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Trend description Consumers are looking for healthy alternatives to candy and expect companies to innovate healthy candy without compromising on the taste. The consumer wants the best of both worlds and is starting to look for good-for-you alternatives to candy.


Trend drivers

According to IFIC's 17th annual 2022 Food and Health Survey report, Gen Z are prioritizing food that both boosts their mental and physical health, with the top benefits seeking from food being more energy or less fatigue (38%) improved sleep (35%), emotional and mental health (33%) and digestive or gut health (29%). Gen Z consumers demand emotional and mental health benefits due to their mental health issues and stress levels, causing Gen Z consumers to try to reduce their stress by improving their nutrition. 


Consumers have generally become more aware of their health due to COVID-19. A survey conducted by FMCG gurus in May 2020 found that 80% of consumers across 18 countries plan to eat and drink healthier because of the coronavirus. Furthermore, in May 2020, 43% of consumers said they had become more conscious about their mental well-being because of COVID-19. Gretchen Hadden, marketing manager of Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, said to Candy Industry: "Consumers are taking a more proactive, personal, and holistic approach to health."


However, even though consumers have become more aware of their health, Gen Z consumers are still snacking. According to IFIC's 17th annual 2022 Food and Health Survey, 77% of Gen Z report snacking at least once a day, with one-third (34%) saying they snack two times a day. Even though this generation shows a considerable interest in snacking, they are more likely to steer away from sugar. 29% of Gen Z consumers say that they avoid sugar entirely and are two times more likely than other generations to say they avoid sugar. Furthermore, Gen Z consumers demand natural ingredients, and food labeled as "natural" is a key purchasing factor. 46% of Gen Z says they buy food labeled as natural, 34% say they buy food with clean ingredients, and 28% as organic, according to the report. 


Consumers are constantly looking to improve their wellness and continuously seek ways to minimize anxiety in their daily lives. Healthy nutrition and a balanced lifestyle are increasingly areas where consumers can flex their consciousness and outperform each other. And as awareness of burnout and depression grows, self-care will become even more critical. 


However, Gen Z consumers have a holistic approach to wellness. According to a study by Ypulse, most Gen Z and Millennials agree that wellness can be anything that makes you feel good. More than half of Gen Z and Millennials tell YPulse they agree that the current wellness culture is toxic and harmful. 73% of young people agree that somebody can work out and eat junk food in one day for their wellness. With Gen Z's holistic definition of wellness, the consumer want the best of both worlds: delicious candy, but with nutrition benefits, that they can eat guilt-free.

Dairy-free and sugar-free sweets


Chocolates and candies with reduced sugar, no sugar, or no added sugar are growing in both dollar and volume growth more than their traditional counterparts, according to a report by IRI. Sales of sugar-free diet candy, an IRI category that does not include sugar-free chocolate, were up 13.8 percent compared to a year ago, with $103.2 million in dollar sales. 


Research shows that Gen Z is shifting to plant-based diets faster than older generations to avoid climate disaster. Gen Z Consumers are starting to demand candy and snacks that are vegan and sugar-free but don't want to compromise on the taste.


Sugar reduction in plant-based alternatives is complex due to the functional benefits that sugar contributes, such as mouthfeel, texture, and moister content. When replacing the sugar, it's about reducing the milkfat, dairy proteins, and sugar system, which is a complex act.


According to a study conducted by Cargill in 2021, sugar content is a crucial influencer for America's grocery shoppers, with 62% reporting they are likely to check the amount of sugar before purchasing the product. The label "lower in sugar" had the most significant purchase impact across all demographics.


A 2017 study conducted by The Beneo Global Plant-Based Survey found that 73% of global flexitarian consumers find it very important that dairy alternatives have a full-bodied mouthfeel to dairy products. Products labeled sugar and dairy free are perceived as healthier by today's more health-conscious youth. "Consumers are more likely to examine alternative dairy product labels for added sugar content and for sweeteners they find familiar and recognizable, such as stevia, agave, honey, tapioca, and rice syrups," Sarah Diedrich, marketing director – global sweetening and texturizing, ADM, Chicago, tells food business news.


Companies have started creating dairy-free and sugar-free sweets. The company NadaMoo has made dairy-free and sugar-free coconut milk ice cream, which is rich in plant-based ingredients. The ice cream has no sugar added and comes in various flavors, such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and mint chip.


Another company that is tapping into the vegan-sugar-free ice cream trend is the company Minus Thirty. They offer everything from coconut vegan and sugar-free ice cream to dark chocolate almond milk sugar-free ice cream to green tea matcha sugar-free ice cream. They also make vegan sugar-free ice cream sandwiches that come in different varieties.


Considerable increases in sugar-free chocolate candy reflect the trend of sugar-free alternatives. Specifically, according to IRI, the category increased 16.6 percent to $169.7 million over the latest 52 weeks ending June 14, 2020.


The company De Villiers Chocolate has made organic zero-sugar and dairy-free coconut chocolate. According to the company, their coconut chocolate is rich in coca and is packed with nutritional benefits while still being sweet and not bitter. Theobroma chocolate has also tapped into the zero-sugar and dairy chocolate trend and is launching its zero-sugar mini chocolate bites and bars. It's 100% plant-based, comes without sugar alcohol, and is packed with antioxidants.


Picture: Minus Thirty


Picture: Nada Moo


Picture: De Villiers Chocolate

Functional candy


IRI data for the year ending May 15 is the most recent data available, showing that Hard candy sales are up 19.8 percent over the last 52 weeks, seemingly marking post-pandemic solid growth. Health claims, and flavor innovations, are driving the growth.


