The report details the results of the National Confectioners Association's in-depth interviews of 40 industry leaders, including experts/specialists, culinary institute representatives, chefs, specialty retailers, manufacturers and trade press and bloggers. The qualitative research was conducted between Nov. 5 and Dec. 5 of last year.
Hundreds of portion- and calorie-controlled, reduced-fat, sugar-free and fortified candies have been launched over the past four years, and 88% of those interviewed agreed that consumer demand for health benefits and "better for you" ingredients will be the biggest trend between now and 2014.
In addition, 43% said that health-related influences will be the leading influence on new product development.
Nearly half (45%) believe that better-for-you chocolate options will be the most important influence within this 'healthier' trend. Consumers are increasingly aware of the potential heart-health and mood benefits of cacao -- which have been driving dark chocolate sales, in particular. Chocolate manufacturers are now focused on developing enhanced products that promise additional functional benefits.
The chocolate category has also identified a major functional opportunity within skin care, in cocoa butter's recognized benefits as a treatment for dry skin conditions. About one-quarter (23%) of the experts believe that the biggest area of market expansion ahead lies in non-edible products, including skin care lotions, soaps, shampoos and anti-aging products.
Other growth trends within the chocolate segment cited by industry leaders include chocolate and cocoa being used as ingredients in main courses such as salmon, chicken and steak (73%) and appetizers (38%); greater consumer acceptance of chocolates infused with spices, herbs and floral flavors; and sweet and savory combinations such as chocolate with bacon or cheese flavors.
About a third (35%) of respondents believe that portion control will be the most important influence within 'healthier' confections. The success of snack-sized products and 100-calorie packs, for instance, is expected to continue.
One-quarter believe that confections fortified with vitamins, minerals or protein will be the biggest drivers within the rapidly growing better-for-you segment.
Most of those interviewed also agreed that oral health care will drive the chewing gum category. One-quarter said that sugar-free varieties will continue to expand.
International spices and ethnic flavors were also identified as an important influence on U.S. product and flavor development (cited by 58%).
Confection sales grew by 3.7% during the 52-week period ending April 19, according to NCA.
More than 6,000 confections and snack products were launched last year. Chocolate and gum continued to lead the snack category in sales and ranked third in overall food sales.