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Leon Kaye headshot

The U.S. Candy Industry Pledges to Reduce Calories and Sugar

By Leon Kaye

According to a leading U.S. trade group, the snack and candy industry is getting serious about portion control, as well as reducing sugar content.

The trade group pledged action behind its words, including a pledge to offer smaller sizes of popular candies. Brands that are reportedly on board for this effort include Ferrero, Ghirardelli, Lindt, Nestlé, Mars and Wrigley. By 2022, half of these companies' individually-wrapped candy and chocolate products will be marketed in portions containing 200 calories or less.

This is quite a turnaround for the National Confectioners’ Association, which is quick to tell the public that candy is a “fun, transparent, affordable and fun treat.”

The association, which advocates and lobbies for the confectionery and candy sector, says the industry employs an estimated 55,000 workers in approximately 1,000 factories across the U.S. -- generating a staggering $35 billion a year.

With those numbers in mind, the association is often preoccupied with economic and trade issues. Foremost on the NCA’s agenda are what it calls unfair agricultural subsidies and quotas that inflate the price of sugar in the U.S., putting its industry at an unfair competitive disadvantage with candy makers overseas.

And much like the U.S. beverage industry, the NCA has been quick to defend its turf. Several years ago, it flouted a study that suggested children and adolescents who eat candy tend to be less overweight or obese. The scientific backing of that study was probably true and made it clear candy should be an occasional treat and savored in moderation. The title of the NCA’s press release, however, was hardly the best tactic in attempting to win over both parents and nutritionists.

The fact is that the underlying causes of obesity is complex: Sugary foods and beverages, portion control, processed foods and the lack of exercise all contribute to the problem. But as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out, the obesity rate refuses to move. The same goes for the diabetes crisis in the U.S.; at last count, the CDC estimated that 29 million Americans live with diabetes, while 86 million grapple with pre-diabetic conditions.

Therefore, all hands need to be on deck. In addition, as eating habits evolve and more consumers are interested and demand more nutritious food products, companies that refuse to follow these trends will see their businesses suffer.

In addition to smaller portions and reduced sugar content, the industry promised to showcase the caloric content on the front package of 90 percent of its top-selling candies – gone will be the days of squinting at small print under the glare at the local supermarket or drugstore. The NCA also promised to offer more information about these products online so shoppers can better grasp the “unique role that confections can play in a happy, balanced lifestyle.” (Whatever that means.)

So, is the candy industry serious about doing even a small part to improve public health in America? The New York Post, never a publication to hold back, scoffed at the announcement and reposted a Reuters article with the headline, “Candy makers hit by health craze team up to reduce calories.”

But if these companies are teaming up on this new directive, they are certainly not boasting about it. None of the aforementioned companies sent out a press release about this program. The latest media release from Wrigley (part of Mars) discussed providing dental care to Russian kids. Nestlé most recently touted its participation in a national fitness competition.

Do these companies believe this announcement is more of a public relations stunt than taking on a mounting health problem? After all, one argument against restricting or eliminating the sale of large-sized sodas is that consumers can simply order more than one. That certainly is the case with these smaller portions of candy.

A commitment to education programs explaining how excessive sugar can increase the risk of diabetes and obesity, on the other hand, would be a far more “transparent” initiative.

Image credit: Luke Jones/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye