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The Candy Industry Wants Consumers to Cut Back on Sugar

May 11, 2017, 7:00 PM UTC

The candy industry is slimming down.

A group of companies that make up about half of the confectionary sector is announcing new initiatives today that are meant to encourage consumers to cut back on sweets and sugar.

As part of the announcement, the companies—Mars, Nestle, Lindt, Ferrera Candy, and Ferrero—are committing to making half of their individually wrapped products 200 calories or less by 2022 and labeling calories on the front of packaging.

Tracey Massey, president of Mars Chocolate North America, said it was the first-ever announcement the industry collectively has made on health and wellness. The announcement was made in collaboration with the nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America.

“This is the right thing for the business,” Massey said. “We don’t want to grow at any cost.” She added, “Better to do the right thing than be regulated.”

The changes from the candy sector come as customers have increasingly demanded healthier fare from food companies. But despite this shifting consumer mindset, indulgent treats are growing faster than snacks. “They do want a healthier lifestyle, but they still want to treat themselves,” Massey said in explaining the growth. “That’s not a contradiction”

Mars said that it alone had invested $200 million in R&D and manufacturing in the last year as part of the initiative. For example, in the last few weeks the company launched new caramel M&Ms and Maltesers that are less than 200 calories (right now about about 30% of its individually wrapped products are less than 200 calories). It also now has 100-calorie versions of candies including Snickers, Milky Way, Twix, Skittles, and Starburst.

Mars has been leading the sector on some of these health and wellness efforts. In 2007 it became the first confectionary company to establish a global marketing code that ended advertising to children. It already labels calories on the front of its packaging and has switched up the language on packaging from “King Size” to instead encourage sharing—an effort it said it would push the rest of the industry to follow.

The group of companies also said that it would work on educating consumers on candy’s role as a treat, not a snack or meal replacement. “We’re a treat, and if we’re going to be a treat we need to act like a treat,” Massey said.

The decision to move as an industry on the announcement is significant. Some experts believe that the sector must move in lockstep for real change to take place when it comes to issues like sugar reduction. Earlier this year Paul Bakus, Nestlé’s president of corporate affairs, told Fortune that the company has to walk a narrow line between being nutritionally superior to the rest of the market and not sacrificing taste. “We want to reduce sugar where possible as long as we don’t put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage,” he says. “How do you compete if your competitors aren’t following the process or rules or guidelines?”

This is a good first step.