According to Globe Newswire, the market for functional foods is expected to rise in demand, with the global market expected to reach 285.3 billion US by 2030.


The functional food market has grown as consumers' interest in nutrition and health increases. Functional food that can be consumed on the go is rising in demand. This is due to busy lifestyles and consumer knowledge about their health advantages. 


Seeking out mental health and emotional benefits is a part of Gen Z's self-care. According to a 2022 study conducted by Food Insight, when Gen Z was asked about their stress level, 73% said they felt "very" or "somewhat" stressed, with one-third (33%) saying they were "very" stressed. Over two in five respondents try managing and reducing stress by practicing mindful or intuitive eating. Furthermore, Gen Z was more likely to say they "always" or "often" eat when stressed—and to feel guilty about what they've eaten.


However, companies are now looking into how they can give consumers the best of both worlds: candy that has functional nutrition and is better for you. 


Feel Well Lolly's has created CDB-infused gourmet lolly pops for immunity support. Their low-calorie lollypops are sugar-free and contain 50 mg CDB, immune boosters such as Elderberry, Zinc, D3, 100%, and daily B12. The lolly pops come in various flavors, such as honey, grape, and black cherry. Also, the company 8GREENS Lollipops has created the world's first lollypops only made with greens. They are infused with eight superfoods, such as spirulina, wheatgrass, and chlorella, for energy and immune support, but they have a tropical, citrusy flavor made with lulu. One lollipop contains the same amount of Vitamin B as 15 cups of broccoli or spinach. Also, the company Yumearth has created healthier and organic lollipops. Their ultimate elderberry lollipop is packed with vitamins A, C, and E and is made with natural elderberry. 


With research showing that chocolate is one of the most effective delivery systems for vitamins, brands have started creating chocolate with benefits. Good Day chocolate is candy-coated, fair-trade chocolate available in milk or dark chocolate with functional ingredients. Their energy dark chocolate contains 20mg of caffeine, green tea, and B vitamins, with their calm milk chocolate, a sugar-shelled treat containing amino acids, chamomile, and magnesium. Their milk chocolate "sleep" supplement contains 1mg of melatonin, blended with milk chocolate and soothing chamomile, then candy-coated for a sweet dose of nostalgia to support sleep.


The company Sourse Vitamin creates vitamin-infused choclates crafted with plant-based ingredients proven to revitalize how you look and feel. They seek to create an alternative to swallowing pills with their Vitamin infused chocolate bites. Their hype bites contain Vitamin B12 to boost energy, while their glow bites contain plant-based collagen to make the skin glow. Their mood bites include saffron and Vitamin D for a balanced mood.


Picture: Sourse Vitamins


Picture: 8 Greens


Picture: Fell Well Lolly's

Better for you gummies


Gen Z consumers are into wellness and nutritional benefits but are less into pills and supplements. Gen Z consumers prefer gummies over traditional pills, according to the unwinder survey conducted in March 2022. The survey found that 50% of Gen Z consumers take gummies compared to 35% taking pills and capsules and 15% not taking any supplements. 


According to a report about the gummies market worth conducted by Grand View Research, the vitamins application segment accounted for the highest revenue share of over 55% because of the high consumption of vitamin gummies due to benefits in 2020. The report points explicitly to organic, clean, and naturally formulated gummy supplements, coupled with increasing customer demand for nutrition with taste and flavor to fuel market growth.


As Gen Z grows up and gains more buying power, their commitment to health consciousness will drive the growth of healthy gummies. The demand for healthier gummies has caused the company Rotten to emerge with its mission: Helping people reduce their sugar intake while still indulging in the treats they love. The company launched its Kickstarter campaign in 2022 and is seeking funds to deliver candy gummy worms that have 70% less sugar, are made with real fruit and contain no alcohol or stevia. Their eye-catching packaging is plastic free and made of wood pulp, with pouches made of certified home compostable material. According to the millennial CEO, Micheal Fisher, the candy offers something different than other better-for-you candy alternatives by tasting good.


The candy brand Lilly’s Sweets, known initially for its sugar-free chocolates, has launched its sugar-free gummies and worms. Their keto-friendly gummy bears come in Strawberry, Raspberry, Orange, and Lemon flavors. Their sour gummy worms, with no sugar added, comes with Tart Apple-Peach and citrusy Lemon-Raspberry taste.


The company Tribe Tokes is a female-founded cannabis brand that has swapped the carcinogenic food colorings and high fructose corn syrup commonly found in cannabis gummies for organic cane sugar and natural extracts such as turmeric, carrot, and sweet potato. Each gummy contains 25mg of cannabinoids to promote stress-reducing and restful sleep.


Lastly, the company Grummies are turning natural superfood into delicious gummies instead of supplements. The gummies are made with organic sweeteners and flavored from natural fruit. Their gummies come in four superfoods: ashwagandha, elderberry, apple cider vinegar, and turmeric. Their Ashwagandha gummies provide consumers with calming superpowers, and their elderberry supports immune health.


Picture: Tribe Tokes


Picture: Lily's Sweets


Picture: Grummies

Action Steps


Innovative functional dairy and sugar-free ice creams or chocolate that boost consumers' moods.





Deliver vitamins in new tasty ways, such as chocolate-infused vitamins or in a lollypop.

Create low-sugar, better-for-you gummies that are tasty while having functional effects.

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