Hit your retail sweet spot with the next generation of better-for-you confectionery, says Matt Chittock 

Is the UK ready for another massive sugar rush? Stats show that when the nation goes through tough economic times, consumers’ sweet teeth sharpen. For example, in 2008 (when the financial crisis was really kicking in) the combined turnover of UK businesses making cocoa and confectionery swelled to £5.1 billion [ONS] to meet the demand. 

That’s because of the so-called ‘lipstick effect’. Coined by Leonard Lauder (of Estée Lauder fame), this describes what happens when shoppers buy affordable treats (like lippy) to cheer themselves up. And with food inflation and household bills soaring, plus a recession on the horizon, consumers really need that feel-good hit right now. 

“Whether you’re vegan or not, the lipstick effect has been going on for years with sweet treats,” explains Lisa Gawthorne, managing director of Bravura Foods. “Especially in the evening, that six-to-ten o’clock period, when people are flicking on Netflix and want the sharing bags out to have some nibbles.”

Gawthorne acknowledges that independent health stores could also do with something to look forward to, what with the unfolding inflation crisis and wholesaler woes of 2022. Bravura’s big new headline release to help support the sector is Panda Liquorice’s vegan chocolate-covered liquorice. 

Twisting the traditional
This innovative launch puts a new vegan twist on a solid health store stalwart with a rich and authentic heritage. Panda has been producing liquorice using traditional slow cooking methods at its factory in Jyvaskyla in Finland since 1927, so it’s been regular stock for retailers for some time. 

“It’s a brand that’s very old, it’s steeped in heritage and know-how, and for the first time ever they have decided to launch a vegan chocolate-coated liquorice. So it’s a really, really nice concept,” comments Gawthorne. “We did a bit of a soft launch before Christmas exclusively into the wholesalers, but we’re going to be aggressively trying to get it into the retail sector over the next three to six months.”

Naturally, vegan choices are huge in health store confectionery. Today more than a third of people in the UK are interested in becoming vegan. More than just a trend, it feels like a movement that’s coming of age – or at least being noticed by more people. The knock-on effect is that a category that was once a health store exclusive is properly entering the mainstream.

Gawthorne cites Maltesers’ new-for-2023 Vegan Hot Chocolate drink as an example of how invested major brands are becoming in the sector. However, she still believes that there’s plenty of room for growth, especially in often neglected vegan areas like sweet treats.

“Vegans are probably one of the most educated groups of consumers out there at the moment”

“I think in the vegan sector a lot of people focus on the fake meats and stuff like that,” she says. “I believe that sweet treats sometimes get overlooked. People are only now realizing that we need to address this. We’ve been doing vegan sweets for 12 years now, and it’s nice to see that other manufacturers and brands have joined the party.”

High expectations
The vegan market may be lucrative but it’s also very exacting. Vegan consumers expect companies in the sector to be transparent about meeting their needs and aren’t afraid to call out those that don’t. This means brands need to respond with products that are more than just a tick box exercise and offer something different to the norm.

“Vegans are probably one of the most educated groups of consumers out there at the moment,” says Joe Snow, director of Just Wholefoods. “And for us, that’s great. But I do think what we also try to do as a company is not only service that market but try to make the transition as easy as possible for those who are wanting to eat more plant-based food. 

“So we’re trying to bring people over to our side of things as easily as possible, without having to reduce anything in terms of the quality they’re having, or [putting them off with] price – which sometimes seems to be a barrier on this.”

For 2023, the company’s new range of confectionery is Goody Gummy Drops – a reduced sugar, organic and vegan gummy sweet. Each pack comes with its own animal shapes, which tell their own story about the environment.

“The reason for these different kinds of animals is that with every pack we sell we donate 5% of the profits to charities that help with the conservation of the particular animal that’s on the front of the pack,” Snow explains. “It seems like, as a country, we’re letting our environment down so badly. This feels totally wrong and I wanted to do something to help out.”

Confectionery is often a kid-focused category, but Snow explains that he’s aiming to meet the needs of the whole family. “Mum and dad are happy because the sweets taste great but they’re still ‘better for them’,” he says. “And the kids are happy because they’re having sweets! But what I really hope for is that when families are driving back from school or whatever, that it’s a good educational piece. The sweets are quite a good conversation starter for parents and children to begin talking about these issues from a young age. I think that’s very important.”

