News & Insight

Focus: Better-for-you, sugar reduced and extended flavour ranges all among 2021’s key confectionery trends

Source:Confectionery Production

Though we are only a few months into 2021, it is presenting some intriguing trends within confectionery, including continued interest in better-for-you, sugar reduced ranges, in addition to an enhanced range of flavours being a core market driver for ice cream, according to Innova Market Insights

The drive towards healthier choices in food and beverages has become so strong that it is even relevant to treating. Taste quality is essential to confectionery, sweet bakery, ice cream and desserts, however, formulating ‘better–for–you’ sweet treats can be challenging.

Sugar is inherent to the concept of treating and is therefore a particularly important focus for ‘better–for–you’ development. In fact, research shows that 91% of consumers are at least a little influenced by sugar reduction claims. There have been winners and losers in reduced sugar treats, however, and there is no surefire route to success. Strategies vary and include complete removal of sugar, blending of sugar with sweeteners and advances in sugar science.

Sugar reduction has been particularly successful in ice cream, with an emphasis on bolder on-pack calorie counts. “Several brands, such as Halo Top, have established themselves firmly on a low sugar platform,” says Lu Ann Williams, Global Insights Director at Innova Market Insights. “Their success owes much to pricing that is similar to premium mainstream products and a strong brand ethos centered on health.”

Beyond sugar, protein is the other macronutrient attracting most attention in ‘better-for-you’ sweet treats. Protein is a good fit with dairy desserts but also adds health value to some confectionery and sweet bakery products. Even some well-known sports nutrition brands are exploring opportunities in high protein biscuits and chocolate products.

Looking at ingredient development in ‘better–for–you’ sweet treats, plant–based ingredients stand out. In sweetening, for example, stevia, erythritol and monk fruit are all gaining ground. Meanwhile, in protein enrichment, pea protein is an increasingly popular ingredient choice, with rice protein an emerging niche.

As Innova noted, the drive toward healthier food choices is likely to remain robust in sweet treats throughout this year.  Indulgent taste is essential to confectionery, sweet bakery, ice cream and desserts, which brings on challenges in “better-for-you” reformulations.

Sugar reduction and protein enhancement are two concepts most sought after in purchasing decisions and are therefore significant focuses for “better-for-you” development, notes the market researcher.

In particular, sugar reduction has been successful in ice cream, with an emphasis on bolder on-pack calorie counts. Earlier this month, for instance, Swedish brand Nick’s scooped up US$30 million in financing for its sugar-free frosty treats made with EPG, a patented fat replacer that gives the ice cream great taste and texture despite being low-calorie.

“Several brands, such as Halo Top, have established themselves firmly on a low sugar platform,” says Lu Ann Williams, global insights director at Innova Market Insights.

“Their success owes much to pricing that is similar to premium mainstream products and a strong brand ethos centered on health.”

Innova Market Insights’ analysis reveals that 91 percent of consumers are “at least a little” influenced by sugar reduction claims. Strategies in this context vary and include complete removal of sugar, blending of sugar with sweeteners and advances in sugar science.

“There have been winners and losers in reduced sugar treats, however, and there is no surefire route to success,” the market researcher states.

Accorrding to Innova, as far as ice cream is concerned, flavour is the single most important choice factor and purchase driver for shoppers. However, there are other trends that help to build further competitive edge. These include non-dairy formulations, low sugar recipes, cleaner labels and ethical ingredients.

Non-dairy ice cream has certainly been booming in recent years. Launch numbers rose at a CAGR of almost 30% over 2016-2020 and non-dairy lines now account for 10% of all ice cream introductions. This rises to as much as one-quarter of all activity in North America and one-fifth of launches in Australasia.

Low sugar formulations are also gaining ground, reaching penetration of 6% of launches in 2020. “The development of more natural sweeteners has attracted more attention to sugar reduction,” says Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights. “Artificial sweeteners have steadily lost ground, and erythritol, stevia and monk fruit are now the top three choices in low sugar and sugar-free ice cream.”

Meanwhile, when it comes to clean label development, shorter and simpler ingredients lists are popular. Some brands have even flagged the number of ingredients, or indeed the full ingredient list, on their packaging.

Although these are all interesting trends in ice cream development, flavour is still king. Even where alternative positionings are used to target specific consumer interests, taste choices remain vital. In fact, they can be even more important in healthier recipes, helping to cement an indulgent image. For example, salted caramel is one of the biggest winners in recent flavour development, rising to fifth in the flavour rankings in 2020. However, its penetration in non-dairy ice cream is more than twice as high as in regular dairy ice cream.

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