Is chocolate the new health food?
Most people don't need an excuse to eat chocolate. But as the health claims of dark varieties become more known, their popularity has surged.
Most dark chocolate, which usually is high-end, used to be sold through health food or specialty stores. Now, more traditional retailers are carrying it -- and finding there's no one right way to merchandise it.
Clemens Family Markets, a 20-unit chain based in Kulpsville, Pa., places natural and organic dark chocolate throughout the store with natural and organic snacks. Other dark chocolate is sold as part of the regular candy set, said Marnie Sherno, director of consumer health education.
Many Trader Joe's stores merchandise dark chocolate by the cashiers, side-by-side with milk chocolate and other candies. Since the store appeals to health-conscious shoppers, the placement can spur impulse buys of the more expensive dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate is sold from the regular candy aisle at one location of Treasure Island, an upscale Chicago retailer, said Larry Murphy, store manager. Health claims have led some items to double their sales in the past six to eight months, Murphy said.
Mary Molyneaux, president of the Natural Marketing Institute in Harleysville, Pa., said there are options for retailers beyond the candy aisle. "If possible, [dark chocolate] should be placed in a healthier foods section since there's a core traffic that passes through there." Otherwise, it could be placed in the nutrition bar area or a separate section within the candy aisle that stands out, she said.
Dark chocolate can be placed near almost everything but particularly other products associated with good living, said Don Montuori, editor, Packaged Facts, a market research report. "I wouldn't put it next to broccoli, but it could be put in the cheese department or with the wine. And, it can be put with candy, too."
Between 2003 and 2004, the chocolate market increased by 4.4%, Montuori said. In the same period, the premium chocolate market, which includes dark chocolate, increased over 20%.
In response, many traditional retailers are adding dark chocolate stockkeeping units.
Scolari's Food & Drug Co., with 18 stores in California and Nevada, has 20% more SKUs of dark chocolate now than it did a year ago, senior buyer Charles Jones said. Dark chocolate represents 10% of chocolate sales, up from about 6% last year. "It will continue to increase so long as manufacturers continue to bring out new products," he said.
It's more than just a quest for health that's pushing the growth in dark chocolate consumption. Consumers today are more educated about food, Sherno said. "Since dark chocolate appeals to a more refined palate and is often an acquired taste, our increased food knowledge and refinement, as well as increased availability of products, will likely reflect that in the type of foods we purchase, including dark chocolate," she said.
The aging of the population also is affecting dark chocolate sales. Between age 40 and 50 (women) and 50 and 60 (men), taste buds start to lose effectiveness. Thus, older people like stronger-flavored food, often with more spices, or will opt for dark chocolate over the more mild-tasting milk.
"It's a more mature taste," said Rich Carmen, managing director of Dechert-Hampe & Co., a marketing consulting firm based in Northbrook, Ill. "Red wine lovers tend to like dark chocolate, and red wine is an acquired taste. So this bodes well because there are more older people."
Sherno said that sales of dark chocolate are particularly increasing among women and baby boomers -- with the former, perhaps, because if chocolate has health benefits, there's less guilt incurred from eating it. Consumers who are aware of functional food claims will pay extra because they feel they're getting added benefits, she said.
Chocolate manufacturers are responding to consumers' increased health knowledge with product labeling statements about the cocoa content and flavanols and antioxidants, which are said to help ward off cancer and high cholesterol and blood pressure.
To be classified as dark, chocolate must contain at least 41% cocoa, and the more cocoa it contains, the greater the benefits (the fat and sugar content notwithstanding). One of the highest on the market is Scharffen Berger's 82% cocoa chocolate, which was launched in 2003.
Cocoa content has become more important than claims such as low-fat, low-carb, Montuori said, although he was unsure if cocoa content listings will survive on dark chocolate packages.
Cocoa bean origin is also starting to assume more importance. Like consumers of wine and coffee, chocolate-eaters may soon select their bars depending on the source of their beans.
The world of chocolate is changing. A survey by Mintel International Group, Chicago, found 65% of those who buy chocolate said they'd rather nibble a small amount of premium chocolate than gorge on lesser-quality chocolate.
The heightened interest has spawned new products, from dark chocolate Dove (bars and bags of individual servings) and Milky Way Midnight to offerings from specialty chocolate makers such as Thompson Brands and Guylian.
It's also shrinking the marketplace as multinationals buy smaller premium companies. In some cases, the brand connection is overt, as with Hershey's recent acquisitions of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker and the assets of Joseph Schmidt Confections. With others, such as Campbell's purchase of Godiva, the connection is less obvious.
Do the addition of new products and consolidation in the chocolate-making industry mark a lasting consumption change or just a passing fad?
Sherno thinks dark chocolate's popularity is here to stay. "The food and nutrition 'quick fixes' seem to be the fads of yesterday, while nutrition and health information that is science-based are the more enduring trends," she said.
Chocolate isn't the only confection that claims to provide health benefits. There are also jelly beans and gum that claim to offer health benefits such as energy, vitamins and metabolism boosts.
Molyneaux expected the popularity of functional foods to continue to grow, based on their efficacy. The Natural Marketing Institute's research found 40% of people would be interested in fortified/functional candy to treat a health problem, she said.
"Functional candy is part of the larger phenomenon about functional food and beverages in general," Molyneaux said. "People want to improve their health in a convenient way, and it's easy if something is fortified. As consumers become more comfortable with the idea of the functionality of packaged foods and beverages and see broader selections, the idea becomes more familiar and acceptable."
Sales of chocolate are increasing across the board, with massive gains in the dietetic category.
Dollar sales, 52 weeks ended July 16; % change vs. year ago; % change vs. 5 years ago
Milk chocolate $3.4 billion; 0.1%; 1.0%
Dark chocolate $332 million; 10.9%; 30.7%
White chocolate $94 million; 46.8%; 60.9%
All other non-dietetic $429 million; 4.5%; 8.8%
Dietetic chocolate $181 million; -25.5%; 478.2%
Source: Sales in U.S. food, drug and mass stores (excluding Wal-Mart) compiled by ACNielsen
Sweets With Benefits
Many new candy products purport to do more than just satisfy a sweet tooth
Product: Manufacturer; Description; Health Claims
Cocoavia: Mars; Four flavors, crunch bars; Contains flavanols, naturally occurring antioxidants that help ward off cancer and may lower cholesterol, blood pressure. Internet a phone sales only.
Adora Calcium: Thompson Brands; Milk & dark contains coins; Each 500 milligrams of calcium -- half the daily chocolate coinsrequirement of the average 19- to 50-year-old.
Pleasure/Vigor/ Renew/Forgiveness: New Tree; 73% cocoa Belgian chocolate bar; Contains iron, magnesium and vitamin D/revitalizes/contains more antioxidants
than two glasses of wine/contains fiber.
Health by Chocolate Beauty Bar: Ecco Bella Botanicals; Low-glycemic, organic Swiss chocolate bar; Contains omega-3 fatty acids and as much fiber as an apple.
Sports Beans: Jelly Belly; Lemon/lime- and orange-flavored jelly beans; A 1-ounce serving contains carbohydrates, vitamins C and E and electrolytes, which are essential in the metabolism of carbohydrates and help prevent dehydration.
Jelly Beans: Blueberry Hill Foods; Real-fruit juice beans; Contain vitamins A, C and E.
Trident White: Cadbury; Five flavors of chewing gum; Claims to whiten teeth, prevent new stains from forming, and strengthen teeth.