Energy-enhancing confections proved a sizable trend in 2008, with Mars Inc. releasing Snickers Charged. The Snickers product had a day’s worth of caffeine, plus B vitamins and amino acids.

Snacks and confections, in particular, are often considered a fond remembrance of youth. In times of crisis, consumers tend to turn to those notions of comfort, and the past year has seen its share of crises. With obesity an ongoing issue, manufacturers sought to improve the healthy qualities of their confection and snack items. However, as always, these segments had plenty of room for play.

Kandy Kastle, for instance, introduced a candy best described as interactive. Its Lightning Bugs Gummy Candy in a strawberry and lemon flavor lit up, when grabbed with a “magic” electric tong. Galerie’s Bug Catcher Candy, under the Ferrara Pan Bug City brand, fostered young entomologists by featuring a toy magnifying glass with bug-shaped candy tarts and gummi spiders.  Kellogg took an old-school approach to toy-like fun with Kellogg’s Lego Fruit Flavored Fun Snacks, featuring candies shaped like Lego building blocks and in such flavors as grape, cherry, orange and strawberry.

Confections largely target children, even private label introductions. Winn-Dixie Stores released VeggieTales Fruit Flavored Snacks containing natural and artificial flavors. In traditional flavors of apple, watermelon, grape and lemon, each serving provided 100% of the daily value of vitamin C. Setting the products apart were their shapes of VeggieTale characters: Larry the Cucumber, Laura Carrot, Madame Blueberry, Pa Grape, Junior Asparagus and Bob the Tomato.

Licensed characters were easy to find in children’s products. Pez Candy released a Sanrio Hello Kitty and My Melody variety, while, in Canada, Au’some Snack Naturally released Bratz Glamour Compact Mints, sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame potassium.

Considering the traditionally high sugar content of most confections, not to mention weight-management concerns, companies have been reducing the sugar content of their confections. BestSweet launched Baskin Robbins Soft Candies in such ice cream flavors as very berry strawberry and mint chocolate chip. Sugar-free, the products were sweetened with sucralose. Canadian consumers, meanwhile, could enjoy Werther’s Original Mint Hard Candies with no sugar. Manufacturer Storck instead sweetened the product with isomalt, sorbitol and acesulfame potassium.

Similarly catering to the obesity-conscious consumer, a number of companies introduced low-calorie candies. Schonza Candy’s Gummy Bears were reintroduced containing less than 100 calories per bag. Also boasting natural flavors and colors, the product had been reformulated to contain less sugar. Cadbury Adams’ Sour Patch Kids Soft & Chewy Candy likewise hit the century mark in terms of calories and also noted it was fat-free.

One candy company did manage to set the healthy target a little higher for competitors, however. Dayhoff opted to add to its ABC’s & 123’s Fruit Gummees: vitamins B6, B12, C and E augmented the natural fruit juice products.

The year also saw candy take an adult-oriented turn in terms of flavors, with a number of U.S. introductions featuring alcohol flavors. Lollyphile introduced Absinthe Lollipops (also available in a maple-bacon variety). Carolyn’s Gourmet launched Amaretto Toffee with walnuts; the line also included chocolate and pecan varieties. In addition, Cocoa Bon added Cocktail Jelly beans, and while these contained no alcohol, they were cranberry-cosmopolitan-martini flavored.

Alcohol inspirations could be found in the snack arena as well; the company Beer Chips introduced Chip Shots, a margarita-inspired potato snack. Featuring “a salty rim, a shot of lime and a mouth full of margarita,” the Margarita with Salt Potato variety was infused with natural tequila flavor and joined the company’s other beverage-inspired snack, Hot Potatoes Spicy Bloody Mary potato chips.

Sodium Send-off
Frito-Lay, meanwhile, took a different tack by attempting to introduce more healthy snacks. Its Fritos Pinch of Salt Corn Chips were made with all-natural oil, containing 0g trans fat and no preservatives. As the name would suggest, the product also cut the amount of sodium, offering 95mg less per serving than Original Frito Corn Chips. The company further cemented its all-natural positioning by introducing TrueNorth 100% natural nut snacks in three varieties: Nut Clusters, Nut Crisps and Nut Crunches.

Likewise low in sodium, Falafel Chips were also USDA-certified organic and made with all-natural ingredients. Falafel Chips and Dips set its new product apart, however, by promising the product was free of cholesterol, MSG, hydrogenated oil, GMO, gluten, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and trans fat.

While natural flavors could be found in Body Balance Nutrition Corporation’s Lemon Meringue Pop Corn, the Canadian introduction offered an energy boost. Released under the company’s Snacks Power Pop brand, Lemon Meringue Pop Corn promised to be a protein-packed energy snack with no added sugar or trans fat. Also low in sodium, the gluten- and nut-free product carried a “good source of fiber” claim, as well. Fiber content was also a selling point for the Canadian introduction of baked Cheddar cheese snacks from Hain Celestial Group. The Garden of Eatin’ Baked Crunchitos promised to be a source of fiber and contained 83% organic ingredients.

