Pearson Candy Co. is hoping to tap into an emerging consumer market with the launch of its first new product since the Great Depression.

The St. Paul-based candy maker unveiled Tuesday its new line of snacking chocolate, called 7th Street Confections, named after the hometown street where it's located. Fans have anticipated the launch since word of a new product line leaked out last November. 

Pearson's is best known for its old-timey candies, like its original Salted Nut Roll and Nut Goodies. The 108-year-old company has grown throughout the decades through acquisitions, adding products like its Mint Patties and Bit-O-Honey, while discontinuing others, like Seven Up Bar.

The 7th Street brand's inaugural products include four flavors of dark chocolate thins: raspberry & quinoa, strawberry, blueberry & almond and pineapple & toasted coconut. The wafer-like crisps contain 52 percent cacao and are textured with freeze-dried fruit, gluten-free quinoa -- known for its high protein and fiber content -- and nuts.

Not only does 7th Street Confections take a dive into the health-conscious consumer pool, it seeks to appeal to values-oriented shoppers. All varieties of the chocolate snacks are non-GMO (genetically modified) and contain no artificial colors or flavors.

Pearson's points to the snacking-chocolate segment, the fastest growing in the candy and snacks market, as a key driver for this product innovation. Premium chocolate, a loosely defined category that often includes "better for you" traits, grew at about 5 percent in 2016. While its growth is far outpacing everyday chocolate, premium chocolate still represents a much smaller percentage of the market than mainstays produced by Hershey's or Mars.

"As consumers' snacking preferences continue to evolve, we needed to be in a position to continually provide innovative confections items and unique flavors," Michael Keller, chief executive of Pearson, said in a statement.

Expect to see season flavors near the holidays, like dark chocolate with pretzel & peppermint, white chocolate with raspberry & dark chocolate chips and milk chocolate with sugar cookie & sprinkles. 

The company was founded in Minneapolis in 1909. Pearson's moved to St. Paul in 1950 and has remained there since. Private-equity owners took control of the company in 2011, bringing in new leadership and new ideas. Pearson's introduced fun-size versions of its products and acquired Bit-O-Honey in 2013 from candy giant Nestlé. 

The dark chocolate thins come in 4.7-ounce resealable pouches, with a suggested retail price of $4.49. They are available at Cub Foods with wider distribution expected. 


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