Treats follow fresh recipe

To combat the fall in demand for unhealthy snacks, confectioners are developing products that can imply benefits for health and even beauty while pushing the treats’ most indulgent qualities

chocolateFebruary is a bad month for waistlines. With Valentine’s Day chocolates recently consumed, people are already looking ahead to the Easter eggs they will buy for friends and family. The UK chocolate market alone was worth about 3.4bn in 2008 and globally, more than 8000 new chocolate products have been introduced in the past 12 months, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database. This equates to a new treat almost every hour of every day.

The trend in confectionery overall in 2009 is to try and link indulgence with extra health or beauty benefits, rather than simply focusing on the taste. The chocolate market is being driven by the premium sector with functional foods seeing some intriguing developments.

In Japan, a new brand called Xyli Power Chocolate is designed to be tooth-friendly, eaten just before people go to bed. The product has been created by dentists and claims to prevent the growth of plaque-causing bacteria and “strengthen” teeth overnight.

Lotte’s Zero brand chocolate, also available in Japan, has also been reformulated to include more dietary fibre. The marketing for the brand claims that eating one bar of the confectionery is the nutritional equivalent of consuming three lettuces.

Also in the Asian market is Beryl’s Chocolate & Confectionery, which has created a dark chocolate and strawberry flavour bar enriched with omega 3 and “Brainy DHA”. The Brainy DHA aims to take away the fishy taste and smell that is sometimes associated with omega 3-enriched products.

It’s not just Asia that is seeing a trend towards confectionery with health claims. In the US, Frutels Acne (pictured) is a premium, all-natural dark chocolate. The brand claims that it uses antioxidants and micronutrients to help combat the causes of acne.

In the UK, the trend towards functional foods is reflected more in the packaging than the ingredients. For Valentine’s Day this year, Bloomberry & Co’s Emergency Chocolate was packaged to look like medicine. The front of the packaging read: “For immediate relief of chocolate cravings, exam pressure, mild anxiety and more importantly at this time of year, lovesickness”.

At the mainstream level, children’s chocolate brand Smarties has introduced the natural dietary supplement spirulina to create blue colouring for its sweets, rather than relying on artificial additives. Meanwhile, mass-market brand Mars has been selling its upmarket CocoaVia products for several years. They are promoted as “brand healthy heart snacks” and claim to lower cholesterol.

The startling growth in functional products may be linked to the drop in chocolate consumption seen in 2008. While the value of the industry increased last year and new product launches globally rose by 32% over the past three years, Mintel’s data shows heavy users of chocolate cut back by 2.3% between 2003 and 2008. Brands have been forced to create new, premium-priced variants to ensure that they can boost revenues even if use is declining.

Specialist products such as kosher and halal chocolate have also emerged with far more varieties available than ever before. In 2005, there were two kosher varieties available in the UK but by 2008, this had risen to 10. Similarly, seasonal versions of favourites are allowing brands to reach more people with new tastes while relying on the same familiar names. In 2005, there were 13 seasonal variants, rising to 20 last year.

In future, premium and functional foods are expected to grow in importance. Although a recession may mean that organic and natural foods are less buoyant than they might otherwise have expected to be, consumers are becoming increasingly educated about food. They are also open to the idea of “treats” for themselves when their lives are stressful or busy.

The dark chocolate market, which grew 96% between 2005 and 2008, is set to use perceived health benefits – such as being rich in flavonoid antioxidants, which combat “harmful free radicals” – to help stimulate consumer demand. It seems likely to carry on outperforming the rest of the chocolate sector as long as brands continue to innovate.

Promoting decadence is also essential in chocolate confectionery in order to compete with other sweet and dessert categories, as consumers cut back on their “unhealthy” treats. When people do indulge, they want the best in terms of quality and luxury.

The recipe seems simple. The chocolate bar that can imply benefits for health and beauty while pushing its most indulgent qualities – at a price that seems acceptable to cash-strapped shoppers – may be the one taking the biggest bite of consumer spending in 2009.

Mintel’s Global New Products Database research team contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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