Healthy sweets are on the rise. Here’s how companies are creating better-for-you confections.

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 25 No. 10
Volume 25
Issue 10

As consumers spend more on confections, will healthier options get their vote?

Photo © Nblxer-

Photo © Nblxer-

As health-conscious as consumers became during the global pandemic, they still seek comfort in their favorite sweets. According to the National Confectioners Association (NCA), sales of chocolates and candy are at an all-time high. The total confectionery channel reached $36.9 billion in retail sales in 2021, per data from Euromonitor, which projects sales will reach $44.9 billion by 2026. Meanwhile, based on data from IRI on the multioutlet and convenience channels in the 52 weeks ending December 26, 2021, U.S. retail confectionery sales reached $28.9 billion in 2021, with chocolates accounting for 58% of sales (growing 9.2% from the previous year) and non-chocolates accounting for 31% of sales (but with more growth at 14.5%) compared to the previous year.

For a majority of consumers, being able to treat oneself is important for emotional wellbeing, says NCA in its “Sweet Insights: State of Treating 2022” report. According to NCA’s report, “With 78% of all adults believing it is perfectly fine to occasionally treat with chocolate or candy, confectionery enjoys a high level of permissibility—particularly among older generations and higher-frequency consumers.”

Clearly, consumers have no problem indulging their sweet tooth as a morale booster, but they are also receptive to healthier options. NCA’s report states that 44% of consumers in 2021 were interested in trying chocolates or candy that are sugar-free or low in sugar, which is up from 31% of consumers two years ago. Other ways consumers define “better-for-you” chocolate or candy options include dark chocolate, smaller portions, and healthy inclusions such as fruits and nuts, especially among Boomers. Gen Z and Millennials, meanwhile, are more likely to prefer attributes such as organic, fat-free, gluten-free, and vegan.

That said, only 15% of consumers report frequently buying according to their better-for-you definitions, and 47% only occasionally purchase better-for-you candy and chocolates. Consumers are realistic about the health limits of even “better-for-you” candy and chocolate.

Still, is there an opportunity to broaden the definition of “better-for-you”—say, with the inclusion of functional, health-promoting nutritional ingredients?

The Functional Chocolate Company, for example, already offers a number of health-targeting chocolate products to support cognition, energy, sleep, sexual health, and women’s health. Recently, the company added a chocolate SKU for pain management.

Increasingly, nutraceutical firms are seeing the potential of using confections to deliver dietary supplement ingredients. For example, dark berries such as elderberry and black currant, which support relevant categories like immune and eye health, can be incorporated in lollipops or chocolates, offering indulgent and palatable ways to support health for both children and adults. Ingredients supplier Artemis International (Fort Wayne, IN) shared these concepts at this year’s SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas.

Additionally, another ingredient supplier, HP Ingredients (Bradenton, FL), announced a new partnership with confectionery development company Immunity Goodness to launch “chococeuticals” containing HP’s tongkat ali ingredient LJ100.

Functional confections that offer consumers an additional source of health-supporting ingredients, all in one delectable package? It’s the very definition of a guilt-free treat.

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