Exotic flavours such as honey, lychee, passion fruit, guava and pomegranate have all made their way into the Jelly Belly rookie range

We all have our favourite sweets and treats and as the days get shorter and the nights get colder, we often find there’s nothing better than curling up by the fire with a favourite box of chocolates.

Winter is a great time for the confectionery industry because Christmas is a time when people like to treat themselves to nice box of chocolates, sweets and various other highly indulgent goods. According to chocolate giant Mars, 65% of boxed chocolates are sold during the Christmas period.

Along with the old favourite chocolate, cosy flavours like caramel, toffee, peppermint, pumpkin, maple and spices, such as cardamom and ginger, are all popular during the autumn and winter period.

The seasonal confectionery market is big business, with traditional flavours and more exotic products both competing for consumer attention. Consumers are seeking out more and more new experiences from further afield to excite them, allowing new flavours to find a place in the market, as well as new formats and combinations.

Family favourites and festive treats

"Another flavour trend looking to be big this season is spicy caramel, which is already popular in the US and is set to head to the UK very soon."

The winter and Christmas period is always the best time to bring loved ones together with a box of your favourite treats. The confectionery industry benefits greatly from Christmas. According to a survey by UK supermarket Asda, 76% of shoppers buy their festive treats early to prepare for the period.

While the usual boxed sets will always sell well, some companies have developed the concept to include a more family focused theme. Thorntons have announced a new product for the Christmas period called Family Night In, which will be available in stores across the UK from September. The box includes a selection of chocolates and a chocolate wheel to add a game element to the product.

Another confectionery company that has added a family game night element into their products is candy manufacturer Jelly Belly, which has released the Beanboozled product. The game has eight different coloured beans but 16 different flavours, leaving it up to fate whether you choose a chocolate pudding or canned dog food flavour jelly bean.

"It’s a bit like Russian roulette with beans," says Victoria Reeves, head of marketing and PR at Jelly Belly UK. "You spin the spinner and it lands on a colour and you have to take that colour so you might get peach or you might get vomit. It’s a family thing, and also for posh dinner parties. We are told they pass them round and everyone gets hysterical."

Jelly Belly has more than 90 different flavour beans in their product line with 50 official flavours and other more adventurous flavours. "The top 10 flavours remain quite constant but where you really see the change is in 15-30 most popular; there is a lot of changing places around there which really reflects people’s adventurous streak," Reeves says.

Taste of the exotic: new flavours

While the traditional tin of biscuits and fudge will go down well this Christmas, there are a few other flavours that are sure to go down a treat too. Sensient Flavors is one of the world’s leading flavour companies and has decided which flavours will be popular this season.

"To satisfy the health and wellness trend, a new type of chocolate called acticoa, packed with natural antioxidants, has been developed."

According to their results, consumers are looking for flavours found further afield than the UK to tickle their tastebuds. Teresa Olah, marketing manager of flavour systems at Sensient Flavors, says: "Several flavours were identified this year as a result of Sensient’s Mega-Trend Predictive Framework programme. More than 20 flavours were identified and some are poised to appear on the market sooner than others.

"We are already starting to see a few predicted flavours in the market, such as varietal fruit flavour profiles like honeycrisp apple and concord grape, varietal vanilla flavor profiles, including Indonesian and Madagascan, and lucuma and aji Amarillo, driven by the growing interest in Peruvian cuisine."

Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association, says: "Trends in confectionery and snacks for 2012 are pushing new boundaries. As consumer palates become more complex, flavour profiles across the industry are doing the same.

"People are looking beyond borders and convention for what’s next; whether it’s crunchy snacks with Asian or Mediterranean influences, the growing popularity of all things salty and sweet, or tropical fruit flavors such as mango."

Flavours that you would not associate with confectionery have successfully made their way into the industry, such as the newest flavour to make Jelly Belly’s official flavours range, green tea.

