Tradition bites the dust

The days of children spending their pocket money on sugary sweets appear to be over, with adults now driving the growth of premium chocolate brands and cereal bars in the confectionery sector

P27_chocolateThe past five years have seen an increase in public awareness of the importance of a healthy diet. Since 2003, the proportion of people aged 15-plus in the UK who are always aware of their calorie intake has increased from one-fifth to almost one-quarter, while the proportion who are prepared to pay more for foods that don’t contain artificial additives peaked last year at almost 50%.

There has been a similar shift in attitudes among young people. The proportion of seven- to ten-year-olds who try not to eat too many sweets has increased from 36% to 51%. Among 11- to 14-year-olds the figure has risen from 42% to 52%, and among 15- to 19-year-olds from 51% to 55%. On a related front, home cooking has recovered somewhat as the number of adults who don’t have time to spend preparing and cooking food has fallen by over 1 million to 16%.

These shifts have had an impact on the confectionery market. Although the proportion of adults and children consuming chocolate has remained stable at about 90% of adults and over 95% of children, the percentage consuming mints has fallen. The popularity of sweets has remained stable among adults and young children, but has fallen among 11- to 14-year-olds, while the popularity of chewing-gum use among adults has remained fairly stable but has fallen among children, particularly seven- to ten-year-olds. Today, only two-thirds of the latter use chewing gum, down from almost 80% five years ago. Bubble-gum consumption has also declined.

Over the next few years the youth market rather than the adult market may prove the greater challenge for established manufacturers. Increased disposable income among children and teenagers has not translated into increased spend on confectionery. The proportion of seven- to ten-year-olds spending their pocket money on crisps, sweets and chocolate has fallen from 58% five years ago to 49% today, while the number of 11- to 14-year-olds not spending any of their own money on such foods has increased from 10% to over 15%.

To some extent these shifts have been driven by the fact that, since the early 1990s, parents have tended to buy confectionery for their children, perhaps as part of a wider trend that has seen young people spend more of their free time at home. However, the proportion of seven- to ten-year-olds and 11- to 14-year-olds eating sweets bought by their parents now appears to be falling.

Meanwhile, healthy eating initiatives in schools mean that more children are only able to consume parent-vetted confectionery at home because they cannot buy it from the tuck shop or vending machine. The proportion of seven- to ten-year-olds who eat sweets more often at school than elsewhere has fallen from 11% in 2003 to just 7% today. There has been a similar decline among 11- to 14-year-olds, down from 27% in 2003 to 19% today.

One of the clear winners over the past five years has been the cereal bar. The proportion of 11- to 14-year-olds consuming cereal bars has increased from 46% in 2003 to 53% today. Among 15- to 19-year-olds the figure has climbed from 34% to 38%. In the same period the proportion of adults consuming cereal bars has increased from 31% to almost 40%. Adults who eat at least two bars a week are 36% more likely than the average to look for light or diet versions of food or drink.

Perhaps the standout success, however, has been the rise of premium-label chocolate with a high cocoa content. Brands such as Green & Black’s and Lindt have seen strong growth. Over the past two years, for example, the proportion of adults consuming Lindt has jumped from 12% to 15% of the total – equivalent to an extra 1.6 million consumers. This growth has been helped in no small measure by the popularisation of antioxidant-rich superfoods such as cocoa and blueberries. Those who eat Green & Black’s or Lindt on a weekly basis are 45% more likely than the average to consider their diet very healthy and 80% more likely to check the nutritional content of food.

Premium chocolate brands have also benefited from the acceptance of organic and fair-trade options into the retail mainstream. Almost one-fifth of adults regularly buy organic, while 16% regularly buy fair-trade. If those who occasionally buy organic or fair-trade are included, the proportion reaches 50%. Even those premium chocolate brands not actually falling into one or other category may benefit by virtue of their relative purity.

However, as the rising costs of raw materials are passed on to consumers it remains to be seen whether high-end chocolate manufacturers will face a slowdown in sales.

Although shoppers may be willing to pay high prices for perceived health benefits, those feeling the pinch who have made polyphenol-rich dark chocolate part of their daily routine may find themselves opting for supermarket own-label rather than going without. 

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