Chocolate consumers are becoming more discerning. This, in turn, is steering the business of chocolate companies. A good example is the increase in dark chocolate SKUs from brands trying to meet consumer demand for refined flavors and more wholesome ingredient decks.
“Total U.S. chocolate candy market sales have seen a slight compound annual growth rate over the past six years, which can be attributed to product premiumization,” explains Gretchen Hadden, marketing communications manager for Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate North America (Milwaukee, WI). “As many consumers are becoming increasingly health conscious, indulgent consumption has become more about quality over quantity, with consumers gravitating towards gourmet chocolate in order to really make the moment count. Dark chocolate, which often in the eyes of consumers holds some cachet amongst other chocolate varieties, is often at the center of the premium chocolate space.”
Among consumers, dark chocolate has a healthier halo because it often has less sugar compared to milk or white chocolate, and a higher cacao content which not only offers a unique flavor profile, but also perceived health benefits. Health food bloggers often tout dark chocolate’s rich antioxidant content, among other benefits. Additionally, a dark chocolate product allows for a smaller ingredient deck.
“You’re seeing higher levels of consumers looking for ‘free from’ products,” says Laura Bergan, director of marketing for Barry Callebaut (Zurich, Switzerland). “Consumers are more than ever looking at ingredient decks, the backs of labels, to determine what’s in their products, what kind of allergens are in there, and how clean the ingredient deck is.”
At the same time, says Bergan, consumers don’t want to sacrifice flavor. Chocolate is still a treat, an indulgence, and they’re willing to pay up for quality. “We’re starting to see a split within the market of premium vs. value, and a lot of food companies are choosing that premium route, looking for premium solutions and offering those to their consumers,” she explains.
As Hadden points out, for consumers these days, it’s more about quality than quantity. Suppliers are taking notice, too. Cargill, for example, recently closed on its acquisition of Smet, a Belgium-based supplier of chocolate and sweets decorations to the food service and confectionery markets. With the acquisition, Cargill hopes to provide product portfolio and services to artisans and chocolatiers, bakeries, hospitality businesses, and food service industries, as well as accelerate growth in the gourmet segment.
Barry Callebaut, for its part, has released a unique premium chocolate called Ruby Chocolate, which Bergan says meets multiple consumer need states no other chocolate has met before.
“Ruby really hit the area of extreme indulgence. There’s not a chocolate that existed before it that really met the hunger for a multi-sensorial delight,” explains Bergan. The chocolate is the result of 10 years of research and development. It is sourced from a cocoa bean that delivers a fresh berry–fruitiness, smoothness in flavor that is not bitter nor too sweet, and a ruby color, without added flavors or color, which also meets demands for clean label. Because it’s a rather novel product, it’s still awaiting regulatory approval in the United States, but has launched globally in Shanghai, China, and was used in a Kit Kat SKU exclusive to Japan. In the U.S., Ruby Chocolate is being piloted by three premium brands—Chocolove, Harry & David, and Vosges—though they are yet unable to call it chocolate before approval from FDA.
“Eating chocolate has become more of an experience,” says Hadden. It’s clear that consumers will continue to chase unique experiences and challenge suppliers and manufacturers alike to continue innovating.