With lockdown inducing us to hanker after sweet treats to lift our spirits, Jane Wolfe looks at some healthier options to satisfy consumer cravings
A whopping three-quarters of UK adults (74%) eat sweets, with value sales rising 2% year-on-year to £1,507 million in 2019, according to Mintel, and the mood-lifting associations of confectionery, along with its affordability, are especially attractive during these tough social and economic times.
But it’s innovation that’s really going to drive the sector, says Mintel’s associate director – food and drink research UK – Emma Clifford: “With myriad products competing to give consumers a mood-boosting sugar fix during times of uncertainty, compelling NPD will remain vital for players in the sweets market,” she says. “Lower sugar sweets, vegan sweets and premium sweets continue to offer a lot of potential. Focusing on UK provenance and more environmentally friendly packaging would also be particularly timely.”
Step forward the natural products industry, which has been producing and selling low- or no-sugar foods for years, is the natural home for eco-friendly products and the pioneer of vegan foods of all types, including sweets.
“Go back a few years and there were only a few of us, but now there really are a huge amount of vegan confectionery products out there,” says Lisa Gawthorne, MD of Bravura Foods, which distributes several vegan sweet brands, including Free From Fellows and Freedom Confectionery.
“It’s been growing massively over the last 12 months in particular, and is made up of a mixture of bigger manufacturers dipping their toes in the water, some very long-standing heritage-based businesses and new artisan start-ups.
“We feel that growth will definitely continue, but innovation will be the decider on who wins. New marriages of flavours and textures along with on-trend packaging formats and real vegan problem-solving with products will be driving this.”
New developments in the Bravura stable include the collaboration between gelatine-free mallow producer Freedom Confectionery and cartoon cat character Pusheen. They have teamed to launch the world’s first chocolate-coated vegan gummy bar, Vegumi – a Vegan Society-approved strawberry flavoured bar which is gelatine-, gluten-, egg-, dairy- and soya-free, with no artificial colours or flavourings.
In addition, Free From Fellows – whose range includes Gummy Bears, Wine Gums and Cola Bottles – has undergone a colourful brand redesign ahead of ‘some very exciting NPD’ later this year. The new look aims to give the brand a solid point of difference and make it ‘shout loudly’ on shelf.
Gawthorne stresses the importance of offering a sugar-free brand like Free From Fellows. “The brand has a really strong following and has filled a gap in the market as so many consumers – both vegans and non-vegans – were crying out for a sugar-free option. We took the nation’s favourite sweets and just removed the sugar to allow people to still enjoy the gummy experience without worrying about their sugar intake. Everyone is always amazed to find the products don’t have any sugar.”
An oaty offering
A new entrant to the plant-based confectionery sector is ethical brand HiP (Happiness in Plants), created by James Cadbury who, unable to find a non-dairy alternative ‘that tasted like a creamy milk chocolate bar’, decided to create something himself using oat milk.
“Oat milk is the fastest-growing milk alternative in the UK and worldwide, so it was the obvious choice,” he says, adding that his team worked on the taste for over a year and believe they’ve ‘nailed it’. “Coming up with great-tasting creamy oat milk chocolate hasn’t been easy … but we believe we’ve created a winning combination.”
Cadbury, who founded Love Cocoa in 2016, created HiP as a standalone brand to target the younger end of the market. “Producing oat milk has minimal environmental impact versus traditional dairy milk, and younger consumers are more aware of these issues and more willing to try out alternatives, so it felt right to create a new brand that would really appeal to this group. HiP’s distinctive packaging and messaging have been specifically designed with the younger consumer in mind, seeking to tap into the current flexitarian trend.”
The first four Oat Milk Chocolate bars – which have around 35% less sugar than high street bars and are 41% cocoa – launched this month and comprise Creamy, Salted Caramel, Salty Pretzel and Cookies NO Cream.
