The confectionery industry will begin to move away from sugar to ‘healthier’ alternatives, according to a manufacturer of stevia-sweetened energy and confectionery bars.
Niclas Luthman, a Swedish entrepreneur who made the move from the music business to the food industry set up Luthman Backlund Foods in 2009 and started to develop the Nutri Nick brand of energy bars and confectionery in the last 18 months.
“That same shift that happened in my first business from analogue to digital is happening in the food industry,” he said.
“Half of the products on the market could be improved from a health perspective. Sugar is bad for you; it causes a lot of things. That is more or less established now. The trend is clear in science that we should reduce carbs like wheat and sugar.”
Moving away from sugar
He pointed to the latest Nordic Nutrition Recommendations for 2013, which cut the recommended total amount of energy from carbohydrates, such as sugar, from 50-60% in the 2004 edition to 45-60%.
However, some leading scientists have recently leapt to the defense of sugar such as the UK Food and Drink Federation’s Barbara Gallani, who said in response to a UK Channel 4 show that sugar did not cause obesity when consumed as part of a varied and balanced diet.
Luthman said that his firm had already moved away from sugar by using Wisdom Natural Brand’s stevia sweetener SweetLeaf. He said that the industry may also begin to seriously consider alternatives.
‘Stevia is a tricky thing to deal with’
Luthman Backlund Foods has developed confectionery products under the Nutri Nick brand, including a Stevia Kexbar – its answer to the Kit Kat with 80% less sugar and twice the protein.
The Kexbar contains stevia in the cream filling, while the chocolate coating contains 1.6 g of sugar.
Luthman said it was relatively expensive to reformulate with stevia and said that it did affect profit margins.
“Stevia is a tricky thing to deal with. It will be interesting to see if the consumer will pay more for the product. We’re trying to price ours lower to get a higher market share.”
Seeking distribution partners
The Kexbar retails mainly in health stores and online in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland for around SEK 12 ($1.85) – about 30% more expensive than similar sugar-based confectionery products.
Luthman Backlund Foods hopes to secure distribution in new markets and also in mainstream retail.
Luthman said: “I would love to have something in markets like Germany because the German consumer is very educated.” He added that the UK and Netherlands were also prospects, while the firm is close to securing US distribution.
The company founder said that he wasn’t overly concerned about a large confectionery player producing a similar product and expected the major companies to begin by reformulating existing products to reduce sugar.
Nutri Nick bars are manufactured by LVB Foods in eastern Europe.