Dark Chocolate

Estimated U.S. Retail Market Size

$600 million
Source: The Nielsen Company/Nielsen Scantrack

Category Climate
Sure, the flavor is bittersweet, but sales certainly are not. Dark chocolate has taken the country—and confectionery—by storm. The National Confectioners Association (NCA) has just released its 2007 calculations showing dark chocolate sales excelled by 50 percent over 2006. Also consider these facts and figures from a recent report on the segment from The Nielsen Company:
• The dark chocolate category is worth approximately $600 million in sales and has grown by more than 122 percent in the past five years; this translates to a compounded annual growth rate of 17 percent.
• Dark chocolate’s share of the total chocolate category has doubled in five years to 10 percent.
• Dark chocolate is growing at eight times the rate of the entire chocolate candy category.
• Across the Food/Drug/Mass channels (excluding Wal-Mart) the average number of dark chocolate SKUs carried is fast approaching 50; this number five years ago was 17.
Other industry research reveals that while there is growth in both non-premium and premium dark chocolate, the latter segment demonstrates the strongest sales and share increases. Apparently, consumers are quickly recognizing the quality difference among dark chocolate offerings, while more mass-market retailers are enabling them to trade up to higher-quality dark-chocolate brands and price points.
Target Audience/Pricing
Career women, baby boomers, coffee drinkers, wine lovers, Hispanics, seniors and even “men in trees” ... the beauty of the dark chocolate surge from a marketing perspective is that it has allured adult consumers from all walks over to its “dark side.”
That said, there is a growing appreciation and sophistication among dark-chocolate consumers; many are becoming more discerning in their search for higher-quality dark chocolate. Thus, there are some sub-segment customer highlights to be noted, and they come from the premium chocolate category, one found to greatly overlap that of dark chocolate. Research has revealed that while premium chocolate is growing wildly in sales and share, and dark chocolate is growing concurrently, premium dark chocolate is growing (and overlapping) at the wildest growth points of all.
The multitude of marketers who are looking to enhance their premium dark chocolate lines should understand that between men and women, it is the women who are more likely to put their money where their better, darker chocolate is. In a special premium chocolate market report released last year, Mintel revealed that overall women respondents were willing to pay more than $1.25 per pound more (on average, $7.79 per pound) for “very high quality” chocolate vs. overall men respondents (who were willing to spend, on average, $6.52 per pound).
Of the age segments, men and women ages 18-34 were willing to spend the most on premium/dark chocolate, according to Mintel.
Not surprisingly, income levels have a lot to do with the price spent on good, dark chocolate, too. Mintel revealed that households earning $100K a year or more were willing to spend the most of any segment on premium/dark chocolate—on average, $8.76 per pound. Interestingly though, those households earning less than $25K a year were still willing to spend $6.47 per pound (the average across all incomes was $7.21).
Various regions of the country also produced differences in consumer willingness to spend more for better-quality dark chocolate. Those in the Northeast and West scored higher price-wise than the South and Midwest.
While the benchmark for premium chocolate has historically started at $8 per pound—that, like much of the dark chocolate, is being traded up. “Super premium” dark chocolate has now gained traction, commanding price points of $16 per pound and higher.
The finest dark chocolate has typically been offered up as bars, inner-wrapped in silver or gold foil, but the popularity of the category has expanded that to include more packaging that fits the lifestyles of today’s consumers. This includes mini “pop” tins for purses and pockets of people-on-the-go, as well as weatherproofed, hand-dipped wax casings for backpackers and hikers.
The prevalence of more young-adult and female dark-chocolate connoisseurs has also led the industry to reconfigure its traditional and non-traditional packaging to be more colorful, “hip” and descriptive in flavors and undertones.
Numbers are almost a dark chocolate package necessity now—meaning, of course, the numbers that reveal the cacao (often termed cocoa) content. The minimum requirement of dark chocolate is 43 percent, according to European standards, but American consumers are generally seeking out cacao content much higher than that—56, 60, 70, 85, even 99 percent for the “diehard darkies.”
More consumers understand today that the percentage number on a bar’s wrapper represents the bar’s weight that actually comes from the cacao bean. The rest of a chocolate bar is almost entirely sugar, so a “70 percent” chocolate bar will contain about 30 percent sugar.
A dedicated dark chocolate section is becoming the industry standard, even in supermarkets. With the continual SKU proliferation, it’s the only way to keep the category organized and moving. Retailers typically plan-o-gram by brand or cacao content, and by flagging “new” items.
Retailers are recognizing the analogy/pairing of dark chocolate and wine, and some are starting to play that up in-store by merchandising wine and good-quality chocolate side by side, on a shelf, in a basket, at an endcap, and coupling that with signage explaining which wines go with which chocolate. Retailers are also sampling wine and chocolate together at in-store tastings and events, much to the delight of adult shoppers, who are quickly catching on to the increasingly more mainstream taste trend. Strong coffees, teas and even some carbonated beverages are gaining momentum in the coupling at retail, too.
The growing appreciation and sophistication of dark-chocolate consumers will continue to fuel the category with unprecedented growth. This includes “fusion,” which includes the combination of dark chocolate with more spices, hot peppers, fruits, citrus rinds, and sea salt. More sophisticated/contemporary palates will also give way to the increased popularity of single-origin chocolates and upscale chocolates with more “urban-sounding” names.
Additionally, strong consumer interest in the reported health benefits of dark chocolate is predicted to increase.
Quick Bites
• Dark chocolate is the fastest-growing candy segment.
• Women and young adults will spend more for premium/dark.
• The days of wine and dark chocolate are here.
• There is the promise of more fusion in the future.