So, does Cadbury see plant milk-based chocolate developing to be a distinct category? “Absolutely. Three years ago you’d never have expected Oatly to be in every grocery shop … Eventually, we believe it will replace milk chocolate. It’s a hugely exciting market, and I see it growing like plant-based milks.”
Spreading the joy
Another rising star in the sweet treat sector is spreads – whether enjoyed slathered on toast, in smoothies or spooned straight from the jar, there are many tasty, innovative products coming to market, including sweet nut butters.
Start-up Nutcessity came about when founder Mike Duckworth received a few ‘life nudges’ – he developed a peanut allergy and decided to become vegan. “Nut butter became a really useful, nutritious, delicious food and I started seeking it out and critiquing other brands,” he explains. “None of the products I found were organic, delicious and without added sugar – all at the same time.”
This led Duckworth to create a range of healthy and versatile tree nut butters, which are plant-based, organic and high in fibre, with no peanuts, added oil or sugar. Described as ‘only slightly sweet’ with a fudge-like, creamy texture, the Organic Treenut Butters include Gingerbread Almond, Chocolate Haz Braz, Caromel Cashew and Date & Walnut.
Duckworth explains that nut and seed spreads are performing well within the UK sweet spreads market, accounting for £141 million of the £636 million the sector was worth in 2020 and having a higher CAGR (12% for 2019-20) than chocolate spreads, jams/preserves and honey. “Nut butters are conveyable, tasty, healthy, satiating, versatile and on trend,” he says, adding that factors contributing to their popularity include the increase in flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan and ketogenic lifestyles that require high quality fibre, fat and protein sources.
A Divine Easter
This year Divine is launching two new Easter eggs: capturing a classic combination, the Smooth Milk & Tangy Orange egg infuses smooth milk chocolate with zesty natural orange; and Deliciously Dark & Smooth Hazelnut is a vegan-friendly egg combining ‘deliciously dark’ chocolate with hazelnut praline.
These will be joining the relaunched Dark Raspberry Egg, which combines rich smooth dark chocolate with bursts of real raspberries in a thick chocolate shell, and Divine Luxury 70% Dark Chocolate Easter Egg with Dark Mini Easter Eggs. Both are suitable for vegans, All four eggs are plastic-free.
Mini Eggs will also be making an Easter appearance once again, available in three options: Seriously Smooth Milk; 70% Rich Dark; or Smooth Milk Speckled.
Bee Like a Bee- Wellness Pralines
Can health boosting nutrition go hand in hand with pure indulgence?
Certainly yes! Bee Like a Bee is the first British brand to introduce the ‘wellness praline’: a delicious premium chocolate with health boosting ingredients which support the immune system and energize the body. Designed by a renowned doctor & therapist who combined bee pollen, royal jelly, propolis, apilarnil & honey with artisan dark chocolate. No gluten or dairy ingredients. Hand made in the largest area of unspoilt nature in Eastern Europe (Sibiu, Carpathian Mountains); Plus, loved by children! RRP from Feb 2021 £11.29 15 x 5g
Available only by direct sales- contact as above
Free From Fellows
Free From FellowsTM consists of a line-up of the UK’s favourite confectionery products; Our fabulous range of gummies (Gummy Bears, Cola Bottles, Midget Gems and Wine Gums) and our delicious hard boiled sweets (Pear Drops, Rhubarb & Custard and Lollipops) are made with a delicious twist – they are all made without sugar, gluten, gelatine and dairy! Free From Fellows are egg free, soy free, GMO free, nut free and are free from artificial colours and flavours. Available in Sainsburys, Holland and Barrett, Ocado, Wholefoods, selected Boots, WHSmith and all good health food stores. You can now buy them online https://bravurafoods.myshopify.com/collections/free-from-fellows
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. The new Gin Gin Turmeric also combines the additional anti-inflammatory effects making an ideal prework out energy treat while soothing the aftereffects of strenuous exercise.
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