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Let’s talk about chocolate

Chocolate and CBD is a match made in heaven – or at least on the shelves of retail outlets. CBD, and evntually THC sales can make massive gains by associating themselves with the dark side.

When it comes to chocolate, UK consumers are embracing the darkness. A sudden spike in awareness of health properties of sugar free 80% + cacao products has powered the growth. How can the CBD industry feed off the boom?
Dark chocolate sales shot up 11.1% in the past 12 months, its highest rate in five years [Kantar 52 w/e 9 September 2019]. So powerful is the force that some of the best-known names in UK confectionery are seeing some galactic growth.
“This growth is in part driven by a maturing population. Tastebuds change as we get older, which means older shoppers are often looking for a richer-tasting, darker chocolate,” says a spokeman for Mondelez which makes ‘heritage brand’, Bournville.

Smaller brands
While larger brands are bridging that gap, smaller brands have gone fully over to the darkness. Take Seed & Bean, whose portfolio of 22 variants is mainly dark, starting at 55% cocoa. These new flavours are making dark chocolate “more appealing by removing the bitterness and dryness generally associated with it,” says Cox & Co founder Gavin Cox.
Indeed, there are plenty of claims making the headlines. Not only is dark chocolate high in iron and a powerful source of antioxidants, several studies have suggested it could offer some protection against cardiovascular illness, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Last month, research by University College London, the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services Canada even found eating dark chocolate could significantly lower the risk of depression.
But amid all these vegan and low-sugar claims, there is a less virtuous side to dark chocolate. Its benefits are “offset by the fact that it contains another substance that is a stressor to the body and causes energy highs and lows: caffeine,” warns Virpi Venho-Jones, founder of Supertreats. “A standard 50g bar of dark or raw chocolate contains the caffeine equivalent of a shot of espresso. The darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it contains.
“We’ve addressed this by developing a ‘chocolate’ that doesn’t contain any cocoa,” she adds. “Our products are a range of premium, organic carob bars that look, feel and taste just as delicious as the finest Swiss-quality milk chocolate, but are better for you.”
Ferrero, which has just invested in revamping its Thorntons boxes, is aware of the potential. “When looking at boxed chocolates alone, premium options are growing at 15.4%, more than five times the rate of the category overall,” says Levi Boorer, customer development director at Ferrero.
“Gifting formats continue to present compelling options for shoppers, and retailers should continue to support them throughout the year,” he says. “Even though there are defined peaks for gifting – such as Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Christmas – there will always be shoppers looking to celebrate personal milestones.”

Going premium
The rise in gifting is also increasing appetite for finer chocolate. “Premiumisation is driving the market,” says Smith. “Customers are buying higher-priced items for the same weight. The reason behind that is they understand that good-quality cocoa and ethically sourced ingredients cost more money.”
Ferrero’s Boorer says this mindset even applies to block chocolate, not usually associated with gifting. Premium is “leading growth” in the format, he says. According to his figures, penetration of blocks is at 88.4%, and that number continues to increase.
Leading the way is Tony’s Chocolonely – a brand set up with the express purpose of working to eliminate slavery from the chocolate supply chain. “The direct engagement we have had with our consumers and choco fans shows people want more companies to ensure they are adopting sourcing principles that don’t just benefit their bottom line,” says its UK boss Greensmith. “We will continue to talk about these issues until things change for the choco industry as a whole.”
It’s a conversation more suppliers and consumers are likely to join. Sustainability will be the next big thing in chocolate, suppliers forecast. Raw Halo director Jonathan Chapman says this forms part of the overarching concept of wellness – “wellness for the consumer and for the planet”. Ferrero’s Boorer similarly believes “the increased societal focus on wellbeing is making people more aware of what they pick up in store”.

That wellness mentality is shaping trends in NPD. Take protein. It’s been in vogue for a while in the confectionery market, and Nomo senior innovations & brand manager Emma Perrett can only see that growing. “Consumers who reduce their meat intake are looking to get their protein from alternate food sources, whether that is in traditional snacking formats such as countlines, or in adjacent categories like ice cream or yoghurt, so it is unlikely to go away any time soon.”
Cannabis is hip too – and grocery is rife with cannabidiol-infused products claiming to have positive effects on one’s mental and physical state. Chocolate is becoming part of the craze, says Perrett.
“We have seen CBD trickling though into chocolate in the health food category. However, it remains to be seen whether it will be understood and accepted by consumers as a mainstream proposition.”
So, with commitments towards meaningful sustainability and the promise of healthier or hip NPD, the future for CBD chocolate looks bright.

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