From stevia-sweetened gummy bears to porous chocolate, how candy companies are responding to the war on sugar

By | November 5, 2018

The movement to kick sugar out of diets has been steadily growing since 2014 when the World Health Organization recommended limiting sugar intake to 10 per cent of an adult’s daily calories, and just 5 per cent to yield “additional benefits.”

A growing body of scientific studies have linked sugar to diabetes, liver disease, obesity and cancer, and sugar’s declining reputation could be to blame for falling sweet sales.

Sugar confectionary sales are predicted to stagnate and decline in Canada over the next five years, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. In particular, hard candies, licorice and lollipops face an expected decline of nearly 10 per cent a year. But several new startups have embraced the war on sugar as an opportunity to launch low-sugar treats.

Here are five ways companies are making candies that bill themselves as healthier alternatives.


The Canadian company SmartSweets was founded in 2015 by Tara Bosch. After her “love affair with candy turned into an unhealthy relationship with food,” the B.C. native says she figured out a way to make stevia-sweetened gummy bears in her kitchen. Stevia contains steviol glycoside, a plant-based, zero-calorie substitute that can be up to 200 times sweeter than traditional sugar. It has already found a niche as a natural sweetener in grocery stores, appealing especially to consumers with diabetes. However, products containing stevia can sometimes come with an unpleasant aftertaste. Having raised $ 3 million in February, SmartSweets hopes to expand to more than 10,000 retail locations in North America by the end of the year. The gummy bears can be bought online or in health food stores across Canada.

Less sugar, natural dyes

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According to a poll conducted by, the most popular candy last Halloween was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Imagine eating these classic treats, but with 36 per cent less sugar. This is the claim made by UnReal, a candy brand that Australian chef Adam Melonas helped launch. The sweets are made with ingredients that are primarily sourced from organic farms and fair-trade certified. “Gems,” the signature product from UnReal, bear an uncanny resemblance to M&Ms, but are coloured with beet juice instead of artificial dyes. These candies are not yet available in Canada.

Monk fruit

A cold-pressed, raw chocolate beverage, Rau uses monk fruit as a natural sweetener. This low-calorie extract is more than 150 times sweeter than sugar. Despite being dairy-free, Rau tastes rich, according to reviewers on The company also says the drinks are made using a high-pressure technique that helps retain nutrients in the cocoa beans. Rau is available for purchase in the U.S., but is not yet available in Canada.

Talenti, a gelato line from Unilever, also uses monk fruit and is currently available in the U.S. These substitute sweeteners are filling the need for a low-sugar option, says gelato consultant Lorenzo Stangarone. “There is a misconception that you have to remove something from your food,” he says. “But everything in moderation is healthy. Look for raw or less processed foods when searching for healthier options.”

Blocking bitterness to enhance sweetness

Instead of reducing or finding substitutes for sugar, what if we could block bitterness in foods to enhance their naturally existing sweetness? This is the question that Mycotechnology — a startup backed by 1894, a venture fund owned by Kellogg’s – aims to answer. The Colorado-based firm has created a mushroom root powder, ClearTaste, which can be added during candy manufacturing to reduce the need for sugar by more than 40 per cent. The mushroom powder works at a molecular level by bonding with the bitter taste receptors on the tongue, blocking signals to your brain that help you perceive bitterness. When added along with sweeteners such as stevia, the startup claims that it helps remove the metallic aftertaste.

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Milkybar Wowsomes: More holes, less candy

Nestlé introduced Milkybar Wowsomes, a “healthy” version of the much-loved Milkybar, in the U.K. and Ireland earlier this year. The company claims that this new chocolate bar has 30 per cent less sugar due to restructuring the glucose molecules themselves, changing them from crystalline to amorphous, so that they are more porous. The resulting chocolate dissolves faster in your mouth, like cotton candy, while tasting exactly like the original, the company says. Taste testers in the U.K. are not fully convinced — reviews are mixed, with some saying that it was only a “modest sugar hit.” Still, it appears that the future of candy might be more holes and less candy. Laser printer-maker Xerox was granted a U.S. patent in April for 3D printing a hollowed-out chocolate.

1 Xerox’s patent for 3D printed, hollowed-out candy. United States Patents and Trademark Office

“At the end of the day, regardless of the sweeteners being used, it is still candy and should be thought of as a treat,” says Chiara DiAngelo, registered dietitian and manager of nutrition communication at The Canadian Sugar Institute. She encourages consumers to turn the package over, read the nutrition label and make an informed choice.

Swathi Meenakshi Sadagopan is an engineer who explores how technology can be a force for good. She is a Munk Journalism Fellow at the University of Toronto.

Health – National Post