanced with vitamins or minerals. MasterFoods added Milk Chocolate Covered Raisins to the CocoaVia line. Formulated to reduce bad cholesterol, the raisins contained vitamins B6, B12, folic acid, antioxidants C and E, as well as calcium. Each pack contained five 150-calorie servings. The company also added more health-oriented products to its Dove Promises line. Its Chocolates with Cocoa Flavonols included such varieties as rich dark chocolate, smooth milk chocolate, milk chocolate with caramel, milk chocolate with almonds and milk chocolate with rich dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate introductions also ventured into special dietary needs, as nSpired Natural Foods launched Rich Dark Chocolate Bar under it Supspire Tropical Source brand. Also suitable for vegans, the bar is 100% dairy- and gluten-free, plus it can be found in a Mint Crunch variety. Gluten also was absent from LowCarb Specialties Sugar Free European Style Chocolate Bars under its Choco Perfection label. Designed for diabetics and low-carb dieters, the products were available in milk and dark varieties, in a recipe that blended oligofructose and erythritol.

A similar recipe (or at least one that used the same sweetening agents) could be found in Healthsmart Foods’ Chocolite Sugar-Free Chocolate Confectionery range, which targeted diabetics. A two-pack of the line’s Chocolate Pecan Clusters contains 30 calories, and the line also includes almond fudge, crispy caramel and peanut chews.

Sugar, Sugar

Low-calorie continued to be a staple of the sugar side of confectionery as well, though low-sugar introductions topped the list of health-related claims, with a somewhat surprisingly strong showing for low-fat options. Added vitamins and minerals could also be found, as well as a number of products touting real fruit content in efforts to foster a healthier, more natural perception. However, the segment’s strongest claims remained “seasonal” and “children’s.” 

The latter is certainly no surprise, and manufacturers targeted young people with packaging innovations (a paintbrush to lick, glowing candy, etc.) and licensed characters including Pokemon,The Simpsons,Hello Kitty,/I> and SpongeBob SquarePants. A Mintel report on sugar confectionery (June 2007) found 49% of consumers buy their children candy that is tied to movie or entertainment characters. For example, NASCAR could be found on a candy for Canadian youngsters: NASCAR Helmet with Candy from Chesterfields Fine Foods featured a built-in pencil sharpener.

Meanwhile, Lil’ Bratz served as the inspiration for Confectionery Group International’s Mexican launch of Gummy Candies with Vitamins. School Bus Gomitas con Vitaminas featured such flavors as cherry, apple, orange, peach, lemon and pineapple. This product did not specify which vitamins were included, but another Mexican launch featured B6, B12, C and E: namely, Do Re Mis Fruit Gummies from Dayhoff. This product contained artificial flavors and colors, but there was a noticeable trend away from artificial ingredients. Mintel notes, “All-natural and organic formulations may not have been among the most important claims…but are expected to become increasingly important in coming years, not only because they are free from artificial ingredients, but also as they fit in well with increasingly ‘green’ and holistic lifestyle choices.” Hammond’s Candies’ Handmade Candy Cane noted an all-natural introduction, and Trader Joe’s launched Soft Peanut Toffee with no artificial colors or flavors and no preservatives.

Canada, meanwhile, saw several notable organic candies launched: Blue Q’s Get Real brand introduced a Raspberry Cocoa flavor said to be “super natural, made without GMO, 100% vegan and USDA organic-certified”; YummyEarth’s Organic Lollipops likewise were 100% vegan and organic; and Pure Fun Confections’ Mint Pinwheels Organic Candy were vegan, organic and GMO-free.

Nevertheless, sugar confections remain a treat in many consumers’ minds: Mintel’s report on the category finds 18% of U.S. consumers say they do not eat sugar confectionery because they are trying to lose weight, while 13% avoid it because they are trying to maintain their weight. Manufacturers are responding with various “low-in” options, as well as some portion-control introductions. Hershey dropped sugar from Ice Breakers Sours, while Greenbrier International’s Cinnamon Disks boasted of being free from fat and trans fat.

That is not to say sugar confections did not see some interesting additions. The category saw a number of energizing formulas. Hobarama launched Mints under its Bawls brand; the high-caffeine guarana candy claimed to be lightly carbonated and “to help the consumer stay up all night.”

Jones Energy, well-known in beverage circles, lent its name to a hard candy from Big Sky Brands. One tin was said to be the equivalent of a Jones Energy Drink, and it contained niacin, B12, taurine and B6. Vitamin B was joined by C and electrolytes in Jelly Belly Candy’s Energizing Jelly Belly Sport Beans, while Joco Brands’ Sugar-free Mints rid itself of sugar but featured guarana and vitamin C.

Snack Attacks

An energy boost also proved central to a snack introduction late in the year. October saw Golden Flake introduce NRG Phoenix Fury Potato Chips. Kosher-certified and heralded (by the company) as the new breed of energy, the chips contained taurine, caffeine and vitamins B6 and B12.

As in so many other segments, health was a hallmark of introductions in the snacks category. Low-fat and low-trans fat stood near the top of claims, while other “low-in” claims (cholesterol, sodium and calorie) emerged. “Low-in” also extended into allergens, with the trend mainly impacting the wheat segment and gluten. Interestingly, while gluten-free labels increased, they were mostly for snacks that were not wheat-based, Mintel’s GNPD notes.

