Dark Chocolate

Health claims, more sophisticated palates, and premium’s wise push of a ‘daily chocolate treat’ has put a very bright spotlight on dark.

Dark Chocolate Estimated U.S. Retail Market Size
$700 million
Source: Confectioner estimate based on input from industry players

As part of their increasing pleasure in premium chocolate, consumers are delighting in that which is dark — including sweet dark, semisweet, bitter and bittersweet chocolate. Dark chocolate candy sales increased in double digits last year — more than 11 percent and maybe as high as 16 percent, report several industry sources. That is in great contrast to milk chocolate and the total chocolate category as a whole — which have both been flat recently. Five-year sales figures for dark chocolate show an even more impressive gain — more than 30 percent.
The latest (Swiss) study finds a little dark chocolate each day could slow hardening of the arteries in smokers. Previous research shows dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure and increase arterial blood flow.
Dark bars have sprung from all the major mass retailers — thus 3.5-ounce versions can now be enjoyed for as low as $1.99 to $2.49. “Premium” manufacturers’ dark chocolate bars can cost double that, but some of them are “miniaturizing” their chocolates so that everyone can afford a small bite.
Coffee and wine trends have spilled over into chocolate; that is, consumers now desire richer, more complex flavors and “upscale” products from these categories. And if those desires are met conveniently, they’ll indulge a bit every day. Thus, dark chocolate also belongs amid the coffee and the wine — especially if those categories are merchandised as a “store within a store” concept.
Seasonal Opportunities
“A 1.6-oz piece of dark chocolate a day helps keep the doctor away,” is literally being blasted through the media, thanks to the many studies reporting the beneficial effects of dark chocolate’s rich antioxidant power, taken in small daily doses. While this is pushing more of an “everyday” opportunity for the sub-category, retailers should note that Valentine’s Day and Christmas are still the most popular holidays for premium chocolate, and thus, the best time to invest in seasonal gift boxes, bars and bags that are exclusively dark.
Industry experts say that as part of premium chocolate, dark chocolate will continue its trend of double-digit sales growth in the next five years. n Merchandising Must

Darken the mix. The trend has already hit the specialty stores for a “complete flip-flop” of their milk chocolate to dark chocolate sales ratio, with dark chocolate now being the much stronger seller, according to distributors. Mass retailers should “up their antes” of dark in the mix and be prepared to raise it even more in years to come as American consumers deepen their chocolate palate.