Chocolate will never go out of style—whether as a gift or for consumers to purchase for themselves, it is ubiquitous. Chocolate companies, however, have been diversifying their products and are also aiming to stay up to date with their sustainability and improvement goals.
According to Chicago-based market research firm IRI’s data from the past 52 weeks, which ended on January 1, the chocolate candy category brought in $18.1 billion, with an increase of 9.1% from the same time period during 2022.
The “chocolate candy box/bag/bar over 3.5-oz.” category brought in $7.1 billion of that, with a 9.9% increase in sales, and the same category with products less than 3.5 ounces brought in $5.3 billion, with a 7.5% increase in sales. Snack-sized chocolate candy brought in $1.29 billion, with a 10.8% increase.
Diving deeper, in the “chocolate candy box/bag/bar over 3.5-oz.” category, Hershey took the lead, with $2.82 billion in sales and a 12.7% uptick from last year. Mars Wrigley brought in $1.973 billion, with a 4.4% increase, and Lindt & Sprungli brought in $532 million, with a 13.5% increase.
In the under 3.5 ounces category, Hershey and Mars Wrigley again took first and second, with sales of $2.4 billion and $1.78 billion respectively, and a change of 2.8% and 10.8% respectively. Ferrero Ardennes took third, with $326 million in sales and an 11.7% increase.
In the snack size category, Hershey and Mars Wrigley again dominated, with $748 million and $395 million in sales, respectively, and changes of 13.2% and 3.9%. Ferrero USA took third, with $152 billion in sales and a 19.1% increase from last year.
The Hershey Company says that its recent new products include Reese’s Big Cup Stuffed with Reese’s Puffs Cereal, Reese’s Dipped Animal Crackers, and Reese’s Popcorn. In addition, the company launched Kit Kit Blueberry Muffin flavor as a limited offering last summer.
“Additionally, we brought back former fan-favorite Kit Kat Birthday Cake in November as a permanent offering in our portfolio. Hershey also launched new seasonal offerings including Kit Kat Breaking Bones during the Halloween season and Hershey's Kisses Chocolate Dipped Strawberry for Valentine’s Day. As a snacking [company], Hershey’s broad portfolio ranges from indulgent to better-for-you across sweet, salty, and a combination of sweet & salty,” the brand finishes.
Timothy Moley, founder and CEO, Chocolove, Boulder, CO, says that Chocolove recently relaunched its mini-bar line in new flow wrappers to promote food safety and quality.
“The mini-bar line relaunch is still in a series of steps toward the final iteration. Additionally, Master Chocolatier Patrick Peeters and I have been having fun in the gourmet super-premium side of our business, and we recently launched what we consider to be the world’s best-tasting Hazelnut Cocoa Spread,” he adds.
Miguel Zorrilla, vice president of the Kinder Joy brand, Parsippany, NJ, says that the brand’s latest offering is its NBA collection, which features 12 unique NBA mascot toys to connect one generation of fans to the next. The collection officially rolled out this month.
Zorrilla says that Kinder Joy is constantly innovating—whether expanding ways to play or leaning into a variety of consumption moments—to meet the ever-changing interests of consumers.
“We do this by developing new toy collections with brands that foster family connections and ignite imagination, such as the Avatar toy collection and the NBA collection. We also do this by creating new ways to lean into seasonal moments when families come together to celebrate; for example, our new Birthday pack,” he says.
Troy Pearley, EVP, general manager, North America, Divine Chocolate, Washington, D.C., says that in January 2022, Divine launched two new Superfruits bars in milk and dark chocolate in the U.S.
“Inspired by the ‘better-for-you’ ingredients trend, Divine created these bars to include blackcurrants, cranberries, and elderberries, which are known for their antioxidants. The combination of these berries and warm vanilla delivers a harmonious experience for both milk and dark chocolate lovers. Divine’s creamy milk chocolate balances the sourness of these berries while its dark chocolate offsets the sourness, offering a softer taste experience,” Pearley notes.
Marcela Jaramillo, vice president of marketing, B4B chocolate manufacturer, Luker Chocolate says that in the past year, the brand has introduced a host of new products into its Balance portfolio.
