It was a “Big Move,” says Andres Pfluger, acting president and ceo of Russell Stover Chocolates. “We really worked on the recipe to ensure a sugar-free product that didn’t compromise on quality,” he added.

The new sugar-free line uses stevia, an all-natural sugar replacement made from the plant’s leaves.

Although it took more than a year to perfect the formulation, the goal of bringing added value to the sugar-free segment has been achieved, Pfluger says.

“We own more than 80 percent of the chocolate sugar-free market, but the goal was to activate the sugar-free segment,” he says. “There’s enormous potential, not only to providing products for diabetics, but also catering to an aging population and consumers looking to reduce their sugar intake.”

“We’re looking to help sugar-conscious consumers who still want to eat chocolate, but don’t want to eat chemistry,” he explains. “The candies taste amazing. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference between the sugar-free chocolates and our regular chocolates.” 

The new sugar-free line includes the company’s lineup of Mint Patties, Pecan Delights, Peanut Butter Cups and Coconut in 3-oz. peg bags and 10-oz. laydown bags. The bags sport a new design, which feature a bold, white background with a signature green strip and large images of the individual confectionery pieces.

The lineup also includes newly launched Sugar Free Sea Salt Pecan Delights, Hazelnut Delights and Toffee Squares.

During Candy Industry’s interview at Sweets & Snacks Expo, Pfluger also said the company is continuing to reduce its SKU count — nearly 700 have been eliminated to date — while focusing on seasonal and everyday items. He noted that last year’s rollout of the Favorites line was well received and is gaining broader distribution. Of the 10 items launched, however, a couple will be replaced that didn’t prove to be as popular as the others.

The company will also continue to emphasize its strategy of everyday gifting to consumers.

“We’re in the business of bringing joy to consumers, and chocolate, whether it’s a small piece or a larger box, is perfect for birthdays, to say ‘I love you’ to a partner, to say ‘thank you,’” Pfluger explained.