The non-chocolate candy sector is currently strong, but that doesn’t mean producers can rest on their laurels. It is vital to keep innovating to stay ahead of changing consumer demands and changing legislation. Suzanne Callander reports.

Despite the many challenges facing the non-chocolate candy sector today, including rising production costs, increasing legislation and a consumer shift towards more healthy lifestyles, a report from Zion Market Research – Hard Candy Market 2023-2030 –points to growth right across the hard candy sector thanks to a growing consumer base for confectionery products. 

The report valued the global hard candy market at USD 14.13 billion in 2022 and says it is expected to surpass USD 23.02 billion by 2030, registering a combined annual growth rate of 14.30% during the period 2023 to 2030. The highest growth is expected in North America, driven by the presence of an established customer base for hard candies. 

A report by the National Confectioners Association (NCA) – Getting To Know Candy Consumers 2022 – confirms this trend, revealing that non-chocolate candy is currently the second-largest selling confectionery category in the US, accounting for 32% of all confectionery dollars. The growth in this segment is outpacing that of all other segments. 

Non-chocolate candy includes a wide array of products – such as gummies, chews, hard candy, liquorice, lollipops and marshmallows. Gummies, chewy and hard candy have the highest cross-population engagement, but most US consumers purchase across several different segments. People who consume candy more often also tend to purchase a wider range of candies, according to NCA. 

Better for you? 

A total of 45% of consumers surveyed by NCA believe there is such a thing as better-for-you candy, with definitions focusing mostly on ‘no or less sugar’ followed by better quality and cleaner ingredients and portion sizes. A little over one-third of Americans believe functional gummies (vitamin, immunity, etc.) are candy, too. 

Despite believing it exists, very few of the 45% who acknowledge the presence of better-for-you candy purchase it regularly. About 10% of the population frequently purchase better-for-you candy options. Yet, around three-in-10 candy consumers are interested in purchasing their favourite candies in all natural, lower sugar or sugar-free options, among younger shoppers in particular.  

Highlighting some trends across the non-chocolate candy market, Tessa Porter, a candy scientist, owner and operator at candy manufacturing company, Sprinkk, referenced the ongoing consumer interest in health and wellness, saying that consumers are taking time to treat themselves in moderation. Tessa highlighted the trends that she believes will dominate candy innovation this year, which include: 

Plant-based and dye free: Consumers are increasingly requesting plant-based and dye free alternatives. 

Sustainability and transparency: Consumers care about sustainability in a way that they never have before and they value trust.  

Adaptogens and functional confectionery: In addition to common multi-vitamin gummies and supplements, the use of adaptogens in candy products has been increasing. 

Reduced sugar and smaller portions of natural sugars: The development of low-sugar or no-sugar products is expanding across the board in the non-chocolate category.  

Super sour and multi-texture: This category remains a major trend, according to Tessa. Examples of super sour innovations include Warheads, and Barnett’s Mega Sour Fizz Bombs. Different textures can be seen with Haribo’s highlighting aeration for a marshmallow texture in combination with traditional gummy in its Berry Clouds. This trend is also apparent in Trolli Sour DUO Crawlers, which combine a lighter textured layer with its normal gummy texture along with a sour kick.  

Lollipops are tops! 

A recent report published by Market Reports points to growth in the lollipop sector. Having been a popular confectionery product for many years the lollipop seems to transcend age groups, making it a versatile product offering and the availability of more innovative flavours and attractive packaging has seen lollipops gaining mass appeal as an impulse buy. The emergence of niche markets catering to organic, sugar-free, and vegan consumers has further added to the product’s appeal to consumers. Packaging innovations and the growing customisation trend in confectionery products has provided a significant boost to the growth of this sector. 

Companies such as Alpenliebe, Ferrero, and Chupa Chups remain market leaders in the lollipop sector. However, new entrants such as YumEarth and Zollipops are starting to demand more attention with their natural and healthy alternatives. These companies are contributing to the growth of the lollipop market by expanding their product lines, offering flavour innovations, and embracing new packaging and marketing strategies.  

Zollipops, which were launched in 2014 as a vegan, all-natural, sugar-free and tooth kind candy, by Zolli Candy, are today said to be the best-selling sugar-free candy in the US. 

The most recent addition to the YumEarth range is individually wrapped Organic Ginger Lemon Chews which include vitamins A, C and E. Commenting on its latest product range, Sarah Auguste, Vice President of Marketing at YumEarth, says: “We introduced the YumEarth Ultimate line last year, inspired by the functional food trend. We started the line with anti-oxidant and elderberry lollipops and recently added the Ginger Lemon Chews. Gut health plays a key role in overall well-being, and we believe that infusing our candies with these ingredients makes them more appealing to consumers.” 

Automated production 

From simple ball lollipops right through to 3D lollipops with fillings of gum, chewy candy powders or pastes, GEA claims to have suitable processing and packaging technology.  

The company can offer user friendly and flexible fully-automated solutions with integrated controls, monitoring and interfacing software. GEA works in partnership with its customers to help them devise new lollipop flavours and forms to continue to delight consumers. Its Aquarius lollipop equipment line, for example, can cater for all requirements – from hard candy ball lollipops with or without filling, flat lollipop shapes or 3D lollipop shapes – providing a complete solution, including forming, cooling and wrapping of hard candy lollipops. 

