CHICAGO — Sugar-free chocolate has gotten a bad rap, even as more consumers are avoiding sugar. The top executive of Russell Stover Chocolates hopes to squash that stigma.
At the Sweets & Snacks Expo, Kansas City-based Russell Stover unveiled a reformulated line of sugar-free chocolates made with stevia leaf extract, and the taste and quality match that of standard chocolates, said Andreas Pfluger, chief executive officer and president.
|Andreas Pfluger, c.e.o. and president of Russell Stover|
“We are the only one out there in chocolate doing it at this scale,” he told Food Business News at the event.
Already the top seller of sugar-free chocolate, Russell Stover hopes to extend its leadership in the category by aligning with changing consumer tastes and preferences.
Refining the recipe, which involved a switch from sucralose to stevia, took about two years, Mr. Pfluger said. The products will launch later this year and include such varieties as dark chocolate mint patties, pecan delights, peanut butter cups, coconut and caramel. Featuring updated packaging, the products will be marketed to everyone, not just diabetic consumers, Mr. Pfluger said.
“That will resonate with people who are already eating this type of product; they’ll say, ‘Wow, now someone is offering me the right quality with the right sugar replacement’ because everyone wants to have a natural one compared to a chemical,” he said. “Also we have open communication that will resonate with a lot of people who say, ‘I should cut sugar. I’m eating sugar in bread, I’m eating sugar in ketchup, I’m eating sugar with everything.’”
The launch coincides with Russell Stover’s recently announced commitment with the Partnership for a Healthier America to provide consumers with more transparency and portion guidance. Russell Stover’s parent company, Lindt & Sprungli, along with Mars Inc., Nestle USA, Ferrero and Ferrara Candy Co., pledged by the year 2022 to add front-of-pack nutrition information and reduce calories in at least half of individually wrapped candy and chocolate products to 200 calories or fewer.
“We are proud to be part of this commitment with the Partnership for a Healthier America,” Mr. Pfluger said. “I personally was involved from the beginning when we had these discussions. We believe only educated and well-informed consumers can make smart decisions. That’s why we want to make sure the packaging is communicating properly, but also what we do beyond packaging, such as web sites.
“It’s not only about calories and sugar the consumer wants to know … how do you source your ingredients? Do you do it in a sustainable way? Do you do it in an ethical way?”
Russell Stover manufactures its products in the United States, with four facilities in Colorado, Kansas and Texas. The company sources dairy from Oklahoma, cherries from Michigan and Oregon and many of its nuts from Southern states.“We have human beings in our factories actually making the fillings themselves,” Mr. Pfluger said. “We have some specialists who know how to make the best caramel, the best coconut, the best hazelnut … that’s our asset.”