Skip to main content

Candy that's good for you? Better believe it

Functional food makers are turning to the confectionery aisle

A candy that helps curb nighttime munchies? Better believe it. Two Skinny Chews not only provide a sweet hit of dark chocolate but also four grams of inulin, a prebiotic fibre that helps stabilize blood sugar levels and satiate appetite.

“This is your bridge to the next meal,” Dr. Joey Shulman, the Toronto-based registered nutritionist behind the product, explained recently on TV. “If you’re driving, you take one, you pop it in your mouth. It holds you.”

The buzz on the sweet is so good that Shulman was able to expand distribution from health-food stores to 250 Walmarts in Canada this spring.

READ: Cold treats to heat up summer sales

Functional foods such as omega-3 eggs and calcium-fortified fruit juices have lined grocery shelves for years. But now, functional ingredients are invading the candy aisle.

Worldwide annual sales of “functional confectionery” are just over US$10 billion, up 38% since 2006, according to Leatherhead Food Research report “Innovations in the Global Confectionery Market,” published last year.

“Some of the more popular varieties of functional confectionery include medicated confectionery and sweets fortified with herbal or botanical ingredients, some of which carry specific health claims,” says Jonathan Thomas, principal market analyst at Leatherhead.

In Canada, candies with added vitamins, minerals or amino acids, as well as those making health claims, are officially considered “natural health products” (NHPs) under the federal government’s Natural Health Products Regulations.

An example is a mint from Winnipeg-based The Winning Combination. Its Vitamints Multi for Men and Multi for Women not only provide a fresh minty taste but enough vitamins and minerals to meet Recommended Daily Intake requirements.

Vitamints faced an obvious marketing challenge when they were launched last year: Are they mints or vitamins? But Shazad Bukhari, chief operating officer, says consumers are now on board: It’s easier to pop four mints throughout the day, after all, than have to swallow a big vitamin capsule.

Thanks to amendments to the Food and Drugs Act in 2012, consumers will start to see more functional candy on store shelves. Ottawa moved a number of products previously regulated as NHPs to its food regulatory framework. In effect, the government decided that consumers already viewed these products as foods rather than therapeutic products.

READ: How sweet it is

Among the products included on that list was Awake chocolate. The 44g milk chocolate bar packs as much caffeine as a cup of coffee or a 250ml energy drink. Introduced in August 2012, it’s now sold at major grocery retailers as well as inside convenience stores countrywide.

Several gums also made the Health Canada list: Stride Spark contains B vitamins; and Time Nutrition’s Slim Gum has health-enhancing ingredients such as green coffee bean extract, chromium and L-carnitine, reputed to assist with weight loss efforts.

What’s next for functional confectionery? How about positioning chocolate as not only heart-healthy but also mood healthy.

Chocolate is frequently craved when people are experiencing emotional lows, says Thomas. And research has shown that eating chocolate hikes levels of endorphins and serotonin, known as an antidepressant.

“So it is possible that increasing quantities of chocolate may be marketed as a mood food in the future,” Thomas says.

Chocolate: good for your brain? Perhaps.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds