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Cadbury's chocolate bars, at right, and Kraft's Toblerone chocolate, lower left, are seen at a store in central London, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. (Sang Tan/Associated Press)
Cadbury's chocolate bars, at right, and Kraft's Toblerone chocolate, lower left, are seen at a store in central London, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. (Sang Tan/Associated Press)

What health kick? We're eating more candy than ever before Add to ...

Apple pie gum? Aerated Hershey Kisses? Just a couple of the new confections coming to a candy aisle near you. Marketers are debuting more than 2,000 new sweets like these at an industry event this week in Chicago, amid what industry observers call a "rather celebratory mood."

According to Ad Age, new product launches like these helped propel the $26-billion (U.S.) sweets and snacks industry to 2.5-per-cent growth in the year ending April 17, which is about double the growth of all other groceries.

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Yes, despite all our tough talk about obesity, processed foods and the possible risks of sugar in particular, North Americans still love to gorge on treats - perhaps more so when the financial times are tough. We may be putting off spending money on big-ticket items, but a chocolate bar or bag of candy is a relatively cheap treat. (Like lipstick.)

Lawrence Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association told Ad Age that candy is an affordable indulgence.

"We are not recession-proof, but we are recession resistant." (See, also: The return of the KFC Double Down.)

But that doesn't mean we're loyal candy eaters - hence the drive for new textures and flavours to woo our taste buds. One of the big hits of last year was M&M's Pretzel Chocolate Candies by Mars Chocolate North America, reports Ad Age. Watch for candy makers to build on these and other winning trends

According to Ad Age, the fastest-growing segments are toasted corn-nut snacks, up 18.3 per cent, and nutritional health bars, up 15.1 per cent.

Candy makers, perhaps more than any others, have a lot to gain from adding "nutritional" and other health claims to their products. Watch for Mars to be adding vitamins and minerals to snack bars. There are also "Sleep Squares," a bite-sized chocolaty treat by Slumberland Snacks that claims to help "snackers fall asleep fast," reports the magazine. Gluten-free products will be out in full force. And treats that seem less fatty and caloric will always have a place in the hearts of conflicted snack hounds.

For one, Nestlé USA is building on its Skinny Cow ice cream and frozen snack offerings with a candy bar line. Don't call them "diet" foods. Nestle uses the term "better-for-you snacking," reports Ad Age.

Will nutritional claims make you more likely to snap up a sweet treat? (Be honest.) Or would you prefer your Snickers bar the old-school way? How much innovation do you need from candy makers, anyway?

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