Chocolate sales up 18% since 2011; seems healthy when high in cocoa, low in sugar and full of premium ingredients
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It’s ok to eat chocolate, as long as it's the fancy stuff with high cocoa content. WSJ’s Ellen Byron and Lunch Break’s Tanya Rivero discuss the allure of premium and dark chocolate and how clever packaging has contributed to a jump-start in sales. Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Leah Latella
Really, it is OK to eat chocolate if it’s the fancy stuff. That’s what we’re telling ourselves.
Permission is granted for chocolates that proclaim high cocoa content and “premium” ingredients, often extolling organic and fair-trade origins. High-end bars are ergonomically designed for a thumb to snap off a guilt-free nibble at a time, wrapped in elegant foil and cardboard. Luxurious truffles, sold individually at the cash registers of department stores, groceries and gas stations, offer a small splurge for weary shoppers craving a reward, retailers and chocolatiers say.
“If you’re going to indulge, you might as well do it with the best chocolate possible,” says Danielle O’Neil, vice president of marketing for Lindt USA.
Americans are gobbling up chocolate with a rapidly increasing appetite. This year, sales are expected to reach $18.8 billion, up 18% since 2011 according to market-researcher Euromonitor International.
Nearly half of chocolate eaters say they look for premium ingredients, according to market-researcher Mintel. “They say that’s their health-permissibility factor,” says Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight for Mintel’s food and drink division. Dark chocolate, with its higher cocoa content, is also perceived as healthier, she says. Five years ago, only about one-third of U.S. chocolate eaters said they preferred dark chocolate, but by last year, some 42% of U.S. chocolate eaters said they preferred it to other types of chocolate, according to Mintel research.
New $7 chocolate bars from Godiva have indented squares that fit a thumb so eaters can snap off one bite at a time. ‘People love to have a bar of chocolate tucked away in their brief case, backpack or purse,’ says Nagisa Manabe, head of marketing and innovation for Godiva North America. PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, STYLING BY LEAH LATELLA
“There’s no point in going to a gym and then downing a huge bar of cheap milk chocolate,” says Nick Crean, chairman of Prestat, a British chocolate brand sold in Bloomingdale’s. “There’s every point in going to a gym and then downing a small portion of a nice, deep chocolate.”
In the past two years, Mr. Crean says consumers have asked more detailed questions about where Prestat’s cocoa beans originate and want to know the percentage of cocoa in its chocolate. “Young consumers are especially gravitating toward 70% and above,” he says.
One of Lindt’s fastest-selling chocolate bars contains 90% cocoa, says Ms. O’Neil, of Lindt USA. “As consumers try dark chocolate, they start to test themselves,” she says. “They might begin at a lower rate, but then go up to 70%, then 85%, and then a 90% chocolate bar.”
Offering portion control also helps chocolate eaters feel good, Ms. O’Neil says. Lindt’s Excellence bars, which are wrapped in foil and white cardboard, are designed for a “ritualistic” experience. “Consumers take care to rip the foil gently, then break a square off, then roll the foil back up,” she says. “It’s meant to withstand that type of consumption where you might eat one square or two squares a day.”
In August, Godiva introduced new chocolate bars with Mexican-origin cocoa beans called G by Godiva. The $7 bars have squares with indentations that fit a thumb. “The idea that we had is that people love to have a bar of chocolate tucked away in their brief case, backpack or purse,” says Nagisa Manabe, head of marketing and innovation for Godiva North America.
Sales of dark chocolate are growing fast as more Americans become discerning chocolate nibblers. Lindt highlights the percentage of cocoa in its Excellence bars. PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, STYLING BY LEAH LATELLA
Ms. Manabe says the relatively small amount of sugar in a piece of premium chocolate from Godiva doesn’t worry consumers the way other sweets might. “Having a small bit of chocolate isn’t the thing that’s going to kill you,” she says.
Kim Choma grew up eating Hershey’s chocolate Kisses and bars but as an adult moved on to richer chocolate from Lindt, Godiva and other high-end brands, usually choosing those with a cocoa content around 60% or 70%, she says. Ms. Choma avoids buying large bars for her daily chocolate treat, fearing she’ll eat too much in one sitting. Instead, Ms. Choma, a nurse practitioner in West Orange, N.J., keeps individually wrapped chocolate truffles in her pantry. “It’s just the right size, so you don’t feel guilty,” she says. She’s mindful of antioxidants and other health benefits of chocolate, but mostly focuses on how much she likes the taste. “That’s my brain benefit,” she says.
To maximize the healthful qualities of chocolate, Katherine Zeratsky, a dietitian from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., advises choosing a higher cocoa content, such as 65% or higher, and limiting added sugar or fat. While chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease, it is best enjoyed in moderation, Ms. Zeratsky says.
7-Eleven, increased its selection of high-end chocolates and two years ago introduced its own line of premium chocolate treats, called 7-Select Go! Yum. A dark chocolate sea salt bar highlights that the Belgian chocolate carries 54% cacao, a less processed form of chocolate.
“We see people looking for little rewards all the time,” says Sean Thompson, 7-Eleven’s vice president of private brands.
Justin Gold, founder of Justin’s, a line of nut butters, describes his organic, fair-trade peanut-butter chocolate cups as a “better-for-you, permissible experience.” He’s currently working on more ways to combine nut butters and chocolate. “I don’t think the world needs more candy, but the world does need better candy,” he says.
Hormel Foods Corp., which acquired Justin’s in May, calls the brand’s core consumer the “discerning indulger.” When eating candy, this shopper wants high-quality ingredients that are natural and organic, says Jim Splinter, Hormel’s group vice president of corporate strategy. Once a brand meets these stringent standards, the discerning indulger is loyal and a frequent buyer, consuming Justin’s peanut butter cups about 25 times a year, the company says. “They’re heavy users and they feel like they’ve earned it,” Mr. Splinter says.