Chocolate is a versatile solution for health-conscious consumers who still want an indulgent treat.
Chocolate is an unusual ingredient in that it is considered a decadent indulgence while also carrying a healthy halo that makes it a not-so-guilty pleasure. While sugar-rich options are a favorite, more gourmet, cocoa-rich dark chocolate options offer a compromise between indulgence and health. You may have even noticed more dark chocolate options of your favorite chocolate treats.
“The increase in dark chocolate has to do with the increasing demand for options that are better for overall health,” explains Marcela Jaramillo, vice president of marketing at chocolates manufacturer Luker Chocolate (Bogotá, Colombia). “Chocolate is credited with extensive health benefits particularly related to its antioxidant content, and these are particularly more present in high-cocoa-content chocolates.”
Jaramillo adds, “With a higher consumer focus on plant-based diets, dark chocolate has also become a great option for a diet-friendly treat. The market is also offering more variety in dark chocolates, particularly in the premium segment, thus allowing consumers to try different origins and venture into more sophisticated creations.”
According to Barry Callebaut’s report “Top Chocolate Trends: 2023 & Beyond,” citing data from Euromonitor, the chocolate confectionery market is expected to be worth over $128 billion in global retail sales by the end of 2023. By 2025, there is expected to be a 1.9% compound annual growth rate in volume. This same report explains that 54% of North American consumers enjoy moments of indulgence during which they pay little to no attention to nutritional intake. Additionally, 59% actively seek out premium versions of their favorite chocolate, up 10% from the previous two years. Balance is key, it seems, as the same reports states that 73% of U.S. consumers agree that there is a place for chocolate in a healthy diet.
Manufacturers can use a variety of methods to accommodate health-conscious consumers seeking indulgence. For example, sugar reduction is something they are highly receptive to and actively seek out on nutrition facts panels. According to Barry Callebaut, 48% of North American consumers want low-sugar chocolate, which is up by 17% compared to two years ago. Over the last five years, sugar-free chocolate has doubled in sales, now worth $260 million in retail sales.
Portion size is another way to control how healthy or unhealthy one’s chocolate intake can be perceived, according to Luker’s Jaramillo. “Smaller portion sizes are always an excellent choice for those looking to indulge in better-for-you treats. Our 0.28-oz (8 g) bar is perfectly sized for an indulgent, single bite,” Jaramillo says. “Alternative sweeteners such as allulose or maltitol have gained popularity in the chocolate confectionery category and make for tasty options for consumers who cannot consume sugar or wish to reduce their caloric intake. These sugar-free chocolate options provide a guilt-free indulgence while fully satisfying cravings.”
Thom King, CEO of Icon Foods (Portland, OR), points out that the type of sweetener you use in your chocolate product may impact how it can be labeled. “So technically, if chocolate doesn’t contain sugar, it doesn’t fall under the standard of identity the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has for chocolate,” King explains. “So chocolate has to have a sweetener in it that is classified as a carbohydrate.”
Allulose would fall into this category of a carbohydrate. However, if a product does not have a sweetener classified as a carbohydrate, it would have to be labeled as “chocolate flavored” rather than chocolate. Offering smaller, bite-sized portions also offers some flexibility to the manufacturer. Luker Chocolate explains in a blog post1 that bite-sized snacks allow brands to “experiment with new flavors and ingredients without the risk of a large-scale product launch.”
For those who are vegan or interested in eating less animal-based products, Luker also offers oat milk chocolate as a plant-based alternative to everyone’s favorite milk chocolate. These fall under the company’s line of “Balance” products that provide a healthier and label-friendly alternative to traditional chocolate products.
And for those looking for a good vehicle for functional ingredients, chocolate may be a good fit as well. “Consumers want more nutritional and functional benefits from the foods they eat, and chocolate is a great carrier as it is able to improve the overall taste experience and can be easily used in snacking, drinking, and baking products,” Jaramillo says. “Protein additions, particularly plant-based, are what we are seeing as more interesting to consumers, with fibers and adaptogens close behind.”
As consumers continue to embrace chocolate, so too should manufacturers, who can take advantage of its versatility to leverage current market trends.