Sensible sweets

by Eric Schroeder
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When The Hershey Co. last month established the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition it set the stage for a significant shift in focus for the Hershey, Pa.-based confectioner. Historically entrenched in a category geared toward indulgence, Hershey’s move toward developing new products and technologies the company hopes will contain health benefits is sure to bring change to the candy landscape.

The center, which will draw upon the expertise of Hershey’s own scientific resources as well as those of outside institutions, will focus its research on three areas of health: heart health, weight management and mental and physical energy.

Already, the company has made strides in putting its research on weight management to work. Portion control, which has played a leading role in new product introductions across the entire food and beverage category, serves as one example of Hershey’s latest effort. The company in April introduced Hershey’s Sticks, a product described as a "guilt-free way to indulge in chocolate." Available in four varieties — milk chocolate, rich dark chocolate, mint milk chocolate, and caramel filled milk chocolate — the sticks contain 60 calories, primarily because there is not as much chocolate in the product as other Hershey items. Later this year, Hershey plans to launch a line of 100-calorie chocolate products.

Another company with portion control on the mind is Nestle USA. The Glendale, Calif.-based company has created an offshoot product of its popular candy bars that it believes fits the bill when it comes to a healthier snacking option. Nestle Stixx are wafers filled with a cream center — all wrapped in milk chocolate and sprinkled with candy pieces. Available in Nestle Crunch, Nestle Crunch Dark and Butterfinger, the new confections contain 90 calories.

But Hershey and Nestle are not alone in their quest to deliver on health and nutrition. Earlier this month at the All-Candy Expo held in Chicago, confectioners from across the world gathered to display the latest and greatest in confection technology. In addition to "portion control," buzzwords such as "all-natural" and "fortified" stood out the meeting.

Omega goodness on display

Belgian chocolate with omega-3 fatty acids and a variety of other vitamins, minerals and phytochemical compounds was on display at the Chicago exposition. Botticelli Choco-Omeg chocolates (bars and boxed pieces) earlier this month debuted in Canadian pharmacies. By late August, they will be on store shelves across the United States, according to Botticelli Chocolates, a unit of Dynamic Chocolates, Delta, B.C.

The Choco-Omeg line is available in three varieties, each formulated to deliver a specific benefit. The Memory Formula (chocolate with an orange flavor) includes choline to promote healthy memory and brain functions; the Calcium Formula (milk chocolate with cookie bits) contains 400 mg of calcium per bar; and the Cardio Formula (dark chocolate with raspberry pieces) contains 400 mg of omega-3s.

The labels feature statements such as "supports healthy memory and brain functions" and are geared toward health-conscious adult women, said Sam Macdonald, vice-president of marketing and sales for Botticelli.

Mr. Macdonald said the omega-3 fatty acids used in the Choco-Omeg line consist of DHA, EPA and ALA chains.

"Omega-3 is the fastest growing supplement and functional foods ingredient," he said. "Omega-3 from fish doesn’t taste very good on its own and is difficult to hide. We have taken omega-3 all the way to indulgence."

He noted that most consumers understand they’re not receiving enough omega-3 in their typical diet, which presents an excellent opportunity for a confectioner such as Botticelli to fill the void.

"The caplet or capsule supplements traditionally leave an unpleasant aftertaste — Choco-Omeg bars do not," Mr. Macdonald explained. "We believe consumers are initially buying them because they are healthy, but they are repeating because they taste great."

Pomegranate provides perks

The pomegranate, which gained visibility in the United States in 2004 as a juice option, over the past year has become one of the most popular fruits for inclusion in all types of foods and beverages. While one pomegranate delivers 40% of an adult’s daily vitamin C requirement, the fruit also serves as a rich source of folic acid and antioxidants.

The confection industry is taking notice of this power player.

Ford Gum & Machine Co., Akron, N.Y., offers sugar free Pomegranate Power gum, made with natural pomegranate extract and wild blueberries. According to the company, the combination of pomegranate extract and blueberry flavors offers consumers an "exotic" and "refreshing" taste. In addition to pomegranates, the gum is sweetened with sugar free xylitol, a low-calorie sweetener that may reduce the risk of tooth decay.

"Consumers are shifting to products that offer added nutritional benefits, as we have seen in the nutritional drink and energy bar markets," said Steve Greene, vice-president of sales for Ford Gum & Machine. "They are looking to all their consumables to offer more than they have in the past, without adding calories or sugar. Gum is a great delivery system for these added nutritional products. Furthermore, gum can be made sugar free, thus not adding extra calories."

In addition to pomegranate, Ford Gum & Machine now offers Cow Power Calcium Gum, geared toward women and children. The new gum includes vitamin D for calcium absorption and delivers 250 mg of calcium per piece, with four pieces giving most people 100% of their daily calcium requirement.

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