Starchless solutions 

At Interpack this year Makat Candy Technology, a Syntegon company, demonstrated a turnkey solution for the starchless production of nutraceutical candy. “In starchless production, jelly masses must achieve a high dry substance content to eliminate the need for moisture removal via starch after depositing. Nutraceutical production also calls for high dosing and depositing accuracy to ensure the right supplement content in gummies – throughout the entire production process. Our new turnkey line meets these requirements,” explains Dr. Sandra Link, Product Manager at Makat Candy Technology.  

At the core of Makat’s starchless kitchen is an energy-efficient dissolving and vacuuming unit. The system exhibited at Interpack is said to be able to achieve a dry substance content of up to 86%. It dissolves the slurry ensuring a first-in-first-out principle that protects the product and keeps dwell times short. Sensitive active ingredients can be added at the last stage to the jelly mass to help reduce thermal stress and degradation of these often-delicate ingredients. Equipped with flowmeters the volumetric dosing and mixing unit is able to continuously add preset amounts of colour, flavour, acid, and active ingredients to achieve a homogenous, bubble-free jelly mass with high recipe accuracy.  

After dosing and mixing, the Makat depositor is employed to ensure high-quality depositing, even of highly viscous jelly masses. Following depositing into reusable polycarbonate moulds, the moulds are placed in a closed-loop integrated cooling unit to cool down. This eliminates the need for any additional manual handling processes. Instead, the contactless demoulding unit ensures hygienic and gentle demoulding of products.  

Making it functional 

Baker Perkins tells us that it is seeing growth in the application of hard candy confectionery for functional purposes. Although most activity in the functional/nutraceutical sector has been in the jelly and gummy sectors, some medicated products are better suited to the slow-release delivery characteristics provided by hard candy, including those containing antiseptics, menthol and eucalyptus oil to alleviate the symptoms of minor ailments such as coughs, colds, sore throats and nasal congestion. 

A Baker Perkins spokesperson explained that starch-free cooking and depositing systems can offer a good solution for those looking to create functional products. The traditional starch mogul process, commonly used for producing jellies and gummies, may not be the best solution for manufacturing nutraceutical products because, typically they contain active ingredients designed to provide specific health benefits – such as vitamins, minerals, herbal extracts, or other bioactive compounds. Nutraceutical ingredients can be sensitive to high temperatures and the active ingredient may be degraded, reducing efficacy of the finished product.  

The traditional starch mogul process also involves several processing stages including cooking, cooling, moulding, and drying and these prolonged processing times can negatively impact the stability and potency of nutraceutical ingredients. 

Starch-free cooking and depositing is a simpler process that employs solid moulds, a non-contact ejection system, a fully automatic wash-through function and no need for recycling of starch.  

The starch-free process does not degrade active ingredients – and it is said to offer greater accuracies through the mixing, cooking and depositing processes. Any product that claims a functional benefit must have the active ingredients present in the exact quantities claimed, which requires accurate dosing.  

Starch-free processing can also offer a good solution for confectionery producers looking for a greater variety of short production runs. 

While outputs from a typical Baker Perkins hard candy line can range from 500 to 2,000kg/hr, the growth of the functional confectionery market has generated opportunities for niche products and created the need for lower output systems.   

To address this demand, Baker Perkins developed a 50kg/hour line that can produce hard candies, lollipops, jellies and gummies. The lines can be automatic or manually operated, with batch or continuous cooking options. 

For both hard candy and lollipops, the starch-free production process offers the potential to create multi-colour, multi-component confectionery in up to four colours; in stripes, layers or random patterns, with one or two hard or soft centre-fills, and with every possible colour and flavour. 

Fillings, such as toffee or chewy centres, can add texture to the traditional hard candy ball lollipop. The latest double ball technology can offer an interesting alternative to conventional ball lollipops and can include a wide range of colour and flavour combinations. Flat and shaped lollipop technology, for example, allows one side to be embossed for character merchandising, and a range of profiles – such as rounds, ovals or animal shapes – can be developed. 

The good news is that the non-chocolate candy market is strong. However, success is not a given. It relies on innovation and reformulation of traditional products to meet legislative requirements and consumer trends. Luckily equipment vendors are also innovating so are able to help confectionery producers find the right equipment to allow them to continue to delight consumers with ever more innovative product offerings. 

Sugar-free candy made the traditional way 

For over 10 years Den Gouden haan has produced Advocaat at its factory in Antwerp, Belgium, using a traditional recipe. In addition, the company also produces a range of other artisanal products, preferring to craft its products by hand using minimal mechanisation or automation. 

Using this traditional candy making process the company wanted to introduce a range of sugar-free bon bons to meet consumer demands and it turned to Loynds to provide it with the necessary equipment. The final solution included a Loynds pulling hook for manually aerating the candy batch, a mini cold table and a drop roller machine. The drop roller was supplied with traditional ball and square dies. 

Since starting to use the Loynds pulling hook, cold table and drop roller, Den Gouden haan has succeeded in increasing its candy production speeds from 75kg to 150kg per hour, enabling it to produce a full range of artisanal confections. 

“The Loynds drop roller device does what it should do – forms hard candies, said Geert Dillen, a Den Gouden haan spokesperson. Candy production is now simpler and more fun than it was before when we had to do everything by hand.” 

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Editor: Kiran Grewal