Sugar reduction is just the start. Confectionery can now claim to deliver benefits ranging from gut health to a good night’s sleep.
Ten years ago if someone had said retailers would be using health messages to sell sweets within a decade, a lot of people would have laughed in their face. Surely the whole concept of healthy sweets is a contradiction in terms people don't buy sweets because they are good for them, they buy them as a guilty pleasure, don't they?
How far we have come. Wanton indulgence is still a major trend, but confectionery with a healthy twist is gaining ground. Especially since the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released its last set of opinions on applications under the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation last month.
Beneo has developed a string of prototype healthy sweets based on a range of ingredients. These include probiotic hard candy, which promotes gut health using chicory-derived inulin and oligofructose, plus triple-layered sugar-free 'volcano' hard candies, with contrasting 'ice' and 'fire' tastes, using mint and chilli.
The company has also developed trial hard candies containing Palatinose, filled with chocolate or chewy fillings, and Ingrid Willibald-Ettle, head of customer technical service at Beneo Willibald-Ettle believes there's more opportunity in that arena.
That said, she thinks sweets could plug a range of health benefits in the future, from energy supply to bone health. Gluten- and lactose-free products will gain in popularity, too, she thinks. "For example, for lactose-free chocolate we can replace milk powders with Remy rice flour derivatives."
In fact, you name a functional health benefit and there's probably a confectionery product being developed to convey it. At the other end of the spectrum, Israel-based Anlit Advanced Nutrition and Ingredia Nutritional, France, have even developed a dairy-based product that helps children aged up to 14 to sleep better at night.
Sweet Dreams are sugar-free, vanilla-flavoured yogurt bears, each containing 75mg of Lactium and will be launched at the Vitafoods trade show in Geneva later this month.
Lactium is a milk casein hydrolysate containing a bioactive decapeptide, which Ingredia claims has relaxing properties. "Lactium can improve sleep quality and duration," says Alain Baniel, Ingredia research and development manager. "This is vital when it comes to children, who need long and restful sleep during their growth period."
Extracts can equally be a major source of health benefits, a principle that Plantextrakt, a business unit of the Martin Bauer Group, is built on. Confectionery that boosts energy or mental performance is attracting interest, says Oliver Hehn, Plantextrakt marketing manager. "For these products Plantextrakt supplies extracts like guarana, ginseng, green tea or ginkgo."
In addition, products with antioxidant properties also show potential, he says. "Sage, rosemary or hibiscus extracts are only a small selection of products which provide a high antioxidant potential and could perfectly be used for example in candies or drops."
Dental health claims in particular have been ratified in EFSA's latest round of opinions, leaving the way clear for a host of sugar replacers and toothkind components.
Beneo is just one of many firms now poised to launch into commercial partnerships using sugar replacement products in this case, its Palatinose and Isomalt ingredients following EFSA's ratification of their toothfriendly claims.
The claims in question are: 'dental health', 'remineralisation of teeth', 'not cariogenic' and 'do not produce tooth decay'. "Following the positive answer from EFSA, clients will pick up the idea and interest is very high," says Willibald-Ettle. She believes the first commercial products involving the ingredients could hit the market within a year.
Likewise, Tate & Lyle is exploring the potential of its sugar-replacing Sta-Lite polydextrose fibre, although the firm is more cautious regarding healthy confectionery claims. "We can observe that there are not that many sugar-reduced successful products on the market," says marketing officer Sylvie Ory. "Many are being withdrawn as they don't meet manufacturers expectations in terms of sales, except some specific niches like Weight Watchers products or products for diabetics.
"At the moment we don't see a clear trend towards healthy claims for confectionery. But maybe it's the next trend? We conducted in 2009 some research and the results show that consumers are ready to pay more for fibre-rich products. And polydextrose would be great for this use as it is a very well tolerated fibre."
For Leatherhead Food Research (LFR), chewing gum is where it's at in terms of functional health benefits, particularly oral health. "Tooth whitening is a big one," says Jonathan Thomas, LFR principal market analyst. Outside the UK, Japanese business Ezaki Glico has aimed Brooklyn Happy Dent, which helps to remineralise teeth, at consumers looking to give teeth a "just brushed" feel, says Thomas. Another Japanese firm, Meiji, has brought out a gum which features green tea fluoride.
