Confectionery industry prepares to battle its sugar demons

Scientists have linked added sugars to obesity, type two diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay, but the candy industry says the commodity is being unfairly demonized. Photo Credit: The Health Guardians

The US National Confectioners Association (NCA) and leading US firms say sugar has been ‘unjustly’ victimized in recent months and the public should be free to enjoy a sweet treat if they so desire.

Sugar came under fire at the turn of the year after scientists behind the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) set up Action on Sugar, a group urging manufacturers to curb global obesity by cutting sugar in brands by 30-40%.

Sugar ‘demonized’

The confectionery industry issued its response at the recent International Sweets and Biscuits Fair (ISM) in Cologne, Germany.

Larry Graham, president of the NCA, said that sugared confectionery was a sometime indulgence that could fit into a healthy diet.

“Sugar’s getting a bad rep unnecessarily. It’s a minority of NGOs and food activists that are demonizing sugar. There are these claims that sugar is addictive and toxic, but there’s no science that supports that.”

He said that almost 50% of Americans’ confectionery consumption came at four major holidays - Halloween, Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s – which meant candy had a limited impact on the population’s health.

A sometime indulgence

How much sugar do we consume?

According to FAO figures, global average added sugar consumption is about 24 kg a year – equivalent to 66 g a day or 260 calories a day. The EU figure is closer to 32 kg a year, or 350 calories a day.

The NCA chief continued that the major concern was ‘hidden sugars’ – sugars in product you may not expect, such as ketchup and pasta sauces. ”That’s not the case with us – it’s clear what’s in our products."

Promotion In Motion CEO Michael Rosenberg added: “Candy is 2% of the diet, so when it comes to holidays or someone wanting to relax and enjoy a little treat, they ought to be able to.”

“We represent such a small share of the overall caloric intake of the average person and it’s only a small minority of groups that are blowing this way out of proportion.”

Recent science

Excessive consumption of added sugars in drinks, snacks and sweets was recently associated with an increased risk of dying from heart disease, according to a major US review published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Action On Sugar’s chairman Graham MacGregor, professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Wolfson Institute previously told ConfectioneryNews that unnecessary’ added sugar was indisputably linked to rising global obesity and type 2 diabetes. He said there was no commercial reason not to reduce sugar in products and called downsizing the preferred option.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommends that no more than 10% of calories in a person’s diet should come from added sugars, but it is widely anticipated to cut its recommendation to 5% in light of scientific research linking sugar to tooth decay.

“Any fermentable carbohydrate left on your teeth will cause cavities. Some candies are a little stickier, but there’s no indication that there’s any increase in cavities because of the consumption of candy.” said NCA president Graham, who also claimed that current WHO sugar guidelines for sugar were not supported by science.

Jelly Belly: Educating consumers to exercise discipline

 “It’s all a question of discipline,” said Sharon Duncan, vice president of International Business at Jelly Belly.

“But candy is an indulgent treat – the body needs sugar – it’s not something we feel should be demonized and we’re doing everything we can to educate the public.”

Jelly Belly manufactures a sugar-free line for the US that uses Tate & Lyle’s sucralose sweetener Splenda. It plans to introduce the product in Canada and the Middle East, but indicated that demand was not yet great enough to warrant a global rollout.

“It’s a significant segment of the market but the demand for non-sugar-free is significantly higher. It seems a more pronounced request in the Middle East than in other markets. Quite honestly it’s such a small request that we don’t feel obligated to be doing it for the rest of the world.”

Portion control and reseal packs

The NCA said that many of its members were unwilling to sacrifice on taste for a reduced sugar product.

“But one thing we are seeing is more packaging that allows you to save the bar; you can eat half the bar and repackage it,” said Graham.

The NCA has earmarked education as a priority for the year ahead and said it would look to educate consumers on how confections fit into a healthy diet. The organization is also funding research. One recent NCA-backed study found that children could eat candy in moderation without increasing their risk of becoming obese and developing heart problems later in life.

Caroline Scott-Thomas, editor of our sister site FoodNavigator, said in a recent editorial that it was time for the food industry to embrace moderation for added sugars like the rest of us - or risk appearing like the tobacco industry. 

Our recent special on sweeteners explored possible alternative sweeteners for confectionery. Click below to read about the most viable alternatives in:
Sugar confectionery

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Comments (1)

Sandra - 14 Feb 2014 | 08:14

What? The body needs sugar?

I don't think so. Sugar is not addictive like a drug but eating it causes an insulin rush, then a drop in blood sugar which makes you want more sugar (or candy, soda, cookies, even pasta or bread), and Splenda is poison. Eat it if you want but don't try to convince your body that it's healthy or that it is essential to good health.

14-Feb-2014 at 20:14 GMT

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