The Many Faces Of Better-For-You Confectionery


Mintel Group Ltd.’s Marcia Mogelonsky, Ph.D. looks at how consumers define better-for-you confectionery and if they really want it.

Washington — As consumers look to improve their eating habits, defining “better-for-you” confectionery has become more of a challenge. Does the term mean that the candy or chocolate is lower in sugar? Lower in calories? Is it functional, providing more vitamins, fiber or other “better” ingredients? Is “better for you” a vegan product, with no animal ingredients? Or is it something else entirely?

The emphasis has to be on the last word — the “you” in “better for you.” Consumers are customizing their diets, choosing from an array of BFY ingredients and products, including confectionery. While some are embracing a flexitarian diet, believing that increasing their intake of fruits and vegetables is better for them, others are cutting carbs, avoiding gluten or embracing keto or paleo (high protein) foodways.

Lower Sugar, Lower Calories

American consumers are reading labels and considering ingredients when making food choices: 51 percent check labels for total sugar when choosing a new food or drink product, according to Mintel Group Ltd., while 48 percent check the calorie content. 

But, when it comes to choosing confectionery (either candy or chocolate), consumers have different priorities: just 24 percent of sugar confectionery eaters are swayed to buy a new candy by its sugar content, while only 14 percent of chocolate confectionery shoppers choose a new product because it is low/no sugar.

Is Functional Confectionery The Answer?

The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to consumers’ focus on better eating as a way of supporting their immune systems: 42 percent say they are using or have used foods boasting immunity support. But there are a number of ingredients with other benefits that are currently being promoted across food and drink products. 

Consumers are showing interest in food and drink that can boost their energy (45 percent), calm their anxiety (41 percent) and promote better sleep (35 percent), to name a few.

Does confectionery provide the right delivery system for functional ingredients? The answer depends on the type of confectionery and the type of consumer. 

Gum, for example, has acted as the base for a number of functional ingredients, with products delivering energy, immunity support and other benefits entering and leaving the market during the past few years. 

Candy, too, has explored the functional confectionery market, offering a number of benefits. Medicated confectionery, however, has to walk the thin line between candy and medicine, the latter of which comes with FDA regulations and labeling requirements.

But, what do consumers say? Only 8 percent of sugar confectionery eaters agree that they choose a product based on a promise of health benefits, while just 10 percent of chocolate eaters follow suit. 

Not surprisingly, both candy and chocolate consumers agree that they do not expect these products to offer health benefits: the sub-category that seems to have the highest “health benefit” profile is chocolate with added nuts, cited by 18 percent of chocolate eaters.

What About No Animal Ingredients?

Much has been made of the adoption of more plant-based foods into consumers’ diets, ranging from promoting a flexitarian diet with programs such as “meatless Mondays” and products such as Beyond Meat burgers and sausages providing alternatives with some compromises. More dramatic is the push to stricter vegan diet plans, which eschew all animal ingredients, even honey. 

Regardless of headlines, American consumers are more likely to follow less rigorous diets: 41 percent consider themselves omnivores, eating both plant-based and animal-based ingredients, while just 9 percent consider themselves vegetarians and 7 percent follow the more restrictive vegan diet.

Moving to more plant-based diets is being encouraged for both health benefits and environmental reasons, and the confectionery industry is not immune. Vegan chocolate has been garnering major headlines as it moves from margins to mainstream with multinationals including The Hershey Co. launching plant milk-based chocolate bars in the past year. 

Candy has not been under as much scrutiny, and while some sugar confectionery manufacturers have been experimenting with non-animal gelatins, the focus has been more on chocolate.

But, what do consumers think? While there is nascent interest in products without animal ingredients, the drive to embrace plant-based confections remains low. Just 6 percent of chocolate eaters consider “nondairy or vegan” to be a major purchase driver when choosing a chocolate product, while only 5 percent of sugar confectionery eaters feel the same way about candy.

The Well-Being Factor

The COVID-19 pandemic has made people more aware of the need for better health. One-quarter of consumers agree that since the pandemic, they are consuming more food and drink products that support their immunity, for example, pointing to the push towards better-for-you eating.

But it is more than just immunity, energy or other physical needs. Consumers have become more aware of the importance of strong mental health and supporting their emotional well-being. 

As the U.S. enters the third year of the pandemic, which seems to be moving from pandemic to endemic, consumers are admitting the challenges of both physical and mental fatigue. As a result, it is not surprising that 42 percent of consumers want their food to contribute to both their physical and mental health.

This is another space where confectionery easily fits. Both chocolate and candy are associated with fun, relaxation and reward, all terms that relate to mental wellness and emotional well-being. 

When asked what motivates their consumption of chocolate, consumers are likely to agree that they reach
for chocolate as a reward, as a pick me up or as a permissible  indulgence. Candy, too, is seen as a fun choice, harkening back to consumers’ younger days, when life was easier.

Confectionery is now, and has always been, a category that fills a range of needs. Consumers are able to juggle their needs and wants by balancing their confectionery intake and choosing when to cut back and when to add more depending on their current condition and plans. 

Marcia Mogelonsky

While some consumers seek products with added (or subtracted) ingredients, other prefer more control, and choose to eat less — or more — of their favorite confections as needed.

Contributor Info: Marcia Mogelonsky, Ph.D. is the director of insight, food & drink, at Mintel Group Ltd. and global analyst for confectionery/snacks. Her expertise focuses on consumer behavior across a range of categories. She can be reached at [email protected].