Cocoa Cravings

While chocolate enthusiasts savor this delightful treat throughout the year, Valentine’s Day has a special connection with this beloved ingredient. On February 14th, chocolate lovers have an additional excuse to indulge in an array of chocolate bars and treats. Whether or not you embrace the romantic aspect of the day, it’s an opportune moment to explore the confectionery aisle at your nearby store.

If you haven’t recently explored the shelves for chocolate delights, even during the recent Valentine’s Day, you might be surprised by the transformations. The market is brimming with a diverse range of options, catering to the preferences of every shopper. Let’s delve into the evolving trends that contribute to the enduring popularity of chocolate items among various consumer types.

Seasonal Increases

During holidays, consumers are drawn to sweet indulgences, particularly evident in increased sales of shelf stable candy chocolate units and revenue over the past year. This trend is noticeable in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and most recently, Christmas. Similar patterns are anticipated for February of this year. Strong promotional activities during these periods have bolstered both unit and revenue performance. The highest share of promotional spending occurred in April (57.2%), October (60.9%), and December (55.8%).

SPINS:  Natural Channel & Conventional Multi-Outlet (powered by Circana);52 Weeks Ending 12.31.23; SS Candy Chocolate

Keeping it Natural

While chocolate may be enjoyed as part of a self-indulgent treat, consumers are discerning about their choices. They seek sweet treats that align with their values, especially when indulging in extra calories or rewarding themselves. The growth in chocolate sales reflects a preference for premium products, with natural chocolates experiencing a 13% increase (+81M), surpassing other varieties. Both natural and specialty chocolates have significantly contributed to the overall segment growth. The trend towards higher quality chocolates suggests a growing appreciation for gourmet experiences among consumers.

Variety & Innovation is Key

A heart-shaped box of chocolates with some flowers might be the classic Valentine, but shoppers are enjoying chocolate in all forms. Looking at data over the past year, here are the chocolate products that posted strong dollar growth: 

  • Chocolate covered nut (+145.1%) 
  • Chocolate covered peanut (+63.5%) 
  • Chocolate covered coffee bean (+28.1%)
  • Chocolate covered fruit (+24.2%)
  • Chocolate malt ball (+21.5%)
  • Chocolate covered seed (+18.5%) 
  • Chocolate lollipop (+12.4%) 

Manufacturers breeding innovative products through the incorporation of trending functional ingredients are also winning. While the dollar volume tied to these ingredients are moderate relative to overall all segment sales, the posted triple-digit growth is promising. Integrating collagen, functional mushrooms (ex. Ashwagandha), chamomile and matcha add value to existing offerings, aligns with consumer needs, and is capturing more spend than last year. 

Individual Preferences

Fortunately, these products not only satisfy cravings for sweetness but also cater to a range of wellness objectives, dietary requirements, and individual preferences, thanks to innovative brands. Over the past year, consumers have demonstrated a keen interest in trying products that align with their lifestyles. Items catering to diets such as Paleo (+17.3%), Vegan (+9.3%), and Gluten-Free (+4.6%) have attracted increased consumer spending compared to the previous year. The growth in labeled organic and Fair Trade USA chocolate products further indicates consumers’ continued awareness of ingredient sourcing and adherence to environmental, economic, and social standards in farming practices.

SPINS:  Natural Channel & Conventional Multi-Outlet (powered by Circana);52 Weeks Ending 12.31.23; UPC-Level data; Certifications and Label Inclusion; SS Candy Chocolate

Brands have also found success by upping the protein content for anyone counting their macros. Shelf stable chocolate candy products with 9+grams of protein, captured $99M (+2.8%) more dollars than the previous year. Lower protein offerings didn’t fare as well in 2023.

Ethical Consumption Matters for the Chocolate Industry 

Consumers are not only concerned about the ingredients in their products but also about supporting brands that prioritize responsible business practices and missions promoting better health. Recognizing the troubled history of chocolate production, shoppers are adamant about avoiding brands associated with low wages, child labor, or unsustainable farming practices. Certified B Corporations exemplify this commitment to responsible production by prioritizing people and the environment over profit, setting rigorous standards for ethical business practices.

SPINS:  Proprietary Channels & Conventional Channels (powered by Circana);52 Weeks Ending 12.31.23; Attribute Performance; Certified B Corp; SS Candy Chocolate

Growth among Certified B Corp shelf stable candy chocolate products are growing across most channels. This is especially true within the MULO (+17.2%) and Convenience (+16.6%) channels, which outpaced other retailers. It would seem conventional and on-the-go convenience shoppers are reaching for these products while running their everyday errands.

Pursuing Opportunities

Today’s chocolate-loving shoppers have raised the standards and opened more opportunities for brands to earn their dollars and loyalty. Chocolate brands would be wise to emphasize the quality of their ingredients, their responsible sourcing and sustainability, and other attributes that prove that their products deserve to be the go-to dessert. You can also stand out in a crowded market, by joining forces with retailers outside existing channels/distribution to help you connect with customers to earn a reputation as an innovative brand.

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Looking for more information? Please contact the SPINS Account Manager for PRESENCE, Mike Murphy mmurphy@spins.com.