Historians will occupy themselves for years analyzing how COVID-19 shaped consumer behavior. One effect of the pandemic that won’t require time to deduce is how the coronavirus drove Americans into the arms of their favorite comfort foods—and that’s been great for the confectionery sector.
At the same time, however, the pandemic awakened those consumers to the inescapable link between what they eat and how healthy they feel, which is … also great for the confectionery sector?
It certainly can be, provided confections are formulated with an eye toward cleaner labels, less sugar and the inclusion of ingredients that promote wellness. After all, said Courtney LeDrew, senior marketing manager, Cargill, “There’s a dichotomy in the marketplace: Many consumers are perfectly content letting candy be candy, but there’s another side who rationalize their treats by choosing options they perceive as healthier.”
It’s for them that a new class of clean label chocolates, functional gummies and beyond is proving comfort can come in better-for-you packages. And what’s more—when the going gets tough, smart confectioners start innovating.
Global contagion or no, “Consumers very much want it all,” observed Nicole Redini, category strategy manager, Tate & Lyle. She maintained nothing demonstrates this better than how they treat themselves to confectionery: “They always expect great taste and indulgent satisfaction, but they also have an increasing desire to get and stay healthy.”
COVID-19, LeDrew added, merely amplified this push-and-pull. “On one hand, we see more interest in better-for-you candy driven by pandemic-elevated concerns around health and wellness,” she noted. “Yet as consumers embrace comfort and nostalgia, we’re seeing that embrace play out in their flavor choices—there’s a lot of peanut-butter-and-jelly and s’mores-flavored products hitting stores.”
Kevin Barasa, global product manager, extracts, Sensient Flavors, agreed. “You see launches of candy bars made with cereal that consumers remember from childhood,” he observed, noting that a Fruity Pebbles candy bar “was recently the No. 1 trending search for candy, according to Google Trends.”
More of the good, less of the bad
Amid it all, consumers maintain their faith that these fantasy confections can, in fact, be, if not downright good for them, then at least better for them than before.
Consider that as far back as January 2020, Tate & Lyle’s proprietary Global Ingredient Tracker research found half of consumers “believe there’s such a thing as better-for-you confections,” Redini pointed out, with attributes like low sugar content, no artificial sweeteners or flavors, fewer calories and functional boosts ranking among their defining factors.
While LeDrew considers the definition of better-for-you confections “in the eye of the beholder,” she, too, observed that “for some, it’s all about sugar, while others focus on products made with ‘natural,’ non-GMO or organic ingredients.”
Much like other categories, protein—especially plant protein—is popular, she continued, along with fiber, collagen and “anything that consumers associate with immune health, from vitamins C and D to zinc and even probiotics.”
As for who these consumers are, LeDrew believes “the better-for-you confectionery space offers something for everyone.” The trick for confectioners lies in targeting concepts and benefits to unique needs. “While older consumers might be attracted to products for immune health,” she stated, “younger consumers might be drawn to confections promising clean energy. And the Millennial mom might even be attracted to confections infused with collagen for healthier skin.”
To read this article in its entirety, check out the Permissible indulgence: Strategies for better-for-you confectionery – digital magazine.
Kimberly J. Decker is a Bay Area food writer that has worked in product development for the frozen sector and written about food, nutrition and the culinary arts. Reach her at [email protected]