Candy Tries to Get In on the 'Energy' Market

When it comes to exercise and energy, Americans are always looking for a quick fix.

Consumers spend about $3 billion a year on energy products, and it's a fast-growing niche. Sales of energy drinks like Red Bull were up 55 percent last year.

So it's probably no surprise that candy makers are looking for a piece of the action. The Jelly Belly Candy Co. is launching a "fortified" jelly bean.

'Sports Beans'

"Our new product is 'sports beans' and these are jelly beans enhanced with vitamin C and E and electrolytes," said Peter Healy of Jelly Belly.

Jelly Belly bills its new beans as quick bursts of energy for fitness-minded consumers. A bag of 15 beans will cost about a dollar.

And the Best Sweet Company is creating Energy Chews, which promise a burst of "fast energy," and are endorsed by NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. The company says its target market is truckers and college kids.

"It's hard being a college student and trying to eat right," said Josh Calabrese. "Trying to get something to motivate you to do your homework, to study late, those products are the answer."

Six of these candies pack the same punch as two cans of an energy drink. So what's in an energy chew? Ginseng, caffeine and another stimulant, plus a lot of vitamins.

"Americans love candy," said Tonia Becker Vershaw, former publisher of the trade journal Confectioner. "If you can get vitamins or some kind of additional benefit from eating the candy in addition to tasting good, I think there is a little less guilt there."

But most doctors and nutritionists say most people don't get any major health benefits from these fortified snacks.

Not Recommended for the Couch Potato -- or Kids

It's not all marketing, and there are some benefits, said Heidi Skolnik, a nutritionist and contributing editor at Men's Health magazine.

"Jelly beans do provide carbohydrates and marathoners have been using them for years," Skolnik said.

But Skolnik added these carb-rich candies could just mean extra calories for everyone but hardcore athletes.

The electrolytes in the candies and chews help the body with hydration. However, Skolnik said, you'll want to make sure you're drinking water with them to reap the benefits.

"If you don't exercise, skip it," she said. "If you're a moderate exerciser, you really want to reconsider whether you need it."

Still, Skolnik said, she thinks it's likely these energy candies will catch on with the public.

"People think if they're not exercising, if they eat something exercisers eat, somehow it makes them more fit. But you've got to do the work," she said.

While the energy chew won't hurt an adult in moderation, as the package says, they are not for children.

"I wouldn't want to see kids using this," said Dr. Bill Roberts of the University of Minnesota Medical School. "I certainly wouldn't want to see them using ginseng and extra caffeine from the candies. And I think that kids should get their nutrition from food and not from candy."

Still, candy makers are betting consumers will bite.

"You want to fish where the fish are," said Richard Tucker of Best Sweet. "You want to be where the people are in the hottest markets and the biggest sales."