Premium Chocolate

Now that the ‘chocolate bar’ has been raised towards more premium varieties, retailers need to strategize to capture an even higher-impulse chocolate market.
Premium Chocolate Estimated U.S. Retail Market Size
$1.5 - $1.8 billion
Source: Confectioner estimate based on input from industry players

Premium chocolate is reaching for the Starbucks. Not only have “chocolate bars” (a la Starbucks’ cafés) started popping up in urban areas, but consumers everywhere are spending more for — and are enjoying more — quality chocolate. And all the major chocolate players are in on it — “everyday premium” has become the confectionery catchphrase as mainstream chocolate players join those on the higher end of the cocoa spectrum with investments and marketing in more upscale chocolate.
The so-called “mass premium” chocolate players, previously more exclusive, are recently making great distribution strides in the mainstream market (approximately 40 percent of premium chocolate sales now come from food/drug/mass channels, according to a Mintel Premium Chocolate Report, released in February 2005).
According to industry data, premium chocolate is growing in double digits, while all other chocolate is mostly flat.
Target Audience
Many consumers have a love affair with chocolate, but one group in particular is leading the passion for premium: women ages 25 to 54, particularly those affluent, educated and urban. These females are characterized by their busy lifestyle, combined with the desire to treat themselves with “a bit of luxury.”
It’s true that these women want “good” chocolate as a stress relief/treat, but with the vast competition in the marketplace today, coupled with their seriously limited free time, they are very impulsive about their premium purchasing decisions — even more so than the mainstream market is with “regular” chocolate. A premium chocolate maker recently found that 68 percent of its consumers make the decision to purchase their chocolate in-store, compared with 60 percent of consumers who made the decision to purchase a non-premium brand in-store.
Premium chocolate prices come in all “sizes.” With so many mainstream players now in the game, prices are all over the board — varying from just over $8 a pound. As for the “everyday premium” trend — the key price points have been identified as $2.99 and $4.99.
The price of premium sets the category apart, but that should not be the only segregating factor. For non-seasonal chocolate, the in-line set for premium chocolate should be next to other confections, but clearly delineated. With an expanding base of consumers that appreciate high-end chocolate, retailers should encourage them to trade up.
The floral/gift section is the first obvious choice, but retailers shouldn’t stop there. While they may not seem “premiere” enough at first, high traffic areas such as endcaps and checkstands are great placement opportunities to capture the busy consumer’s self-consumption needs.
Premium chocolate manufacturers are reportedly expanding their shipper and quarter-pallet offerings to the mass market — typically for “change-maker,” single-serve (one or two bites) premium pieces with a popular promotional price point of 99 cents or 3 for $2.
Seasonal Opportunities
Premium chocolate sales traditionally have been very seasonal, but consumers’ attitudes towards rewarding themselves with higher-quality “everyday treats” are changing that. That being said, seasonal chocolate does make up approximately 20 percent of premium’s sales, according to industry research in the food, drug and mass sectors, excluding Wal-Mart. There is a particularly strong seasonal push in the first and fourth quarters to coincide with Valentine’s Day and Christmas — the most popular holidays for premium chocolate.
Industry experts say premium chocolate will continue its trend of double-digit sales growth in the next five years, given the recent explosion and near-future focus of new entrants and SKUs. Established premium players are touting their continued significant investment in their brands with updated packaging and line expansions; mainstream players promise a premium presence with recent acquisitions and newly created upscale lines; and European entrants are expanding their distribution/focus in the United States.
To meet consumers’ demand for unique taste experiences and their love of chocolate, premium chocolates are also expected to develop more unusual and stronger flavors, adding to the market’s awareness and consumer options.
More Power to Premium
Approximately 40 percent of premium chocolate sales now come from food/drug/mass (FDM) channels
In FDM channels, premium chocolate purchases are shifting from drugstores
The future will bring more mass chocolate manufacturers into the premium chocolate market
Note: Premium chocolate in this report is defined as chocolate candies with an upscale positioning and price tags exceeding 50 cents an ounce. This can be compared to the price of a regular Hershey chocolate bar which retails for roughly 30 cents an ounce.
Source: Mintel Premium Chocolate Report — U.S. — February 2005

Merchandising Musts
Make sure you have the floor. Floor displays are a very effective method of promoting premium chocolates because many premium brands are earlier in their life cycle and thus possess lower brand awareness. Clearly displaying these products can drive incremental sales by generating unplanned purchases from the highly impulsive target consumer.
Mix it up. Premium chocolate consumers are more variety-seeking than mainstream chocolate consumers. Rotating new products on counters and endcaps, as well as mixing up the plan-o-gram more frequently, will stimulate more incremental purchases from these spontaneous consumers.
Separate and define. Clearly segregating the premium chocolate section in-line is imperative; this is your chance to reinforce to the consumer that this chocolate is special and worth it.