Hershey is launching new, sugar-free chocolate. It may meet its goal of capturing a significant portion of the diabetics market, but converting other consumers might prove to be a harder task. Since self-treating and taste are key chocolate purchasing drivers, Hershey must give the new products strong marketing support.

Diabetes sufferers are in for a new treat. The giant US chocolate maker, Hershey, is launching new sugar-free chocolate products under its Hershey’s and Reese’s brands. The new chocolates will be sweetened with a sugar substitute called lactitol and contain 25% fewer calories than the regular products. They are expected to hit US grocery shelves by late April and Hershey is hoping for a sweet return – up to US$40m in sales in the first year.

Hershey is targeting all people who are concerned about their sugar intake, especially consumers with diabetes and those on a low carbohydrate diet. The new products will carry the logo of the American Diabetes Association to reassure and educate consumers as to its low calorie, no-sugar nature. It will undoubtedly be successful in tapping into the spending of the growing number of diabetics, which itself is driven by increasing numbers of obese adults and children.

However, whether the new lines will appeal to those trying to commit to low carbohydrate diets, and others ‘concerned about sugar intake’, is another question. Certainly the chocolates should appeal at a nutritional level, but by branding them as ‘diet’ products, Hershey leaves itself with little room for manoeuvre.

Health concerns are usually low on the list of priorities for those buying chocolate. Taste is likely to be the driving factor for initial and repeat purchases, with convenience and price being close runners up. During these times of recession, self-treating is often one of the last luxuries to be cut, and consumers refrain from allowing their chocolate experience to be compromised in any way.

As such, marketing will play a vital role in persuading consumers to even try the new candy, and to create an association between the treat of eating chocolate and the sugar-free diet product. Hershey will need to plan, and pay for, a particularly strong campaign to make real and strategic in-roads into consumer groups outside of diabetics.

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