"In the last 18 months, green tea [flavour] was introduced and that has been a huge success," says Reeves. "Chilli mango is another and what that trend shows is that there is definitely an international element into where the flavours are going."

Other exotic flavours such as honey, lychee, passion fruit, guava and pomegranate have all made their way into the Jelly Belly rookie range, a trial range for flavours yet to make the official list, showing that consumers are looking for a wide and varied range of flavours in their confectionery.

Healthy snacks and chocolate hydration

"The seasonal confectionery market is big business, with traditional flavours and more exotic products both competing for consumer attention."

It’s thought that there is no such thing as a guilt-free treat, but lately it seems that is not always the case. As more and more consumers become health-conscious, a simple chocolate bar will no longer suffice.

"Driven by the health and wellness trend, consumers are paying more attention than ever to ingredients on product labels," says Olah. "This has resulted in consumer desire for product labels that feature recognisable and wholesome ingredients including natural flavours."

To satisfy the health and wellness trend, a new type of chocolate called acticoa, packed with natural antioxidants, has been developed. Developed by the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut, the chocolate is claimed to slow the ageing process by protecting the skin from free radicals. According to some studies, 20g of acticoa chocolate a day could help prevent wrinkles by hydrating the skin.

"Indulgence is a vital part of our eating habits. For several years now, public awareness campaigns on the dangers of being overweight have swept the cause of enjoyment into the shadows," said Barry Callebaut’s chief innovation officer Hans Vriens. "Today, medical experts and nutritionists underline the importance of integrating delicious and fun eating moments in a balanced diet.

"Chocolate fits the bill perfectly and the rise of functional chocolate has brought the two worlds together. Health-conscious people no longer have to compromise to enjoy a delicious treat. Best of all, they can strengthen their bodies at the same time."

Acticoa chocolate is currently used in brands such as Thorntons, whose antioxi.choc dark berryboost chocolate block contains acticoa chocolate with hints of blueberry and raspberry.

Jelly Belly is also keeping up with the healthy trend with its Beanaturals, which are free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, and Sport Beans, which are used during sport to maximise performance and keep up energy levels.

Spice up your life

No longer confined to Friday night curries, during the last few years spices have become a much-loved addition to sweets, chocolate and other confectionery. As more and more spices become better known and more easily available in the UK, consumers will become more accustomed to their flavours and demand a wider range in their products.

"According to a survey by UK supermarket Asda, 76% of shoppers buy their festive treats early to prepare for the period."

Sensient recently announced the launch of several chocolate concepts that pair spice and floral notes to create a luxurious exotic flavour. They include strawberry basil, lavender mint, blueberry hibiscus, pistachio rose, lemon pink peppercorn and cardamom orange.

"Consumer desire for adventure will continue to drive interest in unique and interesting flavour profiles which many times can take the form of exotic fruits or spices, floral flavors, or unique combinations," says Olah. "Additionally, as consumers are becoming more exposed to global cuisines, they have a growing interest in bold spice blends."

The predicted concepts couldn’t be more spot on, as Thorntons has recently released an orange and cardamom chocolate bar and Harvey Nichols stocks rose and pistachio milk chocolate by the Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co.

Another flavour trend looking to be big this season is spicy caramel, which is already popular in the US and is set to head to the UK very soon. Spicy caramel is a twist on the classic caramel profile and offers up subtle spice and heat notes that compliment the sweet flavour of the caramel.

The variety of formats and flavours available in the confectionery industry is immense but so is the demand from the consumer, who is always looking for a new discovery. How does the industry satisfy the consumer and find new, interesting flavours?

"The search for flavours is ongoing; it never stops and it seems like if you take a deep breath you can find a flavour there," says Reeves. "The inspiration is the world of flavour. The commitment by Jelly Belly is that you must explore your taste horizons. There is literally no limit to your taste horizons, and I think Beanboozled is Jelly Belly’s ultimate statement. There is nothing that you can’t mix."


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