US business the Jelly Belly Candy Company is hoping to create a new category of functional sweets in the UK with the launch of the Sport Beans sub-brand.
The company, which makes Jelly Beans, claimed the sweets energised the body by providing carbohydrates, electrolytes and vitamins to give "bursts of energy". They were aimed at both athletes and mainstream consumers in need of a pick-me-up and would be positioned as a more convenient rival to energy drinks and gels, said head of UK marketing Victoria Reeves.
"Our research shows that Sport Beans are as good or better than top-of-the-range sports drinks and gels when it comes to maintaining blood sugar levels," she added. "But our product is easier to use as you just scoop the beans into a pocket or container and take them on demand. We aim for it to become a lifestyle product."
The range, which is already a $25m brand in the US and Canada, where it has been available for three years, comes in four flavours: lemon lime, orange, berry blue and fruit punch. Plans are also in the pipeline to introduce two more lines with added caffeine later this year.
Reeves said the company was keen to have a range of distribution channels for the beans, which are being distributed in the UK by Best Imports, following an initial launch strategy of targeting athletes through sports shops. "With the increasing emphasis on working out and getting fit, now is also the ideal time to target grocery retailers," said Reeves.
However, buyers have been struggling to see how the concept would work, questioning both the £1 price tag for a 28g pack and the product's suitability for the UK. "This is a very specialised confectionery product and it would be too expensive for mainstream independent retailers," said Richard Brittle, Hancocks purchasing director.
Another buyer described the product as the confectionery equivalent of low-carb beer, which has performed well in North America but failed to take off in the UK. "The UK is a very different market to the US where consumers will buy into anything," he said.