“This line provides brands with couvertures that appeal to conscious consumers wanting better-for-you products, without sacrificing on taste. Notably, we launched our No Added Sugar Oat M!lk 43% couverture in January, which offers a creamy plant-based option sweetened with a blend of Erythritol and Stevia.”
Mars Wrigley (Newark, NJ) also launched many new products over the past year. Mike Gilroy, vice president of trade development and sponsorships, says that the company is “obsessed with our consumers and constantly in touch with them to understand what they’re looking for from us.”
Across the company’s Treats & Snacks portfolio, it has strategically rolled out research-backed products that meet consumer demands, he says.
Within the past year, it has launched:
- M&M’S Caramel Cold Brew – Tapping into the booming cold brew coffee scene and pairing it with one of its fan-favorite products, M&M’S Caramel Cold Brew delivers a combination of coffee flavor and sweet caramel, covered in M&M’S milk chocolate and wrapped in a candy shell. M&M’S Caramel Cold Brew will start rolling out at retail across the U.S. this spring.
- M&M’S Flipping The Status Quo Packs – To celebrate women who are flipping the status quo, M&M’S released its first-ever packs spotlighting dynamic female M&M'S characters this past January. The limited-edition product features Purple, Brown, and Green on inspirational packaging, and is the first united representation of the female trio spokescandies. These debut M&M'S packs come as the next chapter for Mars' newest M&M'S character, Purple, featuring her not only on packaging but inside packaging as well, alongside green and brown candies. M&M’S Flipping The Status Quo Packs are currently available in retailers nationally.
- Snickers Hi Protein – Stepping into the performance nutrition space, Snickers Hi Protein bars feature the same chocolate, caramel, and peanut ingredients associated with Snickers but are now packed with twenty grams of protein. Snickers Hi Protein is currently available at select retailers with nationwide distribution later this year.
Norman Love, CEO and founder, Norman Love Confections, Fort Myers, FL, says that the brand has five new products it introduced over the past year. They include:
- Advent calendars – a new 24-piece Advent Calendar was introduced for the holidays in 2022.
- Hot Chocolate Bombs – seasonal and several additional flavors including a Valentine’s Day chocolate bomb.
- Latin-influenced line to be introduced this spring.
- Five-layer cake
- Specialty boxes
Gilroy says that sustainability continues to be high on the agenda, for both leaders across the confectionery industry and Mars’s consumers, who are seeking products with reduced packaging and more opportunities to recycle.
“At Mars, since launching our multi-billion-dollar Sustainable in a Generation Plan in 2017, we are transforming how we do business across our confectionery, food, and pet segments by making changes in three key areas: Healthy Planet, Thriving People, and Nourishing Wellbeing,” he notes.
“We’ve set a science-based climate target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions across our full value chain by 2050 and plan to achieve this by doing things like transitioning to 100% renewable energy, redesigning our supply chains, and scaling up initiatives in sustainable and regenerative agriculture,” Gilroy continues.
“While packaging is a key focus across our segments, within Mars, this is one area where we’re doubling down and working hard on packaging innovations. In 2021, we announced that we were eliminating the traditional plastic overlap from our M&M’S Theater Boxes, making the packaging fully recyclable—an adjustment that will remove 98 metric tons of plastic waste a year,” he expands.
“In 2022, together with Berry Global, we announced the launch of our pantry-sized M&M’S in polyethylene terephthalate jars that have been optimized to be lighter weight and include 15% post-consumer resin. The jars will eliminate approximately 300 tons of virgin plastic per year. And, on a global level, we announced that over 220 million Mars bars sold in the UK, Ireland, and Canada will be certified as carbon neutral by 2023,” Gilroy finishes.
Madison Lindsay, associate marketing manager, Niagara Chocolates, Buffalo, NY, says that the brand sees sustainability as a major theme in the industry.
“It is a core value of our parent company, Migros, and is in our DNA. Our understanding of sustainability is based on the three-pillar model: environment, society, and economy. Our long-term economic success is based on the equal weighting of social, ecological, and economic aspects while respecting and complying with environmentally relevant and social values,” she shares.
“Looking at the consumer, the data shows millennial and Gen Z consumers are expecting brands to make more product claims than previous generations demanded and sustainability is certainly at the top of the list. For Gen-Z especially, seeing a brand that engages in sustainable practices establishes a set of shared values that gives a sense of relatability and comfort,” Lindsay adds.