The U.S. neighbor to the north likewise saw El Molino Foods of Canada release Tortilla Chips made with organic corn and sea salt. The preservative-free product cooked in non-hydrogenated canola oil could be found in red corn and blue corn varieties. The country also saw IndianLife Foods introduce Dal Mix, a snack made with delicately spiced chickpeas and lentils. Made with all-natural spices and free of preservatives, it had no artificial flavors and was cholesterol-free.

“All-natural” remained a strong trend this year, as the boast could be found in the U.S. on Kettle Cooked Potato Chips from Gourmet Garage. The product touted Long Island potatoes cooked in sunflower oil.

The “organic” claim featured prominently in a pair of popcorn introductions, as Supervalu introduced butter flavor microwave popcorn under its Wild Harvest Organic brand. The product contained 0g of trans fat and no artificial flavors or preservatives. Meanwhile, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market likewise embraced organic by introducing Organic Lightly Salted Popcorn. Made from organic corn and sprinkled with sea salt, it was USDA-certified organic and contained 0g of trans fat per serving.

Kernel Season’s All Natural Popping Corn, as the moniker suggests, boasted all-natural ingredients, free of GMO and promising to be “an excellent source of fiber.” All-natural ingredients also proved key to the introduction of Dale and Thomas Popcorn’s Popcorn, Indiana All Natural Kettlecorn Popcorn, claiming 0g of trans fats and made from 100% whole grains.

Whole grain proved another trend to continue to watch over the year, as a number of snack companies were quick to mention its inclusion in their products: in Canada, RiceWorks Salsa Fresca Gourmet Brown Rice Crisps from Snack Alliance were made from whole-grain brown rice and contained no artificial flavors, additives, cholesterol, trans fat, wheat or gluten.

Hain Celestial Group, meanwhile, touted the whole-grain benefits of its Garden of Eatin’ Whole Grain Pita Chips. The company claimed the chips provided 8g of whole grains per serving, made with organic ingredients and boasting 180mg of omega-3 per serving. Varieties included sea salt; roasted garlic Parmesan; Greek isle; and brown sugar and cinnamon.

Batting 100
The 100-calorie trend may not have been as big as in the past, but a number of products jumped on the portion-control notion. General Mills introduced Chex 100 Calories, claiming 70% less fat than regular potato chips and available in three flavors: Cheddar, chocolate caramel and strawberry yogurt. ConAgra added a 100-calorie option to its Orville Redenbacher Smart Pop brand; these mini-bags of buttered popcorn contained 30% less sodium, 0g trans fat and 0mg of cholesterol per serving. The 94% fat-free product was 100% whole grain and met the American Heart Association’s food criteria for saturated fat and cholesterol.

Even Twinkies joined the 100-calorie parade. Twinkie Bites were not simply shrunken versions of the elongated treat. Instead, Interstate Bakeries Corp. developers created three miniature, round versions. The Hostess brand likewise added a strawberry cupcake to its range of 100-calorie products, a segment that the company said boasted total sales of more than $400 million a year.

Pita Pretzels from The Backman Company also contained only 100 calories per serving. The slow-baked, puffed pocket-shaped snacks were prepared with sea salt and free from trans fat, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors. The range included Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips free from gluten, trans fat and preservatives, with each serving boasting 21g of whole grains.

Healthy Candy
For positive health news in the snack and confectionery aisles, however, chocolate continued to make the big news. Boston researchers linked the consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa products to improved cardiovascular health and, at the same time, found that chocolate may boost blood flow in the brain and, thereby, reduce the risk of dementia and stroke. The researchers from Boston-based Hebrew SeniorLife, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that 900mg of cocoa flavanols daily resulted “in a significant increase in peak cerebral blood flow response in the middle cerebral artery.”

Meanwhile, scientists at the University of East Anglia are investigating whether chocolate may be beneficial to women with diabetes. The presumption is that flavonoid-rich cocoa will reduce the risk of heart disease; the study is using a specially formulated form of chocolate with more flavonoids and also boasting soy, another source of the heart-helping component.

Indeed, functional ingredients and innovative packaging of candy items are expected to elevate market sales, says a report from Global Industry Analysts. “Product innovation holds the key to continued success in the marketplace. New products, exotic flavors, novel ingredients, organic/herbal fillings, are expected to boost candy sales across all consumer segments,” the report explains. “While kids continue to be a key segment, manufacturers are targeting adults through innovative products, such as wine truffles, nicotine gums and caffeine-enhanced candies. Rapidly expanding population of the elderly is expected to drive the demand for sugar-free and medicated candy.”

Barry Callebaut, for instance, has found that nearly a quarter of Western consumers are interested in chocolate with physical or emotional health benefits. With that in mind, the company opened its first innovation center in the U.S. to develop unique chocolate products and applications. Likewise, Nestle SA announced it was opening a Swiss research center, though the bulk of its efforts were going to develop new chocolate products to meet the anticipated growth in demand for luxury and premium confections.

Mars, meanwhile, introduced Chocolate-covered Mixed Berries under its CocoaVia brand. Formulated to help reduce bad cholesterol and to promote healthy circulation, it contained vitamins B6, B12, folic acid, and vitamins C and E, promised to be an excellent source of calcium and was made with all-natural ingredients.

