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Sweetness without the sugar
By Lori Harlan

If it's been awhile since you've tried sugar-free candy and you remember an unpleasant taste or unusual texture, Rob Flesher would like you to give it another try.

The co-owner of Pease's Candy - and member of the fourth generation in the business - had a similar experience as a child.

"I'm a candy addict, and sugar-free candy was absolutely horrible when I was a kid," Flesher says.

These days, an increased demand for figure-friendly confections has forced candy companies - including Pease's - to improve the flavor and texture of their sugar-free offerings.

Now Flesher hardly notices a difference, and apparently his customers don't either. Pease's is selling a lot more sugar-free candy than it was just three or four years ago.

"Sugar-free candy is becoming much more popular and important in today's society," Flesher says.

"More and more people either can't have or don't want all that refined sugar, so they're looking to sugar-free to get that sweet fix. Whether they're diabetic or have borderline sugar disorders, they still want to eat candy."

Tisha Rooney admits she enjoyed a high-sugar diet for most of her life, but when she was recently diagnosed as hypoglycemic, she turned to sugar-free candy.

"I consulted with a dietitian who suggested that I supplement my diet with sugar-free treats to satisfy my sweet tooth," says Rooney, a 33-year-old Cornland native. The switch paid off as Rooney felt better within a week of regulating her sugar intake.

While Rooney prefers fruit-flavored hard candies, chocolate takes center stage at Pease's. The No. 1 seller is the Raggedy Ann, Pease's take on the turtle, which features caramel and pecans coated in milk chocolate.

For a simple sweet treat, Pease's offers sugar-free chocolate bars for $2.75. Milk and dark chocolate are available, and Flesher says the dark chocolate is popular in Springfield.

Clusters come in a number of varieties including peanut, raisin and coconut. Fruit connoisseurs can find cherries coated in milk or dark chocolate. Sugar-free hard candy in assorted fruit flavors is also available.

Sugar-free chocolate is also sold in novelty shapes according to the season - hearts for Valentine's Day, eggs at Easter, turkeys at Thanksgiving and so on.

The price of sugar-free is a bit higher, but not by much, and the quality is worth it, according to Flesher. Rooney says she was willing to pay the difference to maintain her sugar levels and feel better throughout the day.

Because Pease's makes their candy locally, it's fresher than other varieties available.

"Our candy is never frozen. It's made at a factory right here in Springfield. It doesn't sit in a warehouse somewhere waiting months to get shipped out," Flesher says.

The Pease's stores offer sugar-free candy by the boxful or individual pieces.

"That's the fun of a store like this," Flesher says. "You can pick your own candy one piece at a time."

Pease's has stores at State and Laurel streets, Parkway Pointe, Sangamon Center and Sixth and Washington streets. For more information, visit their Web site at www.peasescandy.com.


Story published Friday, December 5, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 7 )

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