The quality and taste of sweeteners are continually improving and sugar-free chocolates are riding that curve. As a result, these new and improved chocolates aren’t just for diabetics anymore.

Guilt-free pleasures

No sugar? No problem. With 7.8% of the U.S. population consisting of diabetics, and growing, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) web site, many consumers are searching for ways to satisfy their sweet tooth, while staying within their dietary guidelines. Others simply want to control their waistlines.

One of the first companies to make this possible was Asher’s Chocolates in the 1960s. And although most diabetics could eat Asher’s sugar-free chocolates under the advice of their physician, the chocolates’ taste was nowhere near what it is today.

“The advance of maltitol and some other things have really made the chocolate and the centers taste better,” says Jeff Asher, v.p. sales and marketing. “The chocolate has come a long way.”

In the ’60s, the company offered bulk sugar-free chocolates. Today, Asher’s offers more than 50 sugar-free bulk chocolates, along with sugar-free fudges, bars, truffles and even seasonal chocolates.

The company’s newest offering is a no sugar added Figaro piece, which features a layer of sugar-free dark chocolate mixed with hazelnut and another layer of sugar-free milk chocolate mixed with hazelnut. Additionally, Asher’s plans to expand its sugar-free chocolate bar line as a result of the increased activity in the sugar-free category.

Guylian USA, out of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., also uses maltitol as a sweetener in its no sugar added chocolate bars. And thanks to consumers’ increased interest in dark chocolate, Guylian offers its Belgian chocolate bars in three different dark chocolate varieties, along with one milk chocolate variety because many Americans still prefer milk chocolate, says Brad Maslan, president of Guylian USA.

“People are learning to like dark chocolate,” he adds. “The dark chocolate out there – sugar free and sugar – is better tasting than it was in the past.” 

Whether it’s dark or milk chocolate consumers prefer, Guylian’s no sugar added chocolate bars can offer a “better-for-you” alternative. The company’s no sugar added bars come in dark, 70% extra dark, dark with orange and milk chocolate varieties.

And while sugar-free chocolates seem to have reached their height during the low-carb craze, many consumers are still drawn to the category.

“Sugar-free chocolates are enjoyed by many different types of consumers,” says Emily Korns, communications manager/registered dietitian, Mars Health & Nutrition. “They are a good option for well-controlled diabetics who are working closely with a health professional to manage their blood glucose. For this consumer,Dove sugar-free chocolates provide a delicious indulgence, but have a lower carbohydrate content that can fit into their meal plan.”

Mars’ sugar-freeDove dark chocolates come in flavors Chocolate Crème, Mint Crème and Raspberry Crème.

“Another group that seeks out sugar-free chocolates is consumers who are trying to manage their weight,” Korns adds. “There are several weight management plans that limit total carbohydrates and added sugar. So while not a low calorie or low fat food, sugar-free chocolate can fit into a diet where consumers choose to limit sugar intake.”

To aid in weight management, each piece ofDove’s sugar-free chocolate is 38 calories.

By individually wrapping each piece of chocolate, companies can offer their consumers a portion control option in addition to the treat’s already “better-for-you” sugar-free claim.

Taking advantage of these trends, Russell Stover offers a variety of sugar-free chocolates. And rightly so –Russell Stoversugar-free chocolates top IRI’s list of sugar-free chocolate candy, latest 52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2008.Whitman’s andPangburn’s brands also offer sugar-free chocolates. (Russell Stover Candies, Inc. is the parent company of theRussell Stoverbrand,Whitman’s brand andPangburn’s brand.)

Russell Stover’sPrivate Reserveis their premium sugar-free chocolate offering, consisting of a four flavor line-up: 60% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Triple Chocolate Mousse, Vanilla Caramel and Raspberry Soufflé with 60% Cacao Dark Chocolate. Each piece is individually wrapped and sweetened withSplenda sucralose.

And while portion control is an added benefit for sugar-free chocolates, taste is still the number one concern for manufacturers – and consumers.

“Taste is the most important factor in purchasing sugar-free chocolates and candies,” says Anna Lingeris, public relations manager, The Hershey Co. “Consumers enjoy traditional Hershey’s products, but are also requesting a wider variety of sugar-free products.”

To appease consumer interest, Hershey’s most recently launchedHershey’s Sugar Free Caramel filled Chocolates. Additionally, the company offersHershey’s Sugar Free Chocolates,Hershey’s Sugar Free Special Dark Chocolates,Reese’s Sugar Free Peanut Butter Cups andYork Sugar Free Peppermint Patties.

Along with its expanding variety of sugar-free chocolates, “Hershey’s recently reformulated their sugar-free chocolates to deliver a richer and [more] chocolaty taste and texture to their consumers,” Lingeris says.

By using sugar alcohols in its sugar-free chocolates, Hershey’s can delay the rise in a consumer’s blood sugar levels. This happens because sugar alcohols are digested more slowly than sugar, according to the company’s web site. Delaying that rise is particularly helpful for diabetics, who suffer most from the post-meal surge in blood sugar levels. (For more information about the diabetic diet relating to sugar-free chocolates, visitwww.candyindustry.comand click onCandy Industry Plus.)

With the advances in sweeteners over the years, all kinds of consumers can enjoy the benefits, and taste, of sugar-free chocolates – without the guilt.

Leading Sugar-free Chocolate Candy Brands

Latest 52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2008 (supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandise outlets, excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores).    

                                                Dollar Sales    % Change    Unit Sales    % Change   
                                                (in millions)        year ago    (in millions)    year ago
Russell Stover                            47.1                    7.0                22.9                -0.6
Dove                                               6.9                 -26.0                  2.3              -26.9
Reese’s                                         5.0                 -16.6                  2.6              -20.3
Whitman’s Sampler                    4.4                 -10.0                  0.6              -10.5
Hershey’s                                     4.4                    -8.3                  2.3              -12.8
Hershey’s Special Dark             3.8                    -7.6                 1.9               -12.2
York Peppermint Patty                3.7                  -18.2                 1.9               -21.3
Demets Turtles                           2.9                     -9.7                 1.4               -17.1
Russell Stover Net Carb            1.1                  -48.8                 0.4               -49.7
Atkins Endulge                            0.9                   -35.8                 0.3               -60.7
TOTAL                                         86.8                     -6.0               39.4               -10.9

Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm.


In the January 2009 issue’s Category Close-Up article about Chocolate Tablets/Bars, we mistakenly printed that Hershey manufactures and sells Cadbury’s organic brandGreen & Black’s. Although Hershey does have a licensing agreement to manufacture and sell Cadbury products in the United States, it does not includeGreen & Black’sand has no involvement or association with this business.