Sugar-Free Candy: How Sweet It Is

Sugar-free candy — particularly chocolate — is on a sweet ride across a variety of consumer segments. 

On a volume basis, sales of sugar-free chocolate have nearly doubled since 2017, according to data from IRI presented during a recent webinar by Candy Industry and Cargill Inc. 

In the 52-week period ended July 10, household penetration of sugar-free chocolate reached 9.4%, compared to 6.2% in the comparable period in 2019. 

“Over four million more households are buying sugar-free chocolate today than they were back in 2019,” said Dan Sadler, IRI’s principal of client insights. 

One of the drivers of sugar-free confections has been an increase in choice — including new products from Reese’s, Hershey’s and Russell Stover in chocolates and Jolly Rancher and Twizzler in non-chocolates. 

“A lot of innovation has occurred within the sugar-free universe,” noted Sadler. 

That has caught the attention and desire of a variety of ages and lifestyles. 

“What we have found is that it’s not one consumer segment driving sugar-free chocolate and non-sugar” candy,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, IRI’s EVP and practice leader of client insights. 

The four IRI MedProfiler segments contributing the most sugar-free sales growth are Aging Health Managers (median age: 69), Active Seniors (61), Young Carefrees (43) and Stress Sufferers (39). 

While more than 90% of sugar-free candy on a volume basis is sold through food, drug and mass-merchandise channels, “The internet has definitely carved out its own little slice,” said Wyatt. 

That trend is more pronounced in sugar-free, non-chocolate candies, which represented 6.1% of purchase volume as of July 10, compared to 3.3% for sugar-free chocolate. 

Not surprisingly, people who purchase sugar substitutes are 420% more likely than all others to also purchase sugar-free candy. Those products are followed by pork rinds (co-purchase index: 413), nutritional bars (342), fruit drink mixes (318), frozen dairy dessert (308), refrigerated breakfast entrees (296) and jerky (292).

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