Consumer Corner: Can sweets really be getting healthier?

By MARCELLA S. KREITER  |  May 30, 2010 at 5:28 AM
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CHICAGO, May 30 (UPI) -- Healthier candy may seem like an oxymoron but manufacturers look like they just may be going that route.

Old staples like chocolate, peanut brittle and gummy bears still take up a whole lot of shelf space but if the offerings at the Sweets and Snacks Expo last week in Chicago are any indication, there's real interest in making candy not so bad for you.

It's a matter of ingredients, several exhibitors agreed.

Brookside Foods Ltd. Of Abbotsford, British Columbia, introduced a line of chocolate-covered snacks with pomegranate, acai and blueberry, and goji centers.

"We're not saying it's a wonder drug," Bookside President Ken Shaver said. "We're a confectionery firm. But we're using dark chocolate -- that's good for you. And we've got the superfruit juice. And we're using cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup.

"But the health benefits are not our priority. We're not saying you'll live five years longer if you eat this."

Michael Kelly of American Licorice Co. of Felton, Calif., said his company is going after the mom who picks up the bag to read the ingredients before buying snacks for her children. American Licorice introduced its Natural Vines, a healthier version of its ubiquitous Red Vines.

"Consumers care more about ingredients now," Kelly said. "They're more conscious of ingredients."

The Natural Vines are made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup and the red color comes from beet juice instead of red dye.

Goetze's Candy Co. Inc. of Baltimore, which makes bulls' eyes and cow tails, makes its candy with wheat flour, eliminating much of the fat, sodium and cholesterol.

John A. Leipold Jr., Goetze's sales and marketing director, said much of the change is being driven by the growing attention to obesity and actions by schools that have banned certain snacks from vending machines.

Vitaball Inc. of Fort Thomas, Ky., has taken the trend a step further.

Regis J. Nesbitt, vice president of marketing, said the company is going after the vitamin water crowd with its vitagum -- three sugar-free flavors that provide A, B, C, D and E vitamins, calcium and minerals.

"It's gum first," Nesbitt said. "People aren't going to chew it if it tastes like cardboard."

Of course there's a price for all this attention to nutrition.

American Licorice Co.'s Natural Vines are about twice the price of conventional licorice and vitagum is priced at the premium end of the gum spectrum at $1.49 a pack.

For the traditionalist just looking for something gooey and sweet, there was the Cholive. No, it's not a chocolate-covered olive. It's a Vermont whole cream ganache covered with chocolate and on a swizzle stick designed to accompany cream drinks.

"There really was nothing to hang on the glass of a brandy Alexander or grasshopper, " a spokeswoman for The Cholive Co. said. "This is the perfect accompaniment."

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