As one of the largest categories in the confectionery industry, chocolate tablets and bars offer everything from premium to exotic flavor pairings.

Luxe leading the way

It’s a common scene in television 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 is 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, the premium chocolate claim still hits the number one spot in the chocolate tablets category (from January 2008 through October 2008), according to global market research company Mintel. But chocolate manufacturers are creating more than just premium chocolate.

In particular, one premium chocolate company bases its creations on style and inclusions. Founded in 2003, Choclatique features “swirled” chocolate tablets and tapestries. While Mintel defines tablets as being “snappable” chocolate bars, Choclatique gives them a new meaning.

“Our bars are broken down into tablets, which are 100g bars (about 3.5 oz.), and tapestries, which are 500g bars (about 17.5 oz.),” says Engoron. Whether they are tablets or tapestries, the chocolate bars feature an artistic “swirled” appearance. Add to that a large amount of inclusions, and the consumer definitely experiences the indulgence.

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

In addition to its artistic, inclusion-filled bars, 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 of chocolate bars, available in time for the summer Fancy Food Show (June 28-30, 2009). 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 its even 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. “You have to take risks and I’m a big risk taker.”

In her risk taking, Markoff created around 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 chocolate bars. And innovation comes in many forms.

For over 160 years, Lindt has been making premium confections. Its Classic Recipe milk chocolate creations contain almond and hazelnut pieces, however, Lindt’sExcellence collection features 70% Cocoa, 85% Cocoa, 99% Cocoa, Intense Orange, Intense Mint, Intense Pear, Toffee Crunch, Extra Creamy, White Coconut and Chili. Like Vosges Haut-Chocolat and other confectioners, Lindt has taken “sugar and spice” to a whole new level. Its Chili bar is the newest addition to theExcellence line, but the company also launched aHot Barline with such flavor combinations as Papaya and Chili; Pomegranate and Chili; and Passion Fruit and Jalapeno. In addition, Lindt’sCreation 70% chocolate bars feature 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. “We want to continue…to provide new and unique flavors to our consumers.”

The company’sPetits Dessertschocolate 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,Lindt Lindor 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 itsLuxe Milk chocolate bar line, citing 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-naturalLuxe bars are offered in Milk, Milk Hazelnut, Milk Almond, Milk Crisp and Milk Duet (half milk and 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 v.p. of marketing for Ghirardelli.

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

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 Paul Pruett, ceo of Bloomsberry & Co. “All of the bars are either milk or dark chocolate.”

The milk (34% cocoa) and dark (55% cocoa) chocolate bars are all natural and certified kosher. As for their packaging, the bars are wrapped in a recycled, colorful paper wrapper and boxed with a clever design printed on each one. Some of the company’s newest designs include the I Love U bar, The Queen bar and The Boss bar. Each of the new designs 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 into the U.K. market. With the new 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. (Latest 52 weeks ending Oct. 5,2008), Mars, Inc. and The Hershey Co. have both made new, premium chocolate bar introductions.

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

“Consumers desire portion control, portability, share-ability and freshness without the mess,” says Ryan Bowling, spokesperson for Mars Snackfood U.S.

To provide an answer for consumers, Mars created new packaging for itsDove tablet bars. The chocolate bars are split into three sections; each section is wrapped individually; and they are placed together in a recloseable pack. This way, consumers can have a portion of chocolate and save the rest for later, Bowling says.

In addition, Mars has found a way to create functionalDove bars.Dove Vitalizeis infused with B vitamins, cocoa flavanols and plant sterols to promote healthy cholesterol levels and increased energy, whileDove Beautiful contains vitamins C and E, biotin and zinc to hydrate and nourish skin.

The Hershey Co. has been manufacturing products likeReese’s Peanut Butter Cups,Almond Joy,Mounds,KitKat andHeath since the 1900’s. Today, the company has added brands such asHershey’s Extra Dark,ScharffenBerger,Dagoba andHershey’s Bliss. Recently, theHershey’s Extra Darkchocolate bars introduced a new flavor: pomegranate. And just before the end of 2008, Hershey’s Bliss Crème de Menthe and Raspberry flavors made their debut. And there’s always more to come. This summer, Hershey plans to launchHershey’s Blissbars in flavors Rich & Creamy Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate with a Meltaway Center bars, as well asScharffen BergerChocolate Nibby Bar.

With itsButterfinger bar in the top 10 on Mintel’s list of chocolate candy box/bag/bar less than 3.5 oz., Nestle USA Inc.’s confectionery products have been popular for years. Beginning with its first chocolate bar,Crunch, Nestle manufactures a variety of candy bars, such asBaby Ruth,Oh Henry! and100 Grand, to name a few. And this month, Nestle introduces a limited editionButterfinger Buzz bar with caffeine, available through April 2009.

From the confectionery giants to the artistic and exotic chocolate manufacturers, it’s obvious the slumping economy hasn’t stopped confectioners from innovating. These new flavors, packaging and product introductions are sure to keep the chocolate tablet/bar category rocketing forward.

In good conscience

Confectioners making organic, Fair Trade and single origin chocolates are joining the chocolate bar category thanks to increasing consumer demand for healthier chocolate products. Many of these companies tout their involvement with the farmers growing the cocoa beans, which helps make consumption guilt-free.

Ecuadorian chocolate company Pacari Chocolate manufactures five varieties of organic chocolate bars from bean to bar, including its two newest Raw dark chocolate bars. Offered with 70% cacao content and 100% cacao content, the cacao in the Raw bars is minimally processed and unroasted to maintain its antioxidants and original flavor. Pacari’s other chocolate bars include regional Ecuadorian flavors: Esmeraldas 60% cacao, Manabi 65% cacao and Los Rios 72% cacao. To make sure that farmers are properly compensated for their work, all of Pacari’s operations are based on Fair Trade principles. The company also provides technical assistance and training to the farmers to aid in finding the most efficient production processes.

Featuring Fair Trade chocolates and co-owned by farmers in Ghana, Divine Chocolate offers ten different chocolate bars ranging from Coffee Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Fruit and Nut to the company’s newest flavor White Chocolate with Strawberries. And because the Ghanaian farmers own part of the company, they can share in the profits.

Another company featuring Fair Trade chocolate, Kallari, is a farmers’ cooperative that harvests, markets and receives 100% of profits from sales of its own organic chocolate. The company offers three single source, USDA-certified organic chocolate bars. The first contains 70% cacao, the second 75% and the third 85%. Additionally, the cocoa beans used in each of the bars are Rainforest Alliance certified.

In light of recent melamine scares and confectionery recalls, Original Beans has realized the importance of traceability. To give its consumers peace of mind, the company introduces three new chocolate bar products: Wild Harvest Bolivia 63% dark; Virunga Grand Cru 60% dark; and Esmereldes Milk with Fleur de Sel 42% dark. Each of the bars’ eco-friendly wrappers will include a tracking code and lot number. Using GPS Google navigation, consumers can see the actual acre of land where their chocolate bar was produced. They can also trace the supply chain for the bar and see how Original Bean replants according to the purchase of chocolate bars.