Jaramillo says that the chocolate industry worldwide has a complex relationship with sustainability.
“It’s important to remember that sustainability initiatives shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all; each farmer, region, and country has unique challenges that demand unique solutions. Blanket approaches simply don’t work, so we must work closely with each farmer to understand their individual needs, taking a grassroots approach to sustainable development,” he comments.
“By tackling local needs first—from equitable pay and access to sustainable farming techniques—we have built a solid foundation of trust and understanding, from which we can enhance ethical cocoa production in Colombia. Through our collaborative sustainability model, The Chocolate Dream, we drive positive results across farmer income, environmental protection, and social impact. If we continue to listen to farmers and take a hyper-local approach, we can identify new challenges sooner and act faster for the protection of the planet and of cocoa-growing economies worldwide,” Jaramillo suggests.
“Wellness remains a core focus of our R&D team. With challenger brands looking to address the needs of the conscious consumer, we are working with our clients to produce products right for their audiences. In 2023, we remain committed to innovation, developing better-for-you products that taste great and are kinder to the body,” he says.
“True to our values, we are on track for our 2030 Net Zero goal, having joined the UN Race to Zero campaign. Our progress is encouraging, having achieved 100% carbon neutrality across both scopes 1 and 2 since 2021. Most recently, we launched ‘Project Sunflower,’ in which we installed solar panels on the roof of our production plant in Bogota—the first step in using clean energy to produce our chocolate. The project will reduce our carbon footprint by 161 tons per annum and save energy usage by 275,000 kWh per year,” Jaramillo adds.
“We are also excited to share that we are in the process of becoming BCorp accredited, joining the ranks of incredible businesses taking action on sustainability and ethical leadership,” he elaborates.
Hershey’s purpose is to “Make More Moments of Goodness” for its consumers for many generations to come, says the company.
“Integral to achieving that is our holistic sustainability strategy: our Shared Goodness Promise. This promise guides how we empower the people who make and sell our brands; interact with farming communities that grow our ingredients; deliver on our commitments to consumers, customers, and external stakeholders; and protect the environment and support children and youth,” the brand shares.
“We are making significant strides across our most important environmental, social, and governance priorities—cocoa sustainability; responsibly sourcing our ingredients; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and our environmental agenda, which are detailed in our latest ESG report,” the brand says.
Moley says that the cocoa industry overall is making positive strides toward sustaining the livelihood of cocoa farmers.
“I think that’s in part because every chocolate company has a vested interest in seeing the cocoa farmer succeed. Each company has a different approach to supporting farmers, but that variety is good. The perennial matter of how to help someone both in the manner they want to be helped, and in a way that is lasting, still remains,” he notes.
“The industry tends to look at the word sustainability from a very practical standpoint, as sustaining the cocoa farmer is indeed sustaining the cocoa industry—we are very aware that we are all in this together. The feelings of humanity are also evident; we want to see cocoa farmers not only sustained but thriving,” Moley adds.
Packaging, ecommerce challenges
Love says that his company has experienced cost increases due to freight/shipping, and packaging challenges because of paper and material shortages. In addition, demand is increasing nationwide for ultra-premium, artisanal chocolates.
“Norman Love Chocolates (NLC) made substantial improvements to [our] ecommerce platform because that division of the business continues to surge. Ecommerce has been one of NLC’s most favorable revenue streams and continues to show the highest rate of growth,” he says.
Love doesn’t expect e-commerce to slow in the foreseeable future, so plans on continuing to focus on that aspect of sales. Areas of focus for e-commerce for NLC include the technology/ecommerce platform; visuals and creative (eye-appealing); and social media.
As far as trends go, Moley says Chocolove’s consumer trend line is toward consuming more chocolate on a daily use occasion as compared to a seasonal use occasion.
“The other trend line is as daily use increases, so too do consumer sophistication and taste, as well as a willingness to pay more for better quality chocolate. I am pleased to see more companies move toward alternative packaging with the industry exploring recyclable, compostable, and bio-packaging. Again, the beauty of this diverse industry is the variety of approaches being taken. While some approaches better meet consumer needs, it is good to see so many firms trying and pushing this trend forward,” he notes.