With a trend toward self-diagnosis, though, gluten-free claims are an area to watch. Canada saw CadCan Marketing & Sales release Puffed Potato Snacks under the Cheecha Krackles brand. Free of gluten, cholesterol and trans fat, the snacks have a sea salt and spiced pepper flavor. Snyder’s of Hanover likewise eschewed gluten in its November launch of Eatsmart Reduced Fat Potato Chips, though this product did claim to be a good source of fiber, providing 3g per 1oz serving.

Mintel’s GNPD registered a sharp decrease in vitamin and mineral fortification in snacks in the latter portion of the year, suggesting that manufacturers are focusing their healthy snack ideals more on fat and sodium content and naturalness than fortification. Mexico saw a couple of fortified snacks: Kellogg launched Baked Cereal Bits with Cinnamon under its All-Bran Minis brand. Trocitos de Cereal Horneados con Canela was a cereal fortified with 12 vitamins and minerals. In the same country, Fritos Totis introduced a wheat snack (Totis Donitas Botana de Trigo) enriched with vitamin C.

Consumer demand for snacks, however, trended more toward product naturalness. Stacy’s launched Pita Chips, an all-natural, baked product free from trans fat and cholesterol, while Mexican consumers could find 100% all-natural Parios Papas Fritas (potato chips) from Mario Rios Bastida.

Whole Foods Market, meanwhile, introduced an organic version of its Classic Potato Chips under the 365 Organic label. It was free from gluten, preservatives and cholesterol and included organic yellow corn tortilla chips with a nacho cheese flavor, as well as organic white corn tortilla chips flavored with cilantro and lime, and barbecue classic.

The “low-in” trend tended more toward reducing fat, trans fat and cholesterol content, as opposed to gluten and other allergens. However, manufacturers also curried favor with health-conscious consumers by launching low-calorie items. Low-sodium claims could also be found, a response to government and media campaigns highlighting the overabundance of salt in American diets. Applesnapz Limited, for example, released Savory Carrot Chips under its Carrot Snapz brand. The product, with a natural paprika flavor, has no fat, added sugar, salt, gluten or artificial flavors or colorings. Fat was missing, though not entirely gone, from General Mills’ release of Cheddar Chips under the Chex Mix brand. The product was said to contain 60% less fat than regular potato chips. Weight Watchers’ Pretzel Thins were free from saturated and trans fat, while The Inventure Group launched Burger King Potato Chips in two flavors: ketchup and fries, and flame-broiled burger.

Snack Factory ventured into the 100-calorie pack territory with Snack Factory Pretzel Crisps, an all-natural product free from trans fat. Snyder’s of Hanover followed suit with Veggie Crisps 100 Calorie Snack Packs under the Eatsmart All Natural Snacks brand.

Whole grains, meanwhile, hit the mainstream, with Trader Joe’s Crisps, containing 10g of whole grains per serving, and Snyder’s of Hanover’s Tortilla Chips under its MultiGrain brand. The latter contained 33% less fat than regular tortilla chips, while being free of preservatives and trans fat. More importantly to some, it contained 8-20g of whole grains per serving.

As can be seen from the snack introductions mentioned, additives and preservatives are beginning to disappear from snacks, a trend likely to continue as natural and organic claims increase their strong presence.
Much of the information in this article was derived from the Mintel Global New Products Database, www.gnpd.com, 312-932-0400.

Going Global

Perhaps the biggest confectionery news of the year came in a joint venture between The Hershey Co. and Lotte Confectionery Co. The Korean confectionery and ice cream manufacturer will join with the chocolate giant to manufacture Hershey and Lotte products (including Hershey’s, Hershey’s Kisses and Reese’s) for the market in China.

In introduction news, chocolate manufacturers have begun to target consumers by gender and not merely age. Japan saw Lotte launch Spicy Almond Chocolate (black pepper), a chocolate whose sweetness has been dampened enough to make it a perfect pairing for beer and wine; it targeted men aged 30-50 years old. The same country saw a female-targeted release from Fujiya. Look (Beauty A La Mode) was a limited-edition assortment of chocolates with beauty-oriented fruit themes: acerola cream, kiwi cream, cassis cream and rosehip cream centers.

Among sweet confections, Crown Confectionery released assorted candy enriched with vitamin C in Thailand, while Beacon Confectionery introduced South Africans to Fruit Flavoured Candies + Multivitamins. Beacon Zesty Sparkles offered 100% of the recommended daily allowance of multivitamins, states the GNPD. It was also available in a “+vitamin C” variant.

Japan, meanwhile, saw a number of health-oriented releases: Kabaya Foods’ Pureral Gummy with 2,400mg of collagen per pack; Asahi Food & Healthcare’s C’S Case Chuo Orange, which contained 3,000mg of vitamin C per pack; and Meiji Seika Kaisha’s Gelee in Juice Gummy with 2,200mg of collagen.

Around the world, low-allergen snacks focused on gluten, with notable introductions including Dutch Organic International Trade’s Organic Rice Chips under the Amaizin brand in Finland; Kolak Snack’s Potato Twirls in the U.K., and Tai Say’s Spicy Prawn Pop Rice Cracker in Singapore.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE MINTEL GNPD

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