Chocolate brands deny ‘marketing timidity’ of reduced sugar variants

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStock/CreativeBrainStorming
Image: iStock/CreativeBrainStorming

Related tags: Chocolate, Chocolate bars, Sugar, reformulation

Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé have insisted they are committed to their sugar-reduced items following accusations they do not back healthier versions of products with the necessary marketing spend.

Professor Jack Winkler, Emeritus Professor of Nutrition Policy at London Metropolitan University, claimed the ‘big three’ chocolate brands were ‘frightened’ to push their low or reduced sugar products for fears of impacting their established brands. 

His comments came after Nestlé admitted it was cutting its Milkybar Wowsomes​ product in the UK and Ireland owing to ‘underwhelming demand’ for the low sugar product which it launched in 2018​.

“Milkybar Wowsomes were a good product,”​ Winkler told FoodNavigator, adding that their failure had nothing to with taste. “The development team was successful in getting the sugar reduction and the taste right.”

Winkler conducted what he described was ‘crude’ research by visiting 35 shops (made up of big supermarkets and smaller retailers) in North London. Consequently, he claimed that Nestlé’s Wowsomes product, along with Protein versions of Mars and Snickers and Mondelez’s Cadbury Dairy Milk 30% Less Sugar, were not being pushed by the brands.

“The reason they are not marketing them is that they are absolutely scared to death,”​ he claimed. “They are afraid that saying ‘less sugar’ too prominently will contaminate their main brands.”

‘An important part of our portfolio’

The companies, however, told FoodNavigator they are committed to these products.

A Mars Wrigley UK spokesperson said: “Our Mars and Snickers Protein [launched in February last year] are an important part of our portfolio. Consumers love the great taste, the 10g protein per bar and the reduced sugar vs our classic Mars and Snickers bars. The levels of distribution are in line with expectations and continuing to grow. We are committed to the future of our protein range, we are planning future launches and we expect the range to grow over time.”

Mars ‘More Protein’ contains 17.5g of sugar per bar, which is 40% less than the original, while Snickers ‘More Protein’ contains 14.1g per bar, which is 30% less.

A Mondelez spokesperson said: “Cadbury Dairy Milk 30% Less Sugar launched with a strong start in July 2019 and we’re continuing to support the product through a range of marketing activities. We are investing significantly in a nationwide advertising campaign to help drive consumer awareness. This campaign went live in January and will continue through to March.

"We are pleased to report higher-than-average repeat purchasing rates and that the bar is performing in line with our expectations.”

The spokesperson added that developers worked for two years to deliver a similar tasting product with 30% less sugar and no increase in calories.

“The new bar is still fundamentally the same three core ingredients of Cadbury Dairy Milk; cocoa, milk and sugar. And it contains no artificial sweeteners, colours or preservatives. Our team successfully replaced the functionality of sugar in the chocolate with fibre in a way that not only preserves the structure of chocolate but stays true to the unique texture and taste profile of Cadbury Dairy Milk.”

Nestlé said it had ‘learned a lot' from the Wowsomes project and was ‘working on some new and exciting products’.

“We have learned a lot from this project and developed an even higher performing, more versatile and affordable sugar reduction technology that will be introduced this year. We’ll also continue to reduce sugar gradually, replacing it with natural ingredients such as fibres, flour, dairy and cocoa powders. Since 2000, we have reduced the sugar content of our products by an average of about 34%.”

Nestlé’s latest 30% reduced sugar chocolate called MORE features a Raspberry and Hazelnut Kit Kat Chunky and an Oats, Apple and Cinnamon Yorkie.

‘The development teams were successful’

Winkler praised the taste of these sugar-reduced products. “It's a marketing story not a technology story,”​ he observed.

“They are not buying their way on to the shelf space, and hence I can't find them on the shelf. What we are talking about here is marketing timidity not the technical problem of reformulation, they just aren't putting the marketing backing behind these products.”

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