Healthy confectionery often tends to originate in Japan, where consumers see no contradiction between sweets and their health-conscious demands, says Thomas. Trends then jump to the US and can often cross over from there to the UK.
Low sugar gum using alternative sweeteners such as xylitol is already a force in the market, with smaller firms such as London-based Peppersmith and larger global manufacturers such as Lotte Group using it.
But dental health is just the tip of the iceberg, says Thomas. "You're now starting to see gums marketed as energy products." These include Jolt Energy Gum, which uses caffeine as an ingredient and boasts on its website that "two pieces of Jolt Gum = one cup of coffee".
A recent novel health and hygiene twist has been a rose-fragranced gum targeted at women to give them a rose-scented body-fragrance made by Japan-based Kracie, says Thomas.
However, some functional trends do exist in sugar confectionery outside gum, he adds. "There's a market for boiled sweets fortified with vitamins in Germany. And you get sugar-free, breath freshening mints."
Chocolate is another potential area for products conveying health benefits, as consumer awareness of cocoa's antioxidant content has been heightened, so they are more ready to accept its healthy credentials, says Thomas. However, the response so far has been patchy, he says.
"I have seen some evidence of companies trying to develop chocolate with added probiotics or omega-3, but this hasn't really taken off to a fair degree," says Thomas.
Commercial concerns loom large in bakery ingredients
Squeezing the biggest returns from raw materials while preserving quality is a big preoccupation for bakery ingredients players. British Bakels, for example, is preparing one of its biggest product launches this month: Quantum improver, which boasts 2% extra yield over all existing bread improvers. The company claims it saves bakers on average 3.5% across all products, roughly 1p of dough cost per loaf. "One customer made 4,000 extra loaves from 100t of flour using this," said Pauline Ferrol, national sales controller for wholesale and foodservice. Product benefits included increased water absorption and effectiveness with all flour recipes "even challenging flour", she added.
The product has two variants: Quantum Clean Label, which offers full clean-label credentials, and Quantum Rustique designed for fuller flavour, artisan-style bread.
Pursuing a similar trend, Limagrain Céréales Ingredients (LCI) has just launched Hydra 0.2%, which is used with standard dough conditioner. Increasing dough hydration cuts the cost of dough mix and increases product yield per batch. It can also appear simply as 'wheat flour' on pack, so it's clean-label friendly. Chasing clean labels and recreating traditional, fuller flavour craft breads with less fat, salt and sugar remain the predominant bakery trends.
"From 20072010 in Europe, particularly western Europe, we have seen a 140% increase in new launches in bread products with a no additives and preservatives claim," says Frank Olfers, bakery director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Kerry Ingredients and Flavours. "The trend for clean-label foods listing fewer E-numbers/chemical additives originates in the UK market, but is rising up the agenda in France, Spain and Scandinavia."
According to the same Mintel stats, the amount of clean-label cake, pastry and sweet goods launches has risen over the same period by 137% and by 207% in sweet biscuits and cookies. This growth vastly outstrips general rises in new product development of 14% in bread products, 23% in pastries and sweet goods and 33% in sweet cookies and biscuits.
Meanwhile, Kerry Ingredients is offering solutions to support the recreation of more traditional, fuller flavour breads, and reformulation. "For example, for manufacturers wanting to incorporate traditional breads in their ranges, we can offer a specific fermented portfolio and for those looking for lowering salt levels, we have integrated natural ingredient solutions to enhance taste and improve dough processing," says Olfers. In the sphere of salt specifically sodium replacement, Kudos Blends is experiencing considerable success switching the sodium in sodium bicarbonate with potassium. Bakers making sweet cakes; flour confectionery and Irish soda bread are the latest to show interest in this.
The product can enable sodium reduction of up to 50%, says Kudos Blends director Dinnie Jordan. "40% of our business is now based on low-sodium options." In addition, the added potassium can improve overall mineral consumption and is thought to help ease hypertension and anxiety.
Kudos has made substantial headway working with bread makers on sodium reduction. The challenges remain biscuits and crackers, where progress with industry has been slower. "We're involved in a massive project here, but we're making good headway," says Jordan.