Are Healthy Sweets an Oxymoron?

Jun 11, 2010
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

The message is finally getting
through. Sorta kinda. Consumers want to eat whatever they want. And be healthy.
And have choice. They want manufacturers and retailers to help. So does the
White House.

Last month, at Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, manufacturers were
doing their best to show they had got the message. More products than ever
boasted "fewer
calories, less sugar and more social responsibility," as the Los Angeles
reported. From marble-sized Reese’s Minis to sugar-free Dove chocolates
and Mars’ goodnessKnows snack squares said to contain "phytonutrients
that have been shown to help support healthy circulation," the message
was that people can consume with confidence because manufacturers are looking
after them. Sarah Endline of Sweetriot was promoting dark chocolate-covered
cacao nibs "the size of a pencil tip" with only two calories each. "You
can get your fix in one bite and know it is good for your body and good for
the world," she said.

This is where relativity enters the equation. Size
matters — which is why some snacks are getting smaller.

"Candy and chocolate are treats, part of life’s little pleasures," Susan
Smith, spokeswoman for the confectioners association, told the Times. "As
with most foods, candy should be consumed in moderation."

But Michael Jacobson
of the Center for Science in the Public Interest argues that even though chocolate
bars or other candies are often touted as healthy because they contain peanuts,
milk or other ingredients, it’s hard to promote many as healthy.

"A candy
bar is typically a lot of calories and not a lot of nutrition," he
added. "That’s really the bottom line."

Consumers have complained
for years about confusing labels and have pleaded with manufacturers and retailers
for help in making good choices about what they eat.

Manufacturers and retailers
have responded in different ways, including trying to help with portion control
or using "natural" ingredients that
are marketed as being "better" in some unspecified or unproven
way. Whatever the label says about it being healthful or healthier, though,
it still may not be healthy. In the end, even with so many new formulas, the
choice is individual.

Discussion Questions: Should sweets try to position themselves as "healthy" alternatives?
Can sweets be promoted as an acceptable lifestyle choice if they are eaten
in moderation only?
[Author’s commentary] Semantics is important for
people wanting to take responsibility for what they eat. The word diet, for
example, doesn’t
necessarily imply that someone is trying to lose weight. Everything we eat
comprises our diet — some are more likely to keep us healthy (or not)
and/or slim (or not) than others. Freedom of choice means we can control portions
if we want to but we must consider everything on the label, not just the panel
that assures us the product is "healthful."

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8 Comments on "Are Healthy Sweets an Oxymoron?"

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Steve Montgomery
10 years 11 months ago

“In moderation” is a term we hear more and more with regard to almost everything we consume. It has been applied to everything from coffee to alcohol to salt. I believe most adults when given the choice will make the right decision. That does imply, however, that they understand the choices.

One of that areas this comes most to mind in when looking at a package and seeing that is contains X amount of calories, Y amount of saturated fat, Z amount of something else per portion. Doesn’t seem so bad until you find that that bag you just consumed contained 2, 3 or more portions.

Sweets, like all the things we are being told are, or could be (this study says this and that study says something different), bad for us, should be an acceptable lifestyle choice for knowledgeable consumers–in moderation.

David Biernbaum
10 years 11 months ago

Consumers absolutely do want “healthy” snacks and sweets, and if retailers make a wider assortment available, they will establish a very sound point of differentiation from other retailers who are stuck in the “SKU rationalization” syndrome, where only the same old top-selling UPC codes are now made available to the consumer.

David Livingston
10 years 11 months ago

Anything can be promoted as healthy. Even a Big Mac is healthy under certain circumstances. The best way to promote an unhealthy product is to turn the tables and promote it as being healthy. Such as when cigarette companies would advertise their product as being the number one cigarette smoked by doctors. Some people want to believe that sweets are healthy. Then by all means, tell them and sell them!

Roger Saunders
10 years 11 months ago
Grandma said “All things in moderation”. She was a smart grandma, too. She wasn’t only talking about food and drink intake, she was pointing out that people need advice, but they don’t need to have someone make every decision for them. They’ll be happier if they can take care of themselves. Let them know ways to do it, and then get out of the way. Based on May, 2010 data from the Consumer Intentions & Actions (CIA) Survey, when asked: “Regarding your health, which of the following are you doing?”, Adults (key word) responded in this manner: 30.1% are watching Calorie intake31.2% are watching Fat intake29.3% are watching Salt / Sodium intake18.9% are watching carbohydrate intake33.3% are exercising regularly (3x per week)10.6% are buying more organic food When asked: “Describe how happy you are with your Health”, those same consumers said: 52.1% Happy / Totally Happy28.6% Neutral19.3% Unhappy / Totally Unhappy Some people are going to have “Grandma’s lesson calling in their ear.” Some are going to miss reading the labels. I just hope that… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 11 months ago

I am not a “sweets” eater. I used to be then gave it up. I think the industry is moving in the right direction by striving to make their products more healthy. There will always be that group of consumers who look for the “sinful” taste. The products will always be available for them no matter what the individual tastes are.

No, healthy sweets does not have to be an oxymoron.

Carlos Arambula
10 years 11 months ago

Ultimately, proper or excessive consumption defines the product as healthy or unhealthy. Manufacturers or government regulations can’t dictate or define consumer behavior.

I strongly believe manufacturers need to define their target audience (health, indulgent, gut fillers…) and manufacture product for them.

Gene Detroyer
10 years 11 months ago
I just got finished writing my comment on “green” and believe I can just copy it here and change the words. Remember what industry did with fat free cookies and snacks? All the industry did was substitute sugar for fat. Was it just a lucky break for companies that people who bought 100 calorie snack packs ended up consuming more calories than if they bought regular packs? The industry has no interest in making healthy products. They are only interested in being perceived as healthy. Healthy food is something one eats that makes them healthy. Sweets do not do that, which does not mean that people should forgo sweets. Sweets can be part of a diet, but people must understand what they are eating. Unfortunately, the last thing marketers want is for people to understand. It takes legislation or the threat of legislation to force companies to provide appropriate information of what is in their offering. Would there even be ingredients labeling if it weren’t required?
Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
10 years 11 months ago

I agree that healthy sweets don’t have to be an oxymoron. Sweets can be packaged or unpackaged, fresh or frozen. Nutritionists would argue that the best sweets are fruits and there are plenty of them this time of year. I am seeing some differentiation at retail in frozen desserts as being sweet but still healthy. For example, Trader Joe’s frozen blueberry or raspberry tart dessert has only has about 8 grams of fat per serving and tastes delicious.

Portion size in sweets is also important, because if you eat the whole tart or cake, you are not eating healthy. Chocolate cake is ok, but in moderation. And how about the benefits of dark chocolate, too? Again, only in moderation.


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