The taste of sweet success

Functional confectionery foods, such as chocolates, gums and candy, may sound like a contradiction in terms, but it is a rapidly growing sector, particularly in Europe, Shane Starling discovers

There is little doubt that sedentary lifestyles, super-sized food portions and low-cost, high-calorie foods have been major contributors to the ?globesity? epidemic. But the Western world?s collective sweet tooth is another driving factor—people simply find it hard not to be tempted by a chocolate indulgence or a candy treat. So it?s no wonder that healthier versions of many confectionery categories now exist.

Indeed, R&D activity is being conducted at a furious pace among ingredients suppliers and food manufacturers, both big and small. ?People love snacks, let?s make them healthier,? the logic runs. In the past, it may have been counterintuitive to eat sweet foods in order to improve health, but this can no longer be categorically the case. It?s all about guilt-free indulgence, and it?s a logic that has led to one of the most innovative and exciting food categories—functional confectionery. The demand for these types of products—from sugar-free chocolates to low-carb sweets, fortified confectionery to gum that can break down nicotine build-up on your teeth, fight decay or battle bad breath—is being matched by advanced formulation technologies that have reduced costs and expanded product options in recent years.

Leatherhead Food International estimated the global confectionery market at about $32 billion in 2002, with an ever-increasing proportion being taken up by functional varieties. Euromonitor put the functional confectionery segment at about $5.65 billion in 2003 from $4.4 billion in 1998—an increase of 28 per cent. Worldwide revenues will top $10 billion by 2008, it predicted. Another global survey, conducted by sugar-substitute supplier Palatinit, found 62 per cent of consumers preferred low-sugar confectionery.

Brown gold
Chocolate is reaping the benefits provided by a host of sweeteners, which enable it to keep its taste profile while shedding its calorific load. Sorbitol, mannitol, lactitol, maltitol, isomalt, xylitol and erythritol (produced by fermentation) are some of the more prominent.

Inulin and oligofructose, which offer a wide range of other health benefits, are also being used more frequently as sugar substitutes and/or sources of fibre or prebiotics in chocolate. Chocolates enriched with inulin and oligofructose are currently produced by Swiss-based Barry Callebaut, while other applications include toppings for profiteroles, pralines, chocolate bars and slabs of chocolate. Barry Callebaut also produces a lactose-free chocolate.

Chocolate seems to be the ideal focus for healthy, indulgent confectionery and has become a popular vehicle for Power Bar-style products, such as the caffeinated SoBe lines: Tsunami White Chocolate with Orange Infusion, Drive Milk Chocolate with Triple Shot Mocha Blast and Power Milk Chocolate with Power Fruit Infusion. The bars also include functional ingredients such as zinc, ginseng, selenium, taurine, guarana, L-proline and creatine.

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration announced that certain nuts could carry a qualified health claim, ie that eating a handful a day could help reduce the risk of heart disease. The FDA has approved the claim for almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and peanuts. Although this will not be allowed for confectionery products containing nuts, the measure should boost their appeal. Worldwide, it has been suggested there is considerable scope for expanding the use of all types of nuts and nut pastes in confectionery.

Research showing evidence for the potential health benefits of antioxidant polyphenols in cocoa and chocolate has received a lot of publicity this year. One of the most recent reports, by scientists at Glasgow University and the Italian National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, shows that dark chocolate contains twice as many antioxidant epicatechins as milk chocolate.

Masterfoods has led the way in promoting the benefits of cocoa consumption by introducing the Cocoapro label to certain brands to signify the company?s ?promise that the product has undergone a process that helps prevent the destruction of the cocoa flavonoids during processing.?

Chocolate is also a suitable medium for the addition of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Consumption of PUFAs such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is associated with a number of potential health benefits, in particular protection against development of cardiovascular disease and infant neural tube defects. Researchers at Maryland-based Martek Biosciences have successfully made chocolate enriched with 60-600mg DHA per piece. Martek?s DHA Gold oil, which is extracted from marine micro-algae, is said to be neutral in flavour and can be added to chocolate, while maintaining organoleptic properties and stability.

Counting carbs
Low-carb chocolate is set to become a focus of intense interest. High-protein chocolate bars may be sweetened with polyols, such as maltitol, or sweeteners, such as sucralose. Cargill is pursuing protein-supplemented confectionery compositions, which include high-protein content, modified oilseed material, such as soy. Cargill?s novel process claims to produce a soy-protein product with good flavour and texture, and to enable the protein content of a chocolate bar, coating, confectionery product or other food to be formulated to be as high as 90 per cent.

Kansas-based candy giant Russell Stover has also launched a line of low-carb chocolates to complement its sugar-free range. ?We?ve learned a valuable lesson from advertising our sugar-free chocolates—this is not a narrow target,? says marketing vice president John O?Hara.

Cargill-owned Wilbur Chocolate is also active in the functional chocolate area. It produces both ingredients and end products. ?Traditional confectionery products are being replaced,? says sales vice president Mark Freeman. ?But there will continue to be indulgent candy. The growth is in combining food people want to eat, like chocolate, with stuff they need to eat. In fact, our job in the chocolate industry is to help our customers by creating healthy products that taste good.? Technologies are allowing ingredients such as taurine and guarana to be introduced into chocolate bars. Cadbury Schweppes was at the forefront of this, piloting the Viking guarana-enhanced chocolate bar in Australia in 2001, and then launching guarana- and glucose-enhanced extensions of the Boost bar in the UK in 2002. PepsiCo subsidiary SoBe also launched a range of chocolate energy bars in the US in 2002 in partnership with Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate. These contain ingredients such as taurine, guarana and creatine, as well as vitamins and minerals.

Meanwhile, Cloetta Fazer launched Suklainen Snackpatukka in Sweden in 2003. This is a chocolate-coated snack bar formulated with oat crisp and cranberries, plus oat fibre and beta-glucan to help balance blood sugar levels. Also relatively new in the Swedish market is Hagges Chokoladball, a chocolate ball rich in dextrose, ginseng and oat flakes.

Wilbur is also engaged in the inulin and oligofructose area. ?Wilbur produces sugar-free coatings with a blend of Eridex Erythritol and Oliggo-Fiber Inulin to create a lower glycemic index coating with much more calcium than a traditional sugar-free coating,? says Freeman. ?The Oliggo-Fiber Inulin improves calcium absorption. We had nutrition bar customers coming to us asking for help getting more calcium into their bars. We took that challenge and put the calcium on the bars, creating a better overall product. We have accomplished the same with core hardening proteins.?

Efficacy issues need to be addressed, according to Diane C Burgess, technical manager at Danish-based ingredient supplier Broste. ?I think there is a big market out there, but of knowledgeable consumers. They want the product to deliver what it says by having sufficient content of the active ingredient. The current products are mostly just putting enough in to mention it in the ingredients, so consumers end up disappointed by the lack of effect.

?But adding levels required for functional effect can prove difficult—shelf-life should not be a problem in carefully developed products, but the shelf-life is lower than the normal, and consumers need to be made aware of this,? Burgess says.

The Japanese functional confectionery market, estimated at about $700 million by market analyst Paul Yamaguchi and Associates, is one of the most developed, and has been characterised by the emergence of chocolate with various health properties in recent years. One underlying reason has been the presence of polyphenols, which occur naturally in cocoa and are said to maintain cardiovascular well-being. As a result, chocolate bars containing CMP (cocoa mass polyphenol) have been launched in Japan, many of which are actively marketed toward older consumers.

Other healthy innovations have included chocolate with high levels of calcium and products containing oligosaccharides, which help with gut regulation. In recent years, Meiji Seika Kaisha has developed a number of lines containing added polyphenols.

Hundreds of health-oriented snacks have flooded the market. Three pieces of Asada?s calcium iron candy, called CaFe, supply 42 per cent of the recommended daily amount of calcium, 57 per cent of iron and 60 per cent of vitamin D. Meito?s Mineral-In candies are fortified with five types of minerals and dietary fibre. Lotte?s Benefit of Cacao provides polyphenols that benefit cardiovascular health. House?s Pure-In Gumi provides collagen and six types of vitamins in gummy bear candy. Hamada?s Balance Power is fortified with calcium, iron and nine vitamins in soft chocolate.

Gum gains
Functional gum is an innovative area that has benefited from the introduction of tooth-care sugar substitute xylitol, which is now commonplace. There have also been a number of more unusual gum launches, including analgesic gum; gums to improve the skin; cholesterol-lowering, stress-relief gums; antacid gums; and decongestant gums. These all remain niche products, however, and are mainly limited to the more experimental, less cynical markets of the US and Japan.

In the UK, recent examples have included Orbit Professional from Wrigley (which contains blue microgranules and leaves the mouth with the feeling that the teeth have just been cleaned), as well as Stimorol V6 White +, now owned by Cadbury Schweppes, which has an advanced whitening formula and protects the teeth from discolouration.

In the Italian market, Perfetti Van Melle has been successful with Daygum Microtech, a chewing gum that contains microparticles for removing plaque during the day and has captured up to 10 per cent of the overall market. Other notable functional lines from the same company include Happydent White (a sugar-free gum that whitens the teeth), Happydent Defensive (which helps impede the formulation of tartar), Air Action Vigorsol, and Daygum Protex, which contains xylitol and fluoride.

In Belgium, Delhaize Le Lion brought out Structuur Calcium, Zuiverend Groene Thee and Vitaliteit Vit ACE in the first quarter of 2003. These own-label chewing gums were fortified with active ingredients for health. Structuur Calcium was enriched with calcium to ensure healthy bones, while Zuiverend Groene Thee was described as a cleansing gum containing green tea. Vitaliteit Vit ACE has a novel flavour (orange and carrot) and contains antioxidant vitamins A, C and E.

Within the last few years, gums with added calcium and caffeine have been launched in Germany, as well as a product containing hemp extract. In August 2002, French manufacturer Phyto-Gum launched Orange-Gum, a plant-based chewing gum with added vitamin C, while Dirol AeroEffect (a sugar-free chewing gum made from propolis, aspartame and acesulfame-K) appeared in Russia soon afterward. The trend toward sugar-free and functional chewing gum is also apparent in Latin American countries, especially Mexico and Chile, according to Leatherhead.

Other sweets
Innovation in the European sugar confectionery market has been high in recent years. Many lines are now offering health benefits, such as breath freshening, and are thereby contributing toward overall growth in the functional confectionery market. Throughout Europe, sugar confectionery is starting to incorporate more unusual ingredients such as ginseng, guarana and camomile extract, offering benefits such as aiding relaxation and cardiovascular health. In addition, many lines are now fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Back at Wilbur Chocolate, Mark Freeman sums up the underlying principles of success in functional confectionery: ?Consumers want something that is convenient, not a pill, that tastes good and is healthy.?A healthy confection may never replace an indulgent confection, but it doesn?t necessarily mean that the two are mutually exclusive either. If we?re able to deliver convenience in a great tasting package that also has healthy aspects to it, everyone wins.?

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