As Easter rolls around, many households across the world will be feasting on chocolate to mark the occasion.  According to Mintel data, chocolate confections may be a treat in more ways than one.

In fact, a number of chocolate consumers say there are emotional benefits to be found in eating chocolate. Seventeen percent of Americans say those emotional benefits outweigh any health concerns. Meanwhile, 26 percent of consumers who purchase chocolate do so to improve their mood, while 20 percent use chocolate for an energy boost.

 “While chocolate confectionery may be considered to be a ‘guilty pleasure,’ it is also a food that is strongly tied to emotional needs. This is likely the reason that consumers allow themselves to indulge in chocolate," says Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight at Mintel. "Even at a time when the importance of healthy snacking is being emphasized around the world, the importance of chocolate confectionery as a psychological wellness tool cannot be ignored.”

To the north, close to two-fifths of Canadian chocolate consumers (38 percent) eat chocolate as a reward. At 76 percent, more than three-quarters, of Chinese chocolate eaters agree that chocolate is good for lifting moods, while 64 percent say it's an effective way to relieve stress.

In Europe, Polish consumers lead the way in this kind of thinking. Almost half of Polish chocolate consumers (49 percent) eat chocolate to lift their mood, followed by 40 percent in Italy, 39 percent in Germany, 27 percent in Spain and 15 percent in France.

A number of European consumers also agree that eating chocolate relaxes them: 41 percent of German chocolate consumers concur, followed by 37 percent in France, 28 percent in Italy, 27 percent in Spain and 23 percent in Poland.

Aside from the psychological and emotional benefits, chocolate has also positioned itself as a healthier confection.

More than a quarter (27 percent) of Americans who buy chocolate consider it to be healthier than other options, while 13 percent of Canadians look for promises of health benefits. In Europe, 26 percent of Spanish consumers say chocolate is healthy, followed by 21 percent in Poland, 20 percent in France, 19 percent in Italy and 9 percent in Germany.

With so many chocolatiers in Europe, it's unsurprising that its consumers lead the way in chocolate consumption. In 2015, Swiss consumers ate 8.8 kg of chocolate per capita, followed by 8.4 kg in Germany. Russian consumers charted 7.3 kg per capita, while the United Kingdom consumed 6.8 kg. The United States followed with 5.5 kg per capita. China, on the other hand, only consumed 0.2 kg per capita.

Consumer demands

Consumers increasingly desire quality chocolate.

According to Mintel research, there are more "better quality" chocolates on store shelves than ever before. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of premium chocolate products launched worldwide increased 72 percent. A total of seven percent of all chocolate products launched in 2015 carried a premium claim — up from five percent in 2011.

Half of chocolate purchasers in the United States look for high-quality or premium ingredients, while close to a quarter (22 percent) of chocolate eaters in France agree that premium ingredients play an important role when buying chocolate. Meanwhile, 34 percent of Canadians say that ethically sourced chocolate is worth paying more for.

“Given the extent to which consumers’ food knowledge has grown over the past decade, it is not surprising that they increasingly demand unique products that come with a stamp of authenticity. This is especially notable in chocolate confectionery, as consumers become more interested in cocoa sourcing, cocoa content and premium positioning,” says Mogelonsky.

But it's not just quality that consumers want.

Chocolate eaters also want more innovative flavors, and the industry is responding. Between 2011 and 2015, there was a 140 percent increase in the number of matcha tea-flavored chocolate products launched worldwide. In the same period, the number of chocolate products launched with a salt or salted flavor increased by 270 percent.

More than half (52 percent) of Canadian chocolate eaters like to try new chocolate flavors. One in five American chocolate consumers agree that they usually buy new types of treats when they see them.

Mogelonsky attributes some of these new flavors to the growing influence of Asia as a source of inspiration in the chocolate industry.

"In 2012, wasabi was the ‘Asian flavor of note’ in chocolate confectionery. In 2015, matcha green tea took its place. Chocolate manufacturers are exploring the use of teas as an ingredient in confectionery, both because of the health benefits they claim and because of their flavor notes, which can complement different strengths of cocoa," she says. "While matcha is the best known right now, it is possible that other teas will gain attention and grow in popularity amongst chocolate confectionery flavors and ingredients as more research about their health benefits comes to light."