Sweet and healthy? Discover the top five functional foods in confectionery

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Indulgence will always be a top priority for candy consumers. But many are also looking for functional ingredients that deliver health benefits as well as taste​. It’s led to a confectionery arms race with manufacturers and brands aggressively innovating through natural sugar alternative launches, authentic fruit flavours and health and wellness claims.

Here, we look at five of the leading functional food trends in confectionery in 2024.

1. Sweet protein sources

As ​2024 research​ conducted at the Institute of Food Technologists showed, protein perceptions revolve around naturalness, satiety and taste. Unsurprisingly then, producers are launching sweet treats with added protein at pace.

For example, sports nutrition brand Warrior announced it has built on its high-protein range of crunch bars with a new white chocolate blondie flavour. Each bar contains 10 grams of milk protein and is geared towards the pre- and post-workout market. But not all NPD is aimed at gym-goers. Colombian manufacturer Luker Chocolate, for instance, has launched its new protein chocolate formulated with pea protein. The indulgent 44% dark chocolate bar contains five grams of protein per 25-gram serving.

Food tech disruptor Oobli has also released a range of chocolate bars​ with sweet protein designed to capture the permissible indulgence trend in the biotech business. The bars are formulated with sweet protein, chicory root and tapioca fibres using precision fermentation.

2. Jellies and gummies can convey function and fun

Texture, flavours and novel ingredients connect jelly brands to their target consumers, with brands ​opting for the sweet variety centred around fun​. Plant-based texturisers are increasingly coming onto the scene in response to health and sustainability trends. Pectin, starch and carrageenan, for example, are popular plant-based alternatives to gelatin.

Nutritional value is also being added through minerals, vitamins and probiotics, with brands highlighting the presence of active ingredients. Bear Balanced has launched its creatine-based gummies range. Creatine which helps build muscle strength and improve mental focus is a  popular ingredient in gummies​ and features here alongside vitamin B12 promising to boost energy, strength and focus.

Medicated jellies and gummies that feature CBD​ are also a big area of interest and debate in the segment. While growing numbers of brands are entering the scene, a lack of legal harmonisation restricts its widespread market penetration. 

3. Added fibre becomes big in bars

With claims of enhanced gut health and brain functioning appearing in the news, confectionery is getting in on the action by releasing bars with added fibre to appeal to health-conscious consumers. Using “protein out of thin air” to make ​high-fibre chocolate​ has become a reality in Singapore this year. Finnish food company Fazer uses novel fermentation technology to make the Solein cell-based protein, which has also been successfully tested in ice cream. Solein cells contain up to 70% protein and 5% minerals.

Likewise, in March 2024, snack bar brand Nakd expanded its multi-variety range to include ​fruit and fibre options​. Available in Apple & Cinnamon and Strawberry & Raspberry varieties, the bars each contain 6 grams of fibre.

Seeking to offer an alternative to traditional chocolate bars, Harken Sweets has launched its vegan bars in the US. The startup states that its new-to-the-market bars contain boosted prebiotic fibre, which its founder Katie Lefkowitz ​says​ is “as much as five cups of kale but in a candy bar”.

4. Gut health-backing treats

Prebiotics, probiotics, and the goal of achieving a healthy gut microbiome​ are making their way over from the broader food and beverage market into confectionery. Consumer consciousness around health, wellness and the brain-to-gut relationship is sparking new ideas and launches in the confectionery space.

In March 2024, Savvy Sweets released its packaged sweet range to appeal to health-focused consumers seeking a functional sweet treat. With prebiotic plant fibre and pectin as ingredients, the brand aims to speak to consumers wanting to encourage good gut bacteria and IBS sufferers who may be following ​a FODMAP diet. 

With gut health as a core part of their marketing messaging, Bio&Me, whose founder is dubbed The Gut Health Doctor, has launched its range of ready-to-go Gut-Loving Flapjack Bars. The ‘good for your gut’ bars contain up to 11 plant-based ingredients, including almonds, pumpkin seeds and seaweed.

5. Plant-based push

Sweet treats free from animal-based products are scoring big with consumers who want to go back to basics and enjoy foods originating from nature. In May 2024, Swiss luxury chocolate creator ​Lindt​ ​stepped out in the US with its new plant-based reveal: an alternative to its beloved Lindor truffles.

Another household name has also unveiled its plant-based version of a much-loved sweet product. As long-standing chocolate brand Ferrero celebrates its 60th birthday this year, it is preparing to release its plant-based Nutella in Europe over the next few months.

Not only are confectionery retailers launching new plant-based ranges, but they’re also upping the traceability of their supply chains too. ​Dairy-free chocolate producer Moo-free​ ​is doing just this with its new tool, The Hub. Maximising transparency, the brand is able to log all traceability information from raw materials to finished goods to provide consumers with credibility, trust, and confidence. 

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