One of the largest categories in the confectionery industry, chocolate tablets/bars offer everything from premium to exotic flavors. These innovations keep the segment thriving, leaving consumers asking for more.

It’s a common scene in TV shows or movies to see a woman drowning her sorrows in chocolate. And due to the recent economic downturn, this scene isn’t too far from the truth.

“What we’ve found in times of stress, like a lot of families are going through right now, is that people increase their consumption of three things: liquor, desserts and chocolate,” says Ed Engoron, co-founder of Choclatique. “The reason is that these are affordable, immediate, indulgent luxuries.”

And although the economy is poor, premium chocolate claim still hits the No. 1 spot in the chocolate tablets category (January 2008 through October 2008), according to global market research company Mintel. But manufacturers are creating more than just premium chocolate.

One premium chocolate company bases its creations on style and inclusions. Choclatique features “swirled” chocolate tablets and tapestries. While Mintel defines tablets as being “snappable” chocolate bars, Choclatique gives them new meaning.

“Our bars are broken down into tablets, which are 100 g. bars (about 3.5 oz.), and tapestries, which are 500 g. bars (about 17.5 oz.),” says Engoron. Both feature many inclusions.

“In a bar that weighs about 500 g., there may be over 100 g. of peanuts or almonds,” Engoron explains. “[For example], in ourEcstasy Island, which is white chocolate, coconut, macadamia nut and pineapple, the inclusions account for about 20% of the weight of the product.”

In addition, the company offers five single-origin bars, sourced from Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Columbia and Madagascar. But the innovation doesn’t stop there. Choclatique plans to introduce a new line at the Fancy Food Show, June 28-30. The new bars will fuse Choclatique’s milk, dark and white chocolates with teas, herbs and spices.

“One [of the bars] takes our extremely healthful Q91 chocolate (91% cacao) and marries that with a variety of teas,” Engoron says. “We’re trying to add to the antioxidants by bringing in and actually infusing and steeping the flavors of tea into our chocolate.”

While infusing tea with chocolate is notably distinct, Vosges Haut-Chocolat is known for more exotic inclusions. Eyebrows were raised when owner/chocolatier Katrina Markoff introduced a chocolate bar containing milk chocolate, Alderwood smoked salt and applewood smoked bacon.

“Who would have thought of putting bacon and chocolate together, and now it’s our number one seller,” Markoff says.

In her risk-taking, Markoff created about 20 chocolate bars with such unusual inclusions as chilies, curry, wasabi, mushrooms, plantain chips, cardamom, plum, goji berries, coffee, green tea and olives.

Most recently, Vosges Haut-Chocolat introduced five organic, single-origin and Rainforest Alliance-certified chocolate bars.

“We went down to the Dominican Republic and sourced beans from a small farm there,” Markoff explains. “Then we had the chocolate roasted and conched to our specifications. It’s kind of our first foray into doing bean to bar.”

The organic line includes the company’s first filled peanut butter bar, along with the company’s first plain dark (75%) and plain milk (45%) chocolate bars. The entire collection consists of Peanut Butter Bonbon, Enchanted Mushroom, Habana, Dominica Noir and Dominica Lait.

For more than 160 years, Lindt has been making premium confections. Its Classic Recipe milk chocolate creations contain almond and hazelnut pieces. However, Lindt’sExcellencecollection features 70% Cocoa, 85% Cocoa, 99% Cocoa, Intense Orange, Intense Mint, Intense Pear, Toffee Crunch, Extra Creamy, White Coconut and Chili. Like other confectioners, Lindt has taken “sugar and spice” to a whole new level. Its Chili bar is the newest addition to the Excellence line, but the company also launched a Hot Bar line with flavor combinations such as Papaya and Chili, Pomegranate and Chili, and Passion Fruit and Jalapeno. In addition, Lindt’s Creation 70% chocolate bars have Pure Chocolate-, Cherry Chili, and Orange-flavored fillings.

“Evolving consumer taste preferences, combined with robust premium chocolate category growth is driving the emergence of exotic flavor pairings,” says Thomas Linemayr, CEO of Lindt.