This year Snow also plans to break the mould on vegan jelly with new launches based around some truly ‘out there’ flavours. The full range is under wraps at the moment, but he’s already teasing a raspberry, basil and black pepper variant, out later this year, of which Willy Wonka himself would be proud.

Sweet like chocolate
The launch of Candy Kittens showed what can be achieved in the category – and has helped sugar confectionery volume sales rise 8% [Nielsen]. In comparison, chocolate is languishing a little because of its old-fashioned and relatively unhealthy image. 

Well, that’s the bigger picture; in individual health stores, where retailers have the space to stock new and exciting varieties, it is still going strong. Dan Lawrence from Aardvark Alternatives in South Wales recently told NPN that chocolate is still very popular with his customers (Rhythm 108 in particular) thanks to a flourishing local vegan community – hence why 90% of his stock is vegan. 

If you’re looking to stock up on new sweet treats there’s plenty of innovation out there from health store-focused brands:

  • Keto8 aims to satisfy shoppers on a Keto/Paleo trip with Keto Raw Cacao Morsels – a low-carb, gluten-free, post-gym sweet snack 
  • Also aimed at gym-goers and active people generally is Ritter Sport Vegan Pure, which brings a wide range of plant-based and moo-free treats to the market
  • In the heat of summer last year, H!P (Happiness in Plants) hit the white chocolate market with its Berry Crunch White Chocolate Bar (which could be good stock for Easter gifting)
  • With distinctive illustrations and design, Love Raw’s Nutty Choc Balls is a new indulgence which launches this spring and claims to be ‘so good you won’t believe it’s plant-based’
  • Finally, Glasgow-based brand Bare Bones is aiming for high-end chocolate connoisseurs with its award-winning Honduras 60% Milk Chocolate, featuring distinctive taste notes of raisins, fudge and double cream.

HFSS: the lowdown
After years of dithering, the Government has finally taken legislative steps to beat obesity with its High Fat, Salt and Sugar (HFSS) regulations – some of which came into force last year. 

The regs take aim at restricting HFSS product categories in high footfall areas in-store. These include checkouts and end-of-aisle units – exactly the places where supermarkets put tempting offers on sweet treats. That part of the regulations is already in force. The next part, which bans volume promotions like ‘buy one get one free’, is set to come in for October this year (unless Rishi kicks it into the long grass).

The good news is that most independent health stores will be exempt from the regs. Both because they only affect stores with 50 or more employees – and because our sector doesn’t tend to offer checkout deals in the same way as the multis. 

Big brands have already opposed the move. Kellogg’s in particular tried to sue to overturn it (or at least try to include milk in the nutritional profiling for its sugary cereal). We’ve also seen brands like Cadbury’s scramble to release lower-sugar versions of existing bars and confectionery. So what does all this mean for the health store sector? After all, sugar-free is traditionally firmly in its territory.

“We’ve been in this before it was considered sexy!” says Gawthorne. “I remember buyers just didn’t want to talk about it because they saw [better-for-you] as a ‘tree-hugging thing’. But now they come to us for information because we’re category captains.

“Unilever, Mars, and Cadbury’s have come into the marketplace with their plant bars. Chocolate, in particular, has had a flurryof NPD in the last 12 to 18 months. 

“In response you’ve just got to keep on moving by looking at what’s current. If you can’t bring out new lines, then it’s thinking about how to improve the lines you’ve got.”


Locako DIY Mixes

Kinetic Natural Products Distributor
Tel: 08450 725 825
E-mail:  [email protected]

Offering a range of make-at-home delicious treats that will satisfy die-hard sweet-tooths, and designed especially to support a keto diet! All Locako’s DIY mixes are keto and low-carb friendly, plus only require minimal additional store cupboard ingredients. Gut supporting ingredients are also included in these blends in the shape of digestive enzymes, prebiotics and probiotics. Products available in the range include: Peanut Butter Collagen Brownie, Chocolate Gummies, Cookie Dough Choc Chip, Chocolate & Peanut Butter Mousse, Caramel Pancakes. www.kinetic4health.co.uk


Gin Gins – Ginger Confectionery 

WFBM Healthcare
Tel: 01782 528611
E-mail:  [email protected]

The UK’s best selling Ginger confectionery brand is more popular than ever as consumers look to natural ingredients which can strengthen their immune system.

Gin Gins are perfect to warm a winter chill, soothe an upset stomach or ease nausea on a long road trip. 

Choose from original chewy including Spicy apple, hard candy or the 30% strong candy. Speak to your local representative for samples!