Low-fat chocolate takes Flyte

Chocolate has long been identified as the ultimate confectionery treat. Equally, its fat content and high sugar levels have caused much concern among the health-conscious. It is for this reason that a perfectly innocent chocolate cake is regarded as a sinful indulgence.

As the restrained, responsible Nineties have progressed, a small number of diet chocolate bars have entered the market. The thinking behind these bars is to give the health-conscious consumer a less fattening alternative to standard chocolate bars.

Their main failing, however, is that the quality of the chocolate and overall flavour suffers as a direct result of removing or reducing the very ingredients which are deemed unhealthy. Until recently the extinction of this market seemed inevitable. But last year, Mars Confectionery launched a new bar, which, if not strictly diet, is certainly presented as a “better for you” product.

The Flyte bar sold on the ticket that it was “big on chocolate not on fat”. With sales approaching 50 million bars in less than a year, Flyte has now crept into the top 20 filled bars and is outselling major brands such as Wispa, Double Decker and Topic. Now the company is testing a “light” version of the traditional Mars bar.

Of course, chocolate doesn’t just come in bars and as the major brands have diversified into ice cream, so dairy dessert variants are now entering the arena. Familiar brand names are slowly but surely infiltrating this sector with Rolo, Cadbury’s Flake, Toffee Crisp, Munchies and even After Eights now prominent on the shelves of the supermarket chiller cabinets. While it could be argued that this shows little imagination or true innovation on the part of the manufacturers, they have clearly identified an area ripe for exploitation as the popularity of these products is unquestionable. In this sector (worth more than 100m) six of the top ten brands have a chocolate bar heritage.

There is little if any attempt to market these chilled desserts in any way other than as indulgence desserts, but the same cannot be said for chocolate mousses. Cadbury’s Light and St Ivel Shape are two of the top three brands and continue to grow apace. Yogurts, meanwhile, have traditionally been perceived as healthy and this is given some credence by the statistic that almost 60 per cent of all products are classed as low-fat or diet. Some manufacturers however are reducing the number of very low-fat yogurts to make way for simple low-fat ones.

Cereals too are not immune to the lure of chocolate. A growing proportion of cereals turn your milk brown. While Coco Pops has been the undisputed leader in this field, Kellogg has just launched Choco Flakes, a chocolate variant of the classic cornflake brand. Marketed as a cereal which is low on fat, the timing of the launch fits in neatly with their advertising campaign’s strapline “Serving the nation’s health”. In fact, chocolate flavoured brands only account for a small portion of the ready-to-eat cereals market, but if the market leaders are willing to invest so heavily in this area it is reasonable to assume that there is opportunity here.

Chocolate flavoured drinks, both hot and cold, remain extremely popular and diet or light variants tend to fare rather better in the chocolate bar sector.

While milkshakes such as Frijj have always existed in the shadow of the huge carbonated soft drinks market, the emergence of so-called energy drinks, like Lucozade, have paved the way for a new wave of similarly-marketed products.

Mars Active Energy milk drink has been doing brisk business and is brand leader of the chocolate sector with more than 9 million bottles sold in the last year. It is interesting to note that Frijj thick chocolate milkshake actually has less fat than the Mars drink, although both can boast minimal fat content.

On the hot beverage front, drinking chocolate has traditionally been considered as an indulgence drink, along with Horlicks and Ovaltine. However, with more than half of all the products now available marketed as low-fat or low calorie, this is an area where chocolate and health go hand in hand. In line with this trend, six of the top ten brands are “low”, “light” or otherwise better for you. Going even further in the quest for healthy living is the latest offering from Novartis Nutrition. Fortified with vitamins and minerals found to be essential for the healthy development of children, the recently launched Ovaltine Power is the first hot chocolate drink aimed specially at kids. Backed by a high-profile advertising campaign and good early sales, the signs look good.

With the likes of Mars Active Energy and Cadbury’s Light proving successful, it would appear that if chocolate is marketed as low-fat or as an energy provider, the indulgence factor can be neatly side-stepped. So if you’re still tucking into your Easter eggs, don’t feel guilty. Just remind yourself that you’re stocking up on some very important joules.

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