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Candymaker Cuts Calories, Sugar in Kids' Treats

Posted - May 18, 2004 at 5:20 a.m.



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It's enough to make your sweet tooth go sour.

Too Tarts, the candy line that's put Sour Blast and Xtra Sour Goo in the mouths of millions of American kids, today will unveil plans for a health-conscious about-face for its products that could set the $16 billion candy industry on its sticky ear.

Refined sugars will be dumped. Calories will be lowered up to 60%. All of its candy will be made with 100% fruit juice concentrate. One container of Apple Sour Suck Ups will have 20 calories instead of 43. Sugar will be reduced to 2.8 grams from 10. And carbs will drop to 3.8 grams from 10.

All candy made by Innovative Candy Concepts, one of America's fastest-growing kids' candymakers, will be reformulated -- but prices won't be raised, it says. New versions will be sold in July.

The move is expected to put extreme pressure on other kid-targeted candymakers in an era when more than 30% of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight, says the American Obesity Association.

''Adults are living healthier lifestyles, but there's little healthier for kids,'' says Armand Hammer, CEO of Innovative Candy (and no relation to the industrialist). ''We're making our livings selling candy to kids, so let's do it responsibly.''

So serious is the company that it renamed the line Too Tarts Smart Choice. It's even enlisted the interest of the American Diabetes Association, which, while not approving or endorsing the candy, has qualified it as a ''free food'' -- with less than 20 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates a serving.

''Candy is candy,'' says Richard Kahn, chief scientist at the ADA, which accepted a $75,000 donation from Innovative Candy, ''but if you're going to have candy, at least this one is lower in calories.''

The move comes at a time when some obesity-conscious companies are taking action. McDonald's has dumped its Super Size option, and Russell Stover recently introduced low-carb chocolates. What's next: sugar-free cotton candy?

Not likely. But experts in kid nutrition and marketing are impressed with better-for-you candy.

A dean of childhood nutrition, William Sears, is enthralled. ''The food industry has spent years trying to shape young tastes towards sweets and junk,'' says Sears, author of The Family Nutrition Book. ''It's a big deal any time a foodmaker willingly makes a change to improve the food.''

Hammer says he got the idea about six months ago while visiting his three grandchildren, who are all under 5. Each of them lunged for the candy he brought them, but their parents weren't pleased.

''So, I'm sitting there watching them eat the candy -- and I didn't feel good about it,'' he says.

Rivals are watching.

''We absolutely feel the pressure,'' says John Budd, group marketing director at Topps, maker of Ring Pops and Bazooka gum. The company is looking into ways to reduce sugar by 50% in its Ring Pops and Push Pops, he says. ''But it's a process problem.''

To see more of USAToday.com, or to subscribe, go to http://www.usatoday.com

© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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