Sugar-Free Sweets: The Quest For Healthy Candy

Image: SmartSweets

Better-for-you candy companies want to satisfy your sweet tooth without the post-snack regret:

  • Sugar-free chocolate confectioner Lily’s Sweets saw a 51.3% increase in sales last year.
  • Vegan gummy bear maker Yumy Bear is going public in Canada this month at $50M.

But Big Candy isn’t giving up their $188.5B market without a fight:

  • Earlier this year, Mondelēz International (multinational snack company) snapped up Hu Kitchen, maker of paleo, dairy-free, and gluten-free chocolates.
  • Low-sugar candy company SmartSweets was acquired last year for $360M.
  • In May, Hershey announced it had entered the process of acquiring Lily’s Sweets.

Health hazards. Despite connections to the deadly “Diabesity” epidemic and a laundry list of corresponding health issues, sugary candy has flown under the radar, safe under the protective wing of childhood nostalgia.

But last year, the pandemic sharpened public awareness of health concerns — consumers across the globe are breaking up with ultra-processed, high-sugar foods. A 2019 study found “reducing sugar” as Americans’ top health consideration.

Paging Willy Wonka. To meet these demands, candy chefs are engineering healthier alternatives, crafting low- or no-sugar treats to accommodate diverse diets:

  • Surf Sweets’ gummy bears are gluten-free, non-GMO, and vegan.
  • Go Better offers a keto alternative to the likes of Reese’s peanut butter cups.
  • And for those who still crave sugar’s taste and texture, scientists at DouxMatok have engineered a healthier alternative: Incredo Sugar.

Sugar crash. Upon closer look, candy’s better-for-you story diverges from its soda and snack counterparts. Traditional candy leaders like Nestlé have fled the industry, selling off its US candy business to Ferrero for $2.8B in recent years.

Others wonder if the industry can ever truly claim a “healthy” label, noting that candy with low or no sugar might be somewhat better for you. But not by much.

Looking ahead: Healthy candy is up and coming but, for now, remains niche. Consumer adoption and ingredient innovation trails other segments of the food and beverage industry. While there’s room to innovate, skeptics believe the future of candy might be just… less candy.

Keep an eye out for other sweets, from healthy ice cream to healthy donuts, who may try to win over your taste buds instead.

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