- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2005

Those with a sweet tooth now can have their candy and eat it, too.

Store shelves are being filled increasingly with healthier candy, as manufacturers get creative with artificial sweeteners to fill that chocolate craving for the health-conscious.

Roughly 20.2 million adults, or 12.4 percent of candy-loving adults, are opting to eat low-fat or fat-free candy, according to “Market Trends: Diet Candy,” a report from market research publisher Packaged Facts, a division of Rockville-based MarketResearch.com.

In the past few years, sugar-free has been the fastest-growing chocolate category in the $26 billion industry, said Gene Dunkin, president of Godiva North America, which introduced a line of sugar-free chocolate in November.

“It’s been a very big success. It dramatically exceeded our expectations and forecasts,” said Mr. Dunkin, noting that Godiva’s top customer request always has been the creation of a sugar-free product.

Consumers spent an estimated $495 million on diet candy last year, an increase from $365 million in 2003 and $118 million in 2000, said the report from Packaged Facts.

Better-tasting sugar substitutes and a greater awareness of obesity and weight issues forced manufacturers to develop better candy, said Don Montuori, Packaged Facts acquisitions editor for the study.

Paul Wockenfuss, chief executive officer for Wockenfuss Candy Co. of Baltimore, said manufacturers are taking a proactive approach to developing healthier products.

“The candy industry — the entire food industry — is aware of the obesity issue,” he said. “I think the big manufacturers and pharmaceuticals are going to look for ways to make foods lower in calories. From that angle, I think that segment will continue to grow.”

The growing popularity of diet candy is fueled primarily by new products, said Susan Fussell, a spokeswoman for the National Confectioners Association.

“The reason the category has grown is because there have been more products to buy over the years,” Miss Fussell said. “As long as consumer demand for the category remains high, candy manufacturers will continue to develop new products.”

The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at the Mall in Columbia, Md., has expanded its selection of diet candy after seeing an increase in sales and consumer interest in low-carbohydrate sweets, said manager Jeffrey Kisamore.

“It’s a little bit healthier. In fact, it’s a lot healthier,” he said. “There’s a lot more demand. I guess more people are trying to get fit.”

The Packaged Facts report found that low-carb, low-calorie, low-sugar or sugar-free chocolate posted a 34 percent compound annual growth rate between 2000 and 2004.

In comparison, regular chocolate grew at a rate of 3.9 percent and non-chocolate candy fell 2.5 percent.

The versatility of new artificial sweeteners allows manufacturers to create the right flavor, texture and appearance, said ProductScan Online.

Russell Stover Candies Inc. of Kansas City, Mo., created low-carb and sugar-free product lines more than five years ago. Among candy manufacturers, it has posted the largest sales increase in diet candy — $85.7 million since 2000, the Packaged Facts study said.

The company ranks first in dollar gains in diet candy over the 2000-05 period, with 42 percent of the overall diet-candy sales gains over the period.

Russell Stover controls 37 percent of dollar sales and 49 percent of the diet- chocolates segment as of the first quarter, the study said.

Tom Ward, president and chief operating officer, credits much of the company’s success to Russell Stover’s ability to make sugar-free and low-carb products that taste like regular candy.

He said his company created the lines to accommodate lifestyle choices.

“If you’re a customer of ours and decided you wanted to go on a low-carb diet or you were diagnosed with diabetes, then you can use the alternative products and the advantage to us is that we don’t lose a consumer,” he said.

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