The company’sPetitsDesserts chocolate bar collection features some unique flavors, including Crème Brulee, Truffle Cake, Lemon Tart and Chocolate Mousse (in milk, dark and hazelnut). Even the company’s signature product,LindtLindor Truffles, comes in bar form.

And while exotic inclusions are making their rise, some companies are taking their products back to the basics.

Ghirardelli, for example, recently introduced itsLuxemilk chocolate bar line, citing the fact that although consumer demand for dark chocolate is rising, milk chocolate makes up 80% of the United States’ total chocolate sales, according to AC Nielsen Scanner Data (52 weeks ending March 22, 2008). The all-naturalLuxebars come in Milk, Milk Hazelnut, Milk Almond, Milk Crisp and Milk Duet (half milk/half dark chocolate).

“Milk chocolate should be a delightful indulgence, and we have put our company’s resources into creating that intense Ghirardelli chocolate pleasure for milk chocolate lovers,” says Fabrizio Parini, senior vice president of marketing.

To offer some variety, the company offers other “intense” chocolate bars, including its Intense Dark chocolate bars in 72% cacao, 60% cacao and flavors Midnight Reverie, Espresso Escape, Mint Bliss, Citrus Sunset and Toffee Interlude. A recent introduction is Ghirardelli’s milk and dark chocolate bars with caramel, peanut butter, mint and raspberry fillings.

Specializing in giftable chocolate bars with entertaining packaging designs, Bloomsberry & Co. keeps its chocolate simple.

“We have designs for pretty much every occasion and season,” says CEO Paul Pruett.

Bloomberry's milk (34% cocoa) and dark (55% cocoa) chocolate bars are all-natural and certified kosher. The bars are wrapped in a colorful, recycled paper printed in clever designs. Some of the company’s newest designs include I Love U, Chocolate fit for a Queen and The Boss. Each new design features humorous text that matches a season, holiday or everyday theme.

While the company currently only offers milk and dark chocolate bars, it recently introduced a chocolate bar with hazelnuts in the U.K. This year, Bloomsberry plans to introduce a variety of new products, including chocolate with inclusions, organic or sugar-free chocolate and maybe even white chocolate.

With the top two products in the Chocolate Candy Box/Bag/Bar category, according to Information Resources, Inc., Mars, Inc. and The Hershey Co. both have made premium chocolate bar introductions.

In addition to Mars’ original candy bars, includingSnickers,Milky Way,3 MusketeersandTwix, the company manufactures Dove premium chocolate bars. With newDovetablet flavors such as Blueberry Almond, Cranberry Almond, Dark Chocolate with Roasted Almond, Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate, Peanut Toffee Crunch and Roasted Hazelnut, the company also offersDove ChocolateLarge Bars in Creamy Cappuccino and Mandarin Orange. Mars hopes to pursue its audience by innovating the category with new flavors and packaging.

“Consumers desire portion control, portability, share-ability and freshness without the mess,” says Ryan Bowling, spokesperson for Mars Snackfood U.S. As such, Mars has created new packaging for its Dove tablets. The chocolate bars are split into three individually wrapped sections in a recloseable pack.

In addition, Mars has found a way to create functionalDovebars. Dove Vitalize is infused with B vitamins, cocoa flavanols and plant sterols to promote healthy cholesterol levels and increased energy, whileDove Beautifulcontains vitamins C and E, biotin and zinc to hydrate and nourish skin.

The Hershey Co. has been manufacturing products such asReese’s Peanut Butter Cups,Almond Joy,Mounds,KitKatandHeathsince the 1900s. The company has added brands such asHershey’s Extra Dark,ScharffenBerger,DagobaandHershey’s Bliss. Recently, theHershey’s Extra Darkchocolate bars gained a new flavor: pomegranate. This summer, Hershey plans to launchHershey’s Blissbars in Rich & Creamy Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate with a Meltaway Center, as well asScharffen BergerChocolate Nibby Bars.

These new flavors, packaging and product introductions are sure to keep the chocolate tablet/bar category rocketing forward. CSR

Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in the January 2009 issue ofConfection & Snack Retailingsister publicationCandy Industry.