Sales of premium dark chocolate have taken off in recent years, but an increasing number of shoppers crave something more down to earth. They just want a candy bar.
Several start-up manufacturers have stepped in to meet the demand. Q.bel, based out of Nyack, N.Y., offers chocolate wafer bars and rolls made without high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives or hydrogenated oils. Chow magazine calls them “an upscale improvement on Kit Kats.” Started two years ago by former Wall Street banker Bahram Shirazi, Q.bel distributes to around 2,000 stores, including Whole Foods Market, and recently announced $1.2 million in additional funding.
“A lot of companies out there are growing and selling the benefits of dark chocolate,” said Shirazi. “That's not what we do. We try to make great-tasting chocolate candy and sell it at a decent price.”
Large dark chocolate bars, which cost around $5, are too big and too pricey for some consumers, noted Shirazi. A 1-ounce Q.bel bar, by comparison, retails for less than half as much. Chocolate makers like Cadbury-owned Green & Black's have come out with smaller bars to compete on convenience, but Shirazi and others believe their all-natural candy bars offer something that's simple and, at the same time, steeped in tradition.
“There's something fundamentally different about a candy bar that everybody who grew up in America in the last 80 years can identify with,” said Chris Angell, founder and CEO of Jungell, which makes Angell organic candy bars. “You grab it, you tear open the wrapper, and you eat it. That's the experience.”
By appealing to consumers' gourmet tastes and good intentions without stretching their wallets, whole health candy bars help diversify a mature candy category, valued at $20 billion, according to First Research.
Shirazi said he hopes to expand into conventional supermarkets. Angell, meanwhile, is growing his product lineup. In the works are miniature bars for Halloween, along with a bar that's gluten-free and vegan. Angell said he's also working on a bar that combines what he calls “the holy trinity” of candy bar ingredients: milk chocolate, caramel and peanuts.