Today's sugar-free confections are easier to swallow than previous offerings, with their off-notes and false aftertastes. New-and-improved chocolate and hard candy made with sweeteners such asSplenda appeal to health-conscious consumers and diabetics alike.

A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but for many consumers, especially those suffering from diabetes, sugar is a no-no. Luckily, today’s sugar-free products are as edible as they are healthful, thanks largely one popular sweetener: Splenda. New chocolate and hard candy made with the now well-known sugar substitute provide a happy alternative for those who crave confections that once were off-limits.

One company that has long embraced the sugar-free category is Sorbee, marketer of Crystal Light (a registered trademark of Kraft Food Holdings, Inc.) brand hard candies. Having been in the sugar-free business for more than 30 years, the innovators over at Sorbee have witnessed a change in the way Americans look at health and wellness, says executive vice president Barry Sokol. In the past, he points out, consumers went on and off diets, and only diabetics were concerned with sugar intake.

Today, “people are trying to eat healthy whether they have to or just want to,” he asserts, whether it’s the 20-year-old college student, the 25-year-old woman who’s on her own or the 50-year-old man who just got diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. “It’s really opened up to everybody.”

As a result of these changes, Sorbee has repackaged its products to appeal to a growing customer base, one that wants its functional products to look more mainstream. To that end, the company’s offerings are distributed throughout North America and in almost every retail channel, from grocery to club to hospital gift stores to the Internet.

“We do our best to be in as many places as possible,” Sokol notes.

With Crystal Light, “we feel that we have one of the strongest licenses in the good-for-you/healthy category,” he says. This fall, Sorbee will add two new varieties to the sugar-free line: an antioxidant- and vitamin-rich Cherry Pomegranate (Immunity) and a caffeinated, Vitamin B-releasing Wild Strawberry (Energy).

Why caffeine? “I think it’s the fast-paced world we live in and the constant need for energy,” Sokol says. Both caffeinated beverages and candy appeal to younger consumers, as well, he adds, “so it’s a perfect fit.”

In addition to its Crystal Light brand, Sorbee recently introduced a line of candy, cookies, syrups and snacks called EatRite/BeFit. The sugar- and gluten-free hard candies, available in butterscotch and fruit flavors, contain 50% fewer calories than sugar-based competitors and just 25 calories per serving. Meanwhile, sugar- and trans fat-free truffles and peppermint patties from the EatRite/BeFit brand contain 1-4 g. of fiber. All products in the line are sweetened with Splenda.

Splenda also is the sweetener of choice for Hillside Candy, whose GoLightlyline of hard candies come in assorted fruit flavors as well as Cinnamon, Butterscotch and Root Beer. The brand also offers Just Chocolates, a collection of hard candies in Chocolate, Chocolate Raspberry, Swiss Chocolate Almond and Chocolate Mint varieties. According to Susan Rosenthal Jay, vice president of marketing and sales for Hillside, the products appeal not just to diabetics, but to those interested in health and wellness - especially in light of increased media attention to obesity. GoLightly is made in America and sold nationwide as well as in 20 countries around the world, including Kuwait, Canada and Asia.

Perhaps most importantly, “it tastes like the real thing,” Rosenthal Jay says.

Yes, taste is critical to a successful sugar-free product. Just ask BestSweet, Inc., maker of the Baskin Robbins Candy brand, which features hard and soft varieties in bags and theater boxes. The newest flavors of Baskin Robbins Sugar Free Soft Candy are Mint Chocolate Chip and Very Berry Strawberry; the newest variety of Baskin Robbins Sugar Free Hard Candy is Cookies ‘n Cream. All selections are based on the most popular ice cream flavors found at Baskin Robbins stores across the country; the candies are sold in grocery, drug and mass retailers nationwide. As BestSweet brand manager Mark Fields points out, Baskin-Robbins “is a classic American brand.”

A pioneer in sugar-free cream-based candy, BestSweet re-evaluates new flavor trends annually, Fields further notes.

“Innovation is at the heart of everything we do,” he says, adding that right now, soft candy as a category is growing. Diabetics no longer are the sole target audience for such sugar-free confections, Fields explains. Sugar-free candy can aid in dental health, as well, and consumers looking to prevent chronic illnesses see sugar-free as a means to a healthier end. In addition, busy moms looking for a chewy, satisfactory indulgence can turn to the Baskin Robbins brand.

At retail, BestSweet delineates between products by placing sugar-free treats in blue bags and boxes, as opposed to the pink packaging that’s reserved for sugar-based items.

“Blue has always been a strong sugar-free color,” Fields says.

Other noteworthy sugar-free products on the market include Atkinson Candy Co.’s Gemstone Candies, a line of premium candies in the following flavors: pomegranate, peach, strawberry, blood orange, lemon grass, mixed berry, pineapple, and rum & butter.

