Snacks & Candy

Caffeinated Candy

Confectioners jump on energy fad, boost caffeine levels

NEW YORK -- Seeking a shot of energy for slow sales growth and to complete with the rapidly expanding energy beverage segment, candy manufacturers have launched a series of new energy products with increased levels of caffeine.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, energy-inducing candy, spiked with caffeine and, often, vitamins, are the low-growth, $29 billion U.S. candy, gum and chocolate industry's answer to surging competition from energy drinks. And just like those beverages, the caffeine-infused candies often sport controversial names that have been criticized by some.

Last [image-nocss] month, Mars Inc. introduced Snickers Charged, a version of the candy bar with a cup-of-coffee's worth of caffeine, plus B vitamins and amino acids, ingredients typically found in energy drinks. Jelly Belly Candy Co. has come out with Extreme Sport Beans, which are caffeinated and contain electrolytes, compounds beneficial for hydration, while Hershey Co. has launched caffeine-enhanced Ice Breakers Energy mints. Along with Jolt mints and gum, Buzz Bites, Foosh Mints, Crackheads chocolate-covered espresso beans and several others, these products make up a burgeoning "energy candy" category.

The new products are appearing as the candy industry is losing part of its most bankable audience—kids. There were 3.3% fewer children aged 6 to 11 in 2007 as in 2002, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales of sugar confectionary dropped by 4% from 2001 to 2006, while energy-drink sales rose by more than 400% to $3.23 billion in the period, said the Journal, citing market researcher Mintel.

Fears of obesity and diabetes also are cutting into consumption, added the report. Last year, candy and snack companies including Mars; Cadbury Adams USA, a unit of Cadbury Schweppes PLC; and Hershey signed a pledge drafted by the Better Business Bureau in which they agreed to stop marketing their products to children under the age of 12.

Caffeinated candies present some challenges for makers, chief among them disguising the inherently bitter taste of caffeine, said the report. "Our customers realize that the Buzz Bites aren't going to taste like Godiva," Jason Kensey, president of Vroom Foods, Costa Mesa, Calif., which makes Foosh Mints and Buzz Bites, told the newspaper. He added that many customers reorder the products. Jelly Belly's Extreme Sport Beans are not intended to be a candy, the company said, but are instead a "sports performance product."

The energy candies replicate both the branding and ingredients of energy drinks, starting with the caffeine. "We're the most caffeinated product out there," Kensey said of Vroom's Foosh Energy Mints and Buzz Bites, which both clock in at 100 milligrams of caffeine per piece. Snickers Charged has 60 milligrams per bar, and Jelly Belly's Extreme Sport Beans pack 50 milligrams per 1-oz. bag. An 8-oz. cup of coffee, by comparison, has from 65 to 200 milligrams, while a can of Red Bull energy drink has 75 milligrams. Many energy candies also have other additives typically found in energy drinks, including B vitamins; electrolytes; taurine, an amino acid; guarana, a naturally caffeinated South American fruit; and ginseng.

While caffeine's reputation has been rehabilitated to some extent in recent years by studies indicating it can benefit athletic and cognitive performance, other recent studies have shown associations with miscarriage and diabetes, as well as anxiety, stomach problems and caffeine intoxication, the report said. Both Mars and Hershey told the Journal they decided to sell caffeine-enhanced candy in response to consumer interest, pointing out that the products are not marketed to young children. Mars spokesperson Ryan Bowling told the paper that many products, including soda, contain caffeine, adding that parents have a responsibility to monitor what kids eat.

But the most controversial aspects of some energy candies are their names. John Osmanski, the president of the company that makes Crackheads, a candy sold mostly in convenience stores in California, Texas, the Midwest and Florida, said the name is tongue-in-cheek and that the term "crackhead" is thrown around lightly by comedians all the time.

Michael Allured, the publisher of the Manufacturing Confectioner and the Candy Buyers' Directory, an annual listing of products, wrote Osmanski a letter in late 2006, expressing dismay, said the Journal. "It reflects a little bit on confectionary as a whole when people stretch the limits," he said.

Even some noncaffeinated candy has been accused of having a drug image. Hershey recently halted production of Ice Breakers Pacs. The product—a white, powdered mint encased in rectangular, translucent baggies—has been criticized by some law-enforcement officials for looking too much like illegal drugs. (Click here to read CSP Daily News coverage.)

Energy drink brands have gone to greater extremes to reference street drugs. Last week, Cocaine Energy Drink reappeared on the market. Introduced in September 2006, the product was recalled by maker Redux Beverages last May after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) objected to the product's name and marketing that positioned it as an alternative to cocaine. (Click here to read CSP Daily News coverage.)

The company made changes to the marketing language on the cans and rereleased the product. Now that it is back on the market under the same name, "we're going to take another look at this product," FDA spokesperson Kimberly Rawlings told the paper.

Redux founder Jamey Kirby said that in the saturated energy-drink market, it takes unique marketing to stand out. "Everyone from 15- to 60-year-olds who has a bit of a sense of humor thinks it is funny," he told the Journal.

Candy companies say they are careful with marketing. Several products, including Snickers Charged, have labels indicating the products are "not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine." Jelly Belly's Extreme Sport Beans are sold in the sports-nutrition section of stores, not on the candy rack, according to marketing director Rob Swaigen. Other candy companies point out that while their products are sold in the candy rack along with more kid-friendly treats, caffeinated energy drinks are often sold alongside fruit juice.

Schools boards, health groups and some state legislatures are starting to look at the issue of kids and caffeinated products. There is a proposed bill in Kentucky that would prohibit the sale of caffeinated energy drinks in schools, and another that would ban their sale to anyone under 18.

Last year, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences drafted recommendations for schools that advise that caffeinated products be avoided on campus. While the School Nutrition Association, a trade group for school food program workers, does not track caffeine policies directly, spokesperson Erik Peterson told the paper that it is becoming a bigger issue as caffeinated products, particularly energy drinks, become more prevalent.

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