- Half of the individually wrapped candies made by Mars Wrigley, Ferrero, Ferrara, Lindt, Ghirardelli and Russell Stover are now available in sizes that are 200 calories or less, according to a new report from the Partnership for a Healthier America and the National Confectioners Association. This fulfills a calorie-cutting commitment the confectioners made in 2017. And 85% of all individually wrapped chocolate and candy sold today has 200 calories or less.
- Almost all confectionery products (94.8%) now have front-of-pack calorie labels, including 98% of retail checkout lane candy, the report says. The confectioners and NCA promised in 2017 to have this labeling on 90% of products.
- Confectioners have been working to make products that are considered healthier, with fewer calories, less sugar and more nutrients. In recent years, more have been experimenting with package sizes, alternative sweeteners and plant-based formulas to meet consumer demand.
Five years ago, the way that the government, consumers and industry groups looked at food was changing. The first revamp to Nutrition Facts labels in two decades had just been announced. The changes, which were required for all manufacturers by 2021, drew more attention to calories, recalculated serving sizes to reflect what a consumer was likely to eat, and called out total and added sugars in products.
NCA and several of its larger members committed to take that new perspective to their products, too. President and CEO John Downs said at a virtual press conference Thursday that they rose to the challenge.
“It sure feels good when an entire industry reliably meets stakeholder expectations, and helping our consumers and their families manage their sugar intake while they enjoy their favorite treats,” Downs said.
Georgetown University monitored the confectionery industry’s adherence to the commitment, posting bi-annual progress reports on the PHA website. At Thursday’s press conference, Hank Cardello, executive director of leadership solutions for health and prosperity at Georgetown University's Business for Impact Center, said that confectionery companies used a variety of solutions to get their packaged products to 200 calories or less. Some made smaller sizes, reformulated or launched new products that were less calorie-intensive.
In the last five years, candy companies have been working to develop new products that are more relevant to consumers looking for healthier options. As a whole, consumers consider sweet indulgences to be important. According to the NCA’s 2021 State of Treating report, 98.4% of households had candy of some sort last year, with sales hitting a record $36.9 billion. Cardello said candy was purchased by all sorts of households, while other kinds of products with less-than-healthy reputations, like soft drinks, tend to not be purchased at all by health-conscious consumers.
Each confectioner had its own approach to the challenge. In 2017, Mars Wrigley committed more than $200 million to make necessary changes. The company had already worked to launch versions of popular candies such as M&M’s and Snickers that had fewer than 200 calories, and 100-calorie versions of others, including Snickers, Milky Way, Twix, Dove, 3 Musketeers, Skittles and Starburst. Mars Wrigley was also working to decrease portion sizes, replacing the former “King Size” products with portioned “Sharing Sizes,” as well as reclosable bags for some products.
Hershey was not part of this commitment with PHA and NCA, but had already pledged to reduce calories in half of its regular and king-sized products to 200 calories or less and put nutrition information on the front of all of its confections.
Hershey has gone farther than the calorie-cutting and labeling commitments. In 2021, the company announced a focus on better-for-you versions of some of its core brands. This included working on low- and no-sugar versions of its iconic chocolates — which led to an investment and funds to build a new R&D center for rare sugar maker Bonumose — as well as delivering more organic and plant-based options. Hershey also tested a plant-based bar last year, but has not mass produced it.
At the news conference touting the results, PHA President and CEO Nancy Roman lauded the confectionery industry for working to make servings of candy both less damaging to health and of a reasonable size. But treats are not where Americans are getting the bulk of their added sugars and excess fats, she said. That comes from excessive-sized portions of processed food — perhaps a target of a future challenge like this one.
“Where we need to target to have a real impact, ... really the bigger and more important thing is portion size, getting portion sizes to be reasonable,” she said.