Happy National Chocolate Week! To celebrate this auspicious occasion, it seemed the perfect opportunity to look at recent developments in the chocolate industry and where they may be headed next.
Going to the dark side!
In the past couple of years there has been a massive trend towards dark and premium chocolate. Consumers have seen a gradual move from the 50/70% up to now 100% dark chocolate with premium brands such as Montezuma’s, Willies Cacao leading the way. Both brands now offer 100% variants and Montezuma’s have innovated further with a 100% range, including orange & cacao nibs and almonds as variants. I’ve treated myself to Montezuma’s 100% absolute black to sample during chocolate week (Your thoughts on the taste?)
Dark or Premium chocolate is becoming a far more mainstream choice for consumers and the brands are reacting accordingly. Lindt have a dark chocolate advent calendar nestling on the shelves alongside their well-established traditional milk chocolate offerings. Bars are being “miniaturised”, moving away from the tradition of premium chocolate being sold as just large 100g bars (click here for more details). The growing popularity of dark chocolate and its intensity of flavour means that consumers desire smaller, easy to carry bars in 15 – 35g sizes. Even popular consumer brands, such as Kit Kat, are producing dark chocolate versions of their staple offerings. The perceived healthier nature of dark chocolate is without doubt a contributing factor to this trend.
We have seen a move towards non-traditional flavour combinations for a while. Chilli and salted caramel are two examples that spring to mind. But wasabi? Well yes, this has already happened! Nestle have launched wasabi flavoured Kit Kats in Japan, as well as Green Tea flavour.
This type of flavour innovation is quite unusual for the mainstream brands and we tend to find it is the premium brands that innovate with flavour and texture. In this article you will see chocolate innovation including use of tobacco, camel milk, bacon and insects! Whether these flavours are just gimmicks or will trickle down to the mass consumer remains to be seen, but a few years ago chilli was considered an “out there” flavour and now bars are readily available in most supermarkets.
Where do the ingredients come from?
Consumers are much savvier about the source of ingredients and knowing where their food comes from. It is no longer enough to say salted caramel chocolate, people want to know it is pink Himalayan salt with Dominican Republic cocoa beans. Fairtrade is almost seen as a given with most premium brands.
There is also a desire for consumers to shop locally. Noble and Stace are chocolatiers based locally to me in Midhurst, West Sussex, and they have produced chocolate and gin truffles using locally sourced Chilgrove and Brighton Gin. They also have a range of English Wine flavoured truffles. These local brand partnerships enable smaller chocolatiers to differentiate themselves and they can also help boost their marketing profile.
The health-related properties of small amounts of dark chocolate have been well documented but it appears chocolate innovators are taking this even further. Japan seem to be leading the way in this field and I was interested to read about DuPont, who are looking at ways to innovate in the supplement and functional food space, specifically targeting the increasing ageing population in Japan.
The raw food revolution is also making an impact on chocolate. With brands such as Deliciously Ella and Naked including raw chocolate nibs in their products, and even completely raw cocoa eggs from The Raw Chocolate Pie Company this Easter, that were gluten free, dairy free, soya free and suitable for vegans.
Chocolate as art
As premium chocolate becomes more and more mainstream you can expect the high-end chocolatiers to create even more elaborate creations. We saw examples of this at Easter this year with a Monet inspired egg by The Chocolate Society at Selfridges, but many of the mainstream producers including Lindt and M&S had premium eggs that presented both luxury in design and taste.
There certainly seems to be a move towards quality both in terms of taste, sourcing and design of chocolate products, in the market currently. It will be interesting to see if chocolate reverts to a more luxury, occasional treat product as base costs increase, or whether the big consumer brands will find a way of keeping costs low whilst still delivering what the market seems to be demanding in their chocolate fix.