What a difference a year makes. Actually, it wasn’t even quite that long ago when headlines screamed about an impending cocoa shortage. A surge in chocolate demand in Asia coupled with worrisome weather concerns about cocoa harvests in West Africa had cocoa buyers on edge. The Ebola epidemic in Liberia and Sierra Leone only exacerbated the situation.

Flash forward to mid-May 2015 and the headline from Dow Jones Business News declared, “Asia Loses Its Sweet Tooth for Chocolate.”  According to reporter Julie Wernau, “Slowing economic growth and higher candy prices have dulled the region’s demand for cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, and upended bets by investors, traders and big food companies after a surge in consumption in the past decade.”

Wernau goes on to point out that first quarter grindings in Asia fell by 9 percent, the main reason for the decline being China’s drop-off.  An economic slowdown in China, and in Asia overall, as well as a 5.6 percent increase in chocolate prices, were singled out as the primary reasons for the decline.

But it’s important to point out that China’s appetite for chocolate, while temporarily detoured, isn’t going to go away. Hershey, which experienced a 47 percent drop in confectionery sales this past first quarter, remains bullish about the future. It recently announced the launch of its Brookside line of panned chocolates into the country.

As reported in the China News, Philip Stanley, general manager of Hershey Greater China, reaffirmed the company’s strategy, saying that the company is “not cautious at all in bringing in new brands into the Chinese market. Instead we are very excited to introduce the guilt-free and indulgent” chocolate product, which is the company’s “highest repeat product” among its 80-plus portfolio.

 “We have 10 percent of the market share in the Chinese chocolate market and we expect continued growth after the introduction of Brookside,” he added. “The average consumption of chocolate per capita in Switzerland is 10 kilograms every year and 5 kg. in the United States. But in China it is just a dozen grams, which means there is great potential for growth.”

Given the size of China’s middle class — which continues to grow, by the way — it’s safe to say that Hershey’s China sales will rebound. It’s also safe to say that the growth of chocolate consumption in China, and all of Asia, will not immediately lead to a cocoa shortage.

Moreover, it’s important to survey the other regions of the world, particularly those mature areas where per capital consumption ranges between 5 to 12 kg. per person versus 12 grams per person. As Persistence Market Research (PMR), a U.S.-based full-service market intelligence firm points out, there are several key factors predisposed to driving the global confectionery market:  Rising disposable income, growing retail markets,  a rise in gifting confectionery items, increasing population, increasing urbanization, hectic lifestyles, and more women in the workforce.

And let’s not forget what impact global events can have on markets. A quick look at Euromonitor’s estimates of global sales in 2014 provides plenty of examples. For example, sales in Eastern Europe are projected to drop off — the Ukrainian and Russian border conflict deeply affecting both countries.

One also sees a drop in projected sales for the Middle East/Africa region, which has been torn by turmoil in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and Somalia to name just a few countries. Latin America also shows a decrease in sales, reflecting a decline in commodity prices for oil, copper and iron ore — all of which have triggered economic declines in Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and Columbia.

As for Australasia, well, a similar scenario, involving sinking commodities and the aftereffects of a downturn in China’s economy.

But wait, what’s going on in Western Europe, where Euromonitor projected an 8 percent jump? As a 2014 KPMG International report on chocolate notes, “The industry’s innovation hub is Europe, which initiated 45 percent of launches between 2008 and May 2013.”

And according to Mintel Global New Product Database, Europe accounted for 51 percent of all chocolate launches between 2013 and 2014. In a recent AFN report, Marcia Mogelsky, director of Insight Mintel Food and Drink, pointed out that there’s been considerable innovation with chocolate using flavor and texture.

“In addition to enhancing the flavor of chocolate confectionery with added ingredients, there has also been newfound focus on chocolate itself, with both white and dark chocolate ingredients gaining in popularity,” she says.

“New product development continues to be imaginative, with more exploration of flavors and textures outside the sweet flavor tradition,” Mogelsky says. “However, efforts to innovate will continue to run up against a consumer base that tends to be more conservative in product choice.”

So what about sugar and gum? A quick glance reveals a slight bump in sugar, but a dip in gum, a trend that replicates itself across most regions as well. The answer here, again, is innovation.

According to Innova Market Insights, which presented its Top Ten Trends at this year’s ISM show in Cologne, innovation — whether it’s in chocolate, sugar confections or savory snacks — “has focused on creating permissible indulgence. Producers are aiming to differentiate by using natural, healthy and/or sustainably sourced ingredients. This can be seen in the move toward the increased use of fruits, be they familiar staples or uncommon exotics.”

“The fact that fruit provides a ‘natural’ flavor ingredient makes it even more appealing. According to Abelei Flavors’ trend report, demand for natural flavors has increased by 35 percent since 2010.

“Candy and snacks with natural flavors and ingredients will be in demand from consumers who are looking for a way to get their candy ‘fix’ and still fit into their healthier lifestyle,” says Arb.

And there are always fruits that consumers will find newly intriguing. Flavors like melon, cranberry, lime, coconut and blackcurrant are on the rise, especially in Europe, affirms Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights.

Moreover, people are increasingly embracing diversity and variety in flavors, say Nina Hughes-Likins, senior marketing manager, and Mary Svoboda, senior certified flavor chemist, of Synergy Flavors.

“Exotic” flavors, which can mean anything from “unique and new flavors” to “world flavors that are found in the deepest forests or lands,” are becoming more popular, says Ron Arb, senior sales at Abelei Flavors.

So where does that leave gum? Here, too, there’s a need for innovation, although certain areas of the world hold significant potential to help spur gum’s rebound. As Nicholas Fereday, senior analyst for Rabobank pointed out in a report last year, “The gum industry has become unstuck and will need to sink its teeth into some solid marketing ideas in order to reinflate sales.”

Other observers, however, say it’s only a matter of time before gum sales rebound. A new report from Global Industry Analysts projects that gums sales will be “driven by innovative development of sugar-free, soft and chewy gum variants, flavor innovations and increasing consumption in China and India.”

And where does the United States, the world’s largest single confectionery market, figure amongst these global trends? Well, excluding chocolate, the numbers don’t bode well. Total confectionery sales are projected to grow from $34.5 billion to $38.9 billion — essentially less than 1 percent annually.

Again, this is where innovation will play a key role. According to the NCA, premiumization, which grew by more than 15 percent in 2014, will again lead the charge. Shareables are expected to grow by more than 10 percent CAGR during the next five years. And new product launches will be a driver for many companies.

Final tally on the confectionery global sector: peace and stability would work wonders in furthering growth in many pockets of the world; continued economic recovery in the United States, Western Europe, and Asia, would also stimulate numbers.

 In brief, the sector’s taking a deep breath throughout many regions. Yet, its potential continues to spur confidence that strong growth is simply a matter of time and events.