The partnership underlines not only Roquette's confidence in its maltitol product, Maltisorb, but also its belief that there is a market for sugar-free chocolate at the premium end of the market.
"Maltitol is currently the best sugar substitute on the market - in many aspects it is very similar to sucrose," Emily Lauwaert, from Roquette's food business unit, told FoodNavigator.
"Produced from cereals, it is used in many recipes where it plays the same role a sugar but with 40 per cent fewer calories than sugar. It also has a significantly lower energy value (2.4 kcal vs. 4 kcal for sugar)."
Lauwaert said that the product's natural sweet taste makes it an effective substitute, and she is confident that Meert's new range will prove successful.
However, confectionery remains in many ways an indulgence product, with consumers often prioritising taste over health concerns. Rainer Engler, sales director for sweets Europe at Wild, told a conference recently that the continued existence of high-calorie confectionery in today's health-conscious society could be explained by the emotional value of confectionery as a personal reward and also the numerous innovative product concepts in this sector.
But it is also clear that a number of confectionery concepts with healthy additional benefits are beginning to measure up to traditional products. As a result, Lauwaert believes that this has now become a viable market.
"There is a move towards food less rich in sugars,"she said. "The healthy food trend continues to gain ground and is significantly changing consumer life styles and purchasing habits.
"To consume less sugar while continuing to indulge oneself is the wish of more and more consumers in response to the multitude of nutritional recommendations. Confectionery is no exception to this trend."
Lauwaert also points out that market analyst Euromonitor recently put the global chocolate market's annual growth rate at 0.2 per cent between 2002 and 2005, while the no-added sugar chocolate market's estimated annual growth rate was put at nearly 20 per cent for the same period.
Roquette is therefore confident that the replacement of sugar is one of the major driving forces for new product development.
In addition, the company has recently developed a recipe for high-chew sugar-free chewy sweets. The extra 'chew' is provided by a combination of mannitol, Lycasin 80/55 maltitol syrup and Nutriose 06 soluble fibre.
Meert, one of the oldest confectioners and chocolate makers in Europe, plans to launch its sugar-free range of chocolates made with maltitol at the Paris chocolate expo, which runs from the 28 October to the 1 November.