SpunCity Certified Organic Cotton Candy is positioned as a low-cholesterol, vegan treat free of chemicals, dyes, pesticides, gluten, casein and sodium. The company notes it uses fruits and vegetables for color and flavor, thereby supporting sustainable, non-toxic farming methods.

With the recession primed to enter its third year, some areas of the grocery segment are managing to see sales increases. Candy and snacks, for instance, are proving quite recession-resistant, with total candy sales at c-stores up 4.9% for the first half of 2009, after rising 3.9% during the same time in 2008, according to ACNielsen.

The largest segment of the candy category, chocolate bars/packs, has fared well this year, up 5.2%. The chocolate segment, Business Insights explains, holds by far the largest share of the U.S. confection category, a 50.9% share, worth some $18.4 billion in 2008. In Europe, it holds an even greater percentage: 51.2%, valued at $34.8 billion.

ACNielsen, however, found non-chocolate bars/packs proved the category’s best performers in the first half of 2009, with sales up 10.9%, and gum trailed a bit further back, up only 1.7%.

According to Business Insights, “upscale” has been the focus of confectionery manufacturers. It was the leading descriptor of new confection launches in 2008, when it could be found on 13.8% of all new products. The Business Insights report, “Innovations in Confectionery: Key Trends, Growth Opportunities and Emerging Markets,” finds the U.S. and European confectionery markets were worth a combined $99.7 million in 2008, and it anticipates the category will register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.9% through 2012. While this is not runaway success, it reflects the maturity of the confection market in the West, and Business Insights does note that growth could well come from key emerging markets in Eastern Europe and Asia Pacific. However, the category does have some key trends that could prove essential, and even lucrative, in the mature markets.

Health and premium confectionery are two possibilities, as are ethical concerns relating to products and sourcing. Business Insights finds 4% of all new product introductions in 2008 carried an organic claim on the label, vs. barely more than 1% in 2005. The Bernod Group has attempted to capitalize on the organic trend with its SpunCity Certified Organic Cotton Candy and recently added a Cherry Vanilla variety to the grape flavor that launched the brand last year. Among its selling points, Bernod Group assures, is its positioning as a low-cholesterol, vegan treat free of chemicals, dyes, pesticides, gluten, casein and sodium. The company notes it uses fruits and vegetables for color and flavor, thereby supporting sustainable, non-toxic farming methods.

Power of Superfruits
A more functional approach has incorporated Superfruits into a new gum from Heathrow Natural Food & Beverage. Identified as a “fitness gum,” ACAI Plus includes acai, mangosteen and pomegranate on a sugarless mint flavor base, and, according to the company, it has a range of health benefits supported by “thousands of clinical studies.” Among those benefits are “a boost to the immune system, greater energy and stamina, improved mental focus, weight-loss support and anti-aging attributes.”

“Chewing gum is the perfect delivery system for the health and wellness benefits of acai, mangosteen and pomegranate. It has many applications, including the health-conscious adult consumers, dieters, children, athletes and the military,” said Michael Pagnano, CEO, Heathrow Natural Food & Beverage Inc. “Chewing gum is a multi-billion dollar industry, and functional gum, such as ACAI Plus, is the fastest-growing segment of the industry.”

For the most part, however, the U.S. lags behind much of the world, when it comes to functional confections. For instance, in Japan, Lotte has released Citrulline Tablets, containing 100mg per bag of the amino acid, which has been shown to reduce muscle fatigue, according to a study published in the August 2002 issue of theJournal of Sports Medicine. It was approved for food use in Japan a little over two years ago, and Lotte’s tablets are recommended for sports enthusiasts, male or female.

The latter, however, are the target for the same company’s Cunio Grape Flavored Gummies. Containing 5% fruit juice, it is the 1,800mg of collagen per bag that Lotte expects will lure high school girls and women in their 20s. Sugar confections in the U.S., however, have a fairly small number of functional lines, though Bissinger’s Handcrafted Chocolatier is attempting to tap into the trend. In Canada, its Blueberry Acai Gummy Pandas are made with organic corn syrup and sugar. The product contains blueberries and acai fruit, as well as “natural sources of antioxidants.” Free from gluten, artificial colors and sweeteners, the line also features Green Tea Spiced Peach and Pomegranate White Tea varieties.

