CHICAGO – Apparently energy-packed sports drinks aren’t enough. Now there are vitamin-laced jelly beans and ginseng-stoked chews.

The nation’s candy makers are targeting fitness enthusiasts seeking to boost athletic performance or quickly grab a jolt of energy.

Industry insiders and analysts who gathered this week in Chicago for North America’s largest candy trade show say the odd pairing of candy and fitness might just make economic sense. Consumers are scooping up more than $3 billion a year in “energy” gels, bars and drinks, and the crowded, $25 billion confection industry must continue to innovate if it’s going to sweeten the bottom line.

And when you consider that more than 60 percent of adults say they exercise, the new products stand a good chance of catching on, said Harry Balzer, vice president of a consumer marketing firm that tracks the food industry.


“Americans are explorers, they like new things,” said Balzer of the NPD Group. “As long as you don’t upset my expectations of taste, that’s the most important thing.”

At the All Candy Expo in Chicago, Jelly Belly Candy Co. of Fairfield, Calif., introduced “Sports Beans.” Each one-ounce serving has Vitamins C and E plus 120 milligrams of electrolytes to boost energy and prevent dehydration.

“We felt there was an opening in the market for a non-bar, non-chocolate functional product,” said Bill Kelley, Jelly Belly vice chairman. “This has the energy component, electrolytes and it tastes good” in lemon-lime and orange flavors.

The new beans are expected in stories later this summer.

BestSweet Inc. of Mooresville, N.C., signed up stock-car racing star Dale Earnhardt Jr. to endorse its new XLR8 Energy Chews made with caffeine, ginseng, and guarana.

“Over time, more and more candy will contain something of additional value, vitamins or additives,” said BestSweet’s Steve Berkowitz. He said three of the taffy-like candies provide a boost equivalent to drinking one can of the immensely popular Red Bull energy drink.

Schuster Marketing Corp.’s sugar-free Blitz Energy Gum has 100 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as a freshly brewed cup of java.

Steve Schuster, president of the Milwaukee-based company, said the caffeine-rich, vitamin-fortified gum is part of a natural evolution from its sugar-free, low-calorie offerings.

But some question whether marketing candy as part of an active lifestyle makes sense.

“I don’t think that (the new products) belong in the candy aisle,” said Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “I’d like to see some research that shows they do what they claim to do, a track record. A lot of these products may not have that.”

Sass said many people, from serious athletes to couch potatoes, don’t really need the stimulants and other substances found in energy products.

“People need to realize if they haven’t been sweating and need to replace electrolytes, you don’t really need these products,” she said. The use of stimulants is an even greater concern because they can cause dangerous increases in a person’s heart rate and blood pressure, she added.

But Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association, said candy makers are simply answering consumer demand.

“Manufacturers are looking for new ways to build healthful benefits into their candy,” Graham said.

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