Meanwhile, Farley’s and Sathersoffers sugar-free hard candy in many of its brand lines, including Brach’s, Bobs and Farley’s and Sathers. All products are sweetened with an isomalt/Splenda blend and contain 50% fewer calories than their sugar-based counterparts. Popular flavors include Butterscotch, Cinnamon and Peppermint. Farley’s and Sathers also makes sugar-free Root Beer Barrels, Starlight Mints and Assorted Wild Fruit hard candy.

Earlier this year, Healthy Food Brands, LLC made an agreement with Simply Lite Foods that gave it licensing rights to market Sweet ‘n Low sugar-free candies and chocolates globally. At the recent All Candy Expo, Healthy Food Brands introduced Sweet ‘n Low flavored sugar-free hard candies in three varieties: Light My Fire, Get Off My Cloud and Send Me An Angel.

Additionally, Health Smart Foods’ Chocolite line features sugar- and gluten-free candy bars in four varieties: Pecan Clusters, Peanut Chews, Crispy Caramel and Almond Fudge. Each bar is just 30 calories and contains 6 g. of fiber, 2 g. of fat and 1 g. of net carbs. Designed for diabetics and dieters (a bar is only half a point on the Weight Watchers counting system), Health Smart Foods’ products also appeal to women, the desired consumer of all confectionery delights.

Turns out a spoonful of sweetener goes down just as easy as sugar.

Gum's the Word

Until 2004, chewing gum was against the law in Singapore, where it had been banned for 12 years as a means of litter control. The fine for smuggling gum into the country: $5,500 or up to one year in jail. Now, Singapore residents looking to quit smoking can buy gum in a pharmacy. Others troll the black market ... if they want to risk imprisonment.

Here in the States, chewing gum merely used to be considered a bad habit. But it’s become a part of our snap, crackle, pop culture - no more criminal than Saturday morning cartoons or Monday night football. In short, gum isn’t just for kids - or Singaporean daredevils - anymore.

Today, most of the gum found in the checkout aisle is sugar-free. According to Information Resources, Inc., the sugar-free gum category did more than $1 billion in sales for the latest 52 weeks ending June 15, 2008 - that’s $800 million more than the regular gum (with sugar) category did for the same time period. In addition, sugar-free flavor profiles no longer are limited to just peppermint. Innovative fruit-based varieties now dominate the category. Another trend: longer-lasting gum designed to stand the test of time … literally. More recent offerings actually kill germs, and even whiten and strengthen teeth.

One manufacturer that addresses each of these trends is The Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. For example, Wrigley recently introduced a variety of Natural Germ Killing Eclipse for “incredibly fresh breath.” Now available in a Fresh & Cool variety, the sugar-free gum contains a natural, patent-pending ingredient that it says is “scientifically proven to help kill the germs that cause bad breath.” In fact, last September, the company’s sugar-free Orbit, Extra and Eclipse products received the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance for being clinically proven to help fight cavities, strengthen teeth and reduce harmful plaque acids. Orbit comes in two new flavors: Sangria Fresca and Fabulous Fruitini.

Meanwhile, Wrigley’s new Extra Fruit Sensations combines the ADA seal of approval with innovative taste combinations such as Island Cooler and Berry Pearadise. And a new Long Lasting Flavor Extra, also approved by the ADA, is available in traditional Spearmint and Peppermint. Another Wrigley brand with staying power: 5 gum, now in two new varieties: Lush and Elixir. Last but not least is Orbit White. “Proven to remove stains and whiten teeth,” the brand recently added a Fruit Sorbet flavor.

The complex sugar-free story continues over at The Hershey Co., whose Ice Breakers Ice Cubes White boasts the power of whitening. The cube-shaped gum simulates an ice cube shape and ultra-cold, refreshing taste. It will soon be available in Wintergreen Splash and Mango Kiwi Cooler.

In addition, Cadbury Adams USA’s Trident brand offers XTRA Care, a new product line that strengthens and rebuilds your teeth through the use of Recaldent, a unique form of calcium that’s derived from milk. Cadbury Adams believes so much in the strength of the smile that it created a Web site ( dedicated to “the smile movement.” The company also saw fit to get in on the fruit-flavored craze with new varieties of Trident such as Passionberry Twist and Citrus Blackberry. Both are made with xylitol, which is said to fight plaque. Meanwhile, Cadbury Adams’ long-lasting, sugar-free Stride gum has a new flavor profile: Always Mandarin.

Then there’s Littlei, a Canadian company whose pink-packaged products and matching booth stopped many passersby at the 2008 All Candy Expo. Little i’s “intense gum” also is made with xylitol.

With so many new cavity-fighting, teeth-whitening, sugar-free gum products on the market, dentists the world over (with the exception of Singapore) must be smiling.