Bissinger’s Pomegranate White Tea Gummy Pandas ties into several trends at once, being functional, natural and boasting unique flavors. The company notes the candies are rich in antioxidants and more natural than traditional offerings in the segment. Their organic formulation promises to provide vitamin C and incorporates ingredients such as black carrot juice and beeswax.

White tea also made its way into a recent energy-boosting product, though not in the beverage segment, where the trend got its start. Now it can be found in chewing gums, as well, and Go Fast! Sports Energy Gum has a liquid-infused center with a blend of caffeine, B-vitamins, ribose, honey and white tea. Each piece promises approximately 83mg of caffeine, equal to the amount in a can of the company’s signature energy drink. Claiming the gum is “a quick alternative to get an extra boost of energy,” Go Fast promises the energy “gets into the system three to four times faster than an energy drink,” within three minutes, it is claimed.

Body Dynamics Inc. has likewise joined the energy gum craze, with Mini Thin Rush Energy Gum, which promises 80mg of caffeine in each two-piece serving. With an ingredient legend boasting sugar, caffeine and taurine, the company does caution consumers not to chew more than two pieces every three to four hours. Launch Industries has introduced its own take on the trend with Energy Drink Gum, which has been developed with caffeine, B vitamins and taurine.

For the most part, however, chewing gum introductions in recent years have focused on utilizing innovative sweetening agents. For Orbit Mist, the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. incorporated sorbitol, erythritol, glycerol, mannitol and xylitol, and that is just within the first seven ingredients. The peppermint spray variety also features aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose, in addition to those aforementioned ingredients. The result is what Wrigley describes as “a hydrating sensation with micro-bursts,” as well as a significantly reduced calorie content, 50% less than sugared gums. The caloric amount has been reduced to 2.5 per piece. However, perhaps the most important aspect to many of these launches are the dental benefits.

For instance, Laclede introduced Plaque-BioFilm Dissolving Chewing gum with xylitol, which cleans between brushing. Launched under the Biotène brand, the product promises fresh breath, as well as plaque-dissolving and salivary enzymes to inhibit harmful bacteria.

Clif Bar added its own take on energy chews with Luna Sport Moons Energy Chews, claiming to be the first women’s organic energy chew. An alternative to gummies, the moon-shaped, bite-sized pieces have 100 calories per pack, in addition to antioxidants, vitamins and minerals “essential for women’s health.” At the same time, each flavor promises a different functional benefit: blueberry has antioxidant vitamins A, C and E; watermelon boasts energizing B vitamins; and pomegranate contains 50% of the daily recommended value of vitamin C.

An even more nutritionally adventurous gamble was found in chocolate confections. The segment has already noted a boost from studies touting the healthful benefits of dark chocolate; however, Maramor Chocolates opted to add even more nourishment. Its Milk Chocolate Squares feature 210mg of omega-3s per serving, to “nourish both the body and the brain.” Featuring DHA and EPA, the company notes the squares have been formulated with ingredients that enhance the absorption of omega-3s. The ingredient legend notes the omega-3 source is refined fish oil (anchovy and sardine).

Chewing gums, mints and candy may once have been a domain targeting young people and breath freshening, but manufacturers have clearly embraced the functional aspects that have dominated so much of the food and beverage industry. Any new introductions must factor for this expectation among consumers, as many of the competing products in the marketplace actually embrace several trends at once. Natural formulations are proving to have strong staying power, though the effects of a prolonged recession remain to be seen. pf

Website Resources:
www.PreparedFoods.com-- Enter “taurine” in the search box for a look at the myriad ways this ingredient is boosting energy levels
www.astrologyzine.com/healthy-chocolate.shtml-- Chocolate for a healthy heart and mind
http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Health/story?id=897137--ABC Newsinvestigates candy amid the fitness craze