Mars also took one of its most prominent brands further into the energy arena this year, adding Snickers Charged. The energy boost came courtesy of 60mg of caffeine, plus taurine and B-vitamins. For comparison’s sake, an 8oz regular coffee has 65-120mg, and an 8oz energy drink has 72-80mg. The company also reintroduced a Chocolate Nut Burst Protein Bar under its Snickers Marathon brand, promising it to be an “excellent source of fiber” and containing 16 vitamins and minerals.

At a Premium
Mars was involved in the premium candy trend as well, launching M&M’s Premiums over the summer. The five flavors--triple chocolate, chocolate almond, mint, mocha and raspberry almond--were quite a departure from the traditional M&M, notably lacking the candy shell. The offering joined Hershey’s Bliss in a rapidly escalating battle of premium chocolates.

Individually wrapped, bite-sized pieces of milk chocolate, dark chocolate and “milk chocolate meltaway,” Bliss was positioned as an indulgence for everyday life, a strategic shift from Hershey’s other premium chocolate efforts (Cacao Reserve and Origins), though the company also added Starbucks Chocolate to its premium line this year. These joined a premium chocolate segment valued at $2.7 billion in 2006, according to Packaged Facts, a 10.9% increase over the prior year.

Also striving to meet that premium trend, Gia Brands launched a Brix brand of chocolate for wine lovers. Formulated to complement wine, the product paired well with lighter, fruit-flavored wines and enhanced their aroma, per the company. 

Premium confections even entered store brands outside the traditional grocery channels, as Target released a Summer Desserts Collection under its Choxie brand. Classic seasonal fruits, warm weather flavors and an array of frozen treats inspired the limited-edition product.

Less geared to the premium consumer, but definitely incorporating an unusual flavor, Vosges Haut-Chocolat introduced U.S. consumers to Mo’s Bacon Bar, a chocolate bar featuring applewood-smoked bacon and alderwood-smoked salt.

As in years past, fair trade chocolates continued to make headway with consumers. Shaman Chocolates released Organic Milk Chocolate 37% Cacao, certified USDA organic and fair trade-certified. All profits from the product, “made with 100% natural and non-irradiated ingredients,” supported the Huichol Indians. Also organic- and fair trade-certified, Kopali Organics Dark Chocolate Covered Mulberries boasted antioxidants, vitamin C and bioflavonoids, though no preservatives or trans fat.

Part and Portion
While some manufacturers attempted to position their chocolates as healthy, others favored the portion-control approach to sensible eating advice. Kraft Foods augmented its South Beach Living brand with Dark Chocolate Covered Soy Nuts. “Made with real dark chocolate,” each serving had 100 calories and 3g of protein. At the same time, other manufacturers took the “low-in” approach to chocolate introductions.

Sorbee International launched Sugar Free Truffles under its Eat Rite Be Fit brand. Free from sugar and trans fat, the product was sweetened with sucralose and contained 2g of fiber per serving. The line also included peppermint patties and peanut butter-filled truffles. Perhaps most interesting for chocolate consumers, though, was research from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Human Nutrition. The study found that, after eating dark chocolate, test subjects consumed 15% fewer calories of a meal served two-and-a-half hours later than if they had eaten milk

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

Website Resources: -- Enter “chocolate” in the search field to see the latest news on chocolate’s healthful properties -- Five snacks that seem healthy, but are not -- Mintel’s Global New Products Database

Going Global: Snacks

Outside the U.S., an interesting trend has been toward candy geared to adult needs. In Japan, Kracie Foods’ Fruity Rose Soft candy is a fruity, rose-flavored soft candy with moisturizing hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and collagen, as well as rose petal extract. The same company introduced a bubble gum targeting men: Sexy Rose and Rose Menthol bubble gums came in a slim black bottle and contained gerianol to “fragrance the body as it travels through one’s blood vessels and [is] secreted from pores.” The rose scent was sweetened with apples and lychees, while the rose menthol variety had a darker pink color and richer aroma.

Similarly positioned in the same country, Kanro launched Xylifeel Lozenges in a lychee variety with cooling xylitol and later added an “aromatic chardonnay” version, boasting 40% less sugar than regular sugary candy. It featured hyaluronic acid, lychee seed extract and vitamin C for good skin, but targeted women. A blue mint variety targeted men, with champignon extract and flavonoids.

In Germany, meanwhile, Mederer added calcium ions to its Trolli Actident Fruchtgummi (fruit gummy candies). The ions are present to help strengthen teeth.

Asia always has some interesting inspirations for its more adventurous snacks, and 2008 was no exception. Zhenglong Foods released Caribbean Captain Delicious Shredded Squid Snack, rich in DHA and made with deep-sea squid, while Taiwanese consumers saw Sabafish Food introduce Fried Milkfish Floss, said to be ideal for rice, bread and porridge.

While many confectionery products seem to leave the fun for kids, Sweet TopTaste added a little fun for German grownups. Holländische Lakritz’ Schwartze Bären (black bears) were soft, salty liquorices in the shape of little black bears.