Low-sugar options, keto, and dark chocolate are trending—but what about in 2023?

Candy Industry was recently able to touch base with Peter Higgins, president, Chocxo, about 2022 trends, as well as what trends will be popular next year.

Liz Parker: What consumer trends were popular in 2022? What trends will be popular in 2023?

Peter Higgins: Within the chocolate category, we saw an increased consumer interest in organic/non-GMO, plant-based, and lower-sugar chocolates. For example, within the Natural Organic channels, products with less than 10g of sugar per serving have been responsible for driving category growth while products with higher sugar levels declined.

We anticipate seeing continued interest in lower sugar, particularly brands that don’t use artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, plant-based chocolate, and brands that are taking extra steps to address the environment and sustainability through their packaging, causes, and ingredient sourcing.

LP: Chocxo uses real organic sugar. How hard is it to source it?

PH: Sourcing organic cane sugar is critical to differentiate our brand versus conventional/non-organic brands and brands that are using sugar alternatives, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols. We sweeten our truly indulgent Chocxo chocolates with just a small amount of organic cane sugar and nothing else. Our products range from 2g-8g of sugar per serving and are often 30-50% lower in sugar versus the competition. It is a key ingredient in our recipes and thankfully, it has not proven particularly difficult to source.

LP: Why is there an increasing consumer demand for low-sugar products?

PH: Over the years, consumers have shifted away from low-fat or low-carb diets and are increasingly more interested in eating whole, natural, nutrient-dense foods that are lower in sugar as part of a healthy lifestyle. However, consumers still want to indulge, and products that are naturally lower in sugar are a great way to satisfy that chocolate craving without undoing the good choices they are making in their daily nutritional choices. 

I think consumers have also realized that products that are higher in sugar are likely compensating for lack of quality or naturally delicious flavor in the product’s other ingredients. Chocxo is committed to sourcing the highest quality organic ingredients that are naturally flavorful and don’t require large amounts of sugar to taste delicious.

LP: How has the consumer’s shift away from keto products evolved, and also recently accelerated?

PH: The keto diet experienced many years of strong growth and what nutritionists and dietary experts are now saying is that many consumers who were strictly following keto and other rigid diets may not be following them so strictly anymore, but have kept key learnings from the experience and maintain a desire for lower-sugar foods in their diet—they make them feel better and still satisfy their palates.

Many consumers also realized that many keto-designed foods were using alternative and artificial ingredients that they either didn’t like the taste or didn’t want in their foods. In chocolate, those were often the sugar replacements like monk fruit, stevia, erythritol, allulose, and maltitol—many of which leave a consumer with an unpleasant aftertaste or a mouth-cooling sensation that can negatively impact that moment of indulgence.

Products that can maintain keto certification, less than 6g sugar per serving, and deliver that lower sugar benefit with cleaner ingredient labels and great taste will be able to maintain their past and present keto consumers.

LP: How are consumers tapping into the health benefits of dark chocolate?

PH: For years now, consumers have started to appreciate the naturally good benefits of dark chocolate. High percentage cacao dark chocolates, like those that Chocxo uses that range from 60-85% cacao, are a natural source of antioxidants, fiber and minerals such as iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is also good—consisting mostly of oleic acid (a heart-healthy fat), stearic acid, and palmitic acid.

Studies have shown that these properties of dark chocolate have powerful health benefits for both heart and brain health, especially when those products are not overladen with added sugar. 

Consumers are trying to always be better and get more from their food. With high cacao dark chocolates, they can get true indulgence and also health benefits—a win-win.