For ecommerce, the company has a novel product in development specifically for that arena that it imagines will be “interesting and amusing.”
“Other than that, we follow a more traditional approach to ecommerce, using the same techniques and practices many chocolate firms follow these days,” elaborates Moley.
Hershey says that as consumer needs change and shopper behavior evolves, it’s the company’s job to meet them where they are.
“Since the height of the pandemic, consumers have been finding new ways to enjoy time at home and continue to do so as their routines evolve. They are doing more of what brings them joy—particularly spending time with family and enjoying home-centric activities like game or movie night and embracing snacking as part of self-care and affordable indulgence,” the company says.
“We also continue to see snacking occasions/frequency increase throughout the day. While this trend was emerging prior to the pandemic, it has continued to accelerate as consumer mobility increases and diverges from three main meals to various snacks throughout the day,” says Hershey.
Through packaging innovation, Hershey strives to help its retail partners give consumers access to their favorite treats in a variety of sizes.
“We have seen an increase in sharing occasions across snacking, which is driving sales across larger pack sizes. Whether it’s more summer road trips or get-togethers with families and friends, consumers are sharing more of the snacks they love,” the company adds.
For ecommerce, the consumer's shopper journey is not offline or online, it’s interwoven, suggests Hershey.
“Consumers continue to demand a seamless digital experience to bring it all together via mobile ordering, curbside pickup, and customized loyalty programs. Hershey has digitally met shoppers when they’re in the physical store space too. When shoppers pick up their click-and-collect groceries, digital promotions can help drive additional purchases if consumers still go in-store for items not included in their digital order,” the company adds.
“Innovation remains an important part of our model, and we have several items we are launching this year that we believe will generate consumer engagement and strong merchandising in-store. Look for more variations of favorite treats and expanded flavor profiles in the coming months,” Hershey finishes.
Jennifer Peterson, brand director, Fannie May Chocolates, Chicago, says that Fannie May has concentrated its marketing efforts first in the Midwest region, where its presence is better known, and then expanded to incremental markets that have historically high premium chocolate demand.
“With our recently launched Direct-To-Consumer platform, people across the nation who miss being near a Fannie May store can enjoy their favorites, and we’re able to reach new fans,” Peterson says.
As to consumer trends, premiumization is a long-term trend within confection and many other categories as American consumers insist on elevated experiences, affordable luxuries, and truly unique gifts, she shares.
Pearley says chocolate consumers are also becoming more mindful of what they put into their bodies, seeking out natural, “better-for-you” ingredients.
“Newer ethical brands, like Lily’s and Hu, are grabbing consumer attention by not including sugar or artificial flavors. Divine Chocolate is made with Fairtrade cocoa and sugar, pure cocoa butter, and natural ingredients, and does not use artificial flavors, palm oil, or soy,” he explains.
Most of the large chocolate brands make claims in their branding and packaging that they are ethical, but use their own set of standards rather than a reputable third party, Pearley notes.
“For consumers that care about transparency in supply chains and the fair treatment of cocoa farmers, they should look for certifications like Fairtrade and B Corp.,” he suggests.
On the ecommerce side, Divine launched sales on Amazon in the U.S. in October 2021 and will be revising its American webshop in the near future to provide consumers with a better shopping experience.
Jaramillo agrees that the “conscious consumer remains a key audience for innovative chocolate brands in 2023.”
According to Innova Market Insights’ 2022 report, 41% of consumers believe developing new food products should be driven by health and wellness.
“Like all chocolate buyers, these conscious consumers want a tasty and indulgent treat. But they are also looking for products that align with their approach to holistic well-being. For chocolate, this may be in the form of products with reduced sugar or plant-based ingredients, to name just a few,” Jaramillo predicts.
On the flip side, Lindsay says that although Niagara Chocolates is seeing trends in the industry towards “better-for-you,” “low-sugar," etc., the company’s research shows that the majority of consumers still come to the chocolate aisle to treat themselves to an indulgent experience.
“While we offer simple, natural ingredients with our Niagara Chocolates brand, we are always sure to deliver indulgence in our small-batch recipes. Very related to this is the theme of nostalgia—especially during the holiday season we see consumers gravitating towards familiar classic flavors such as gingerbread and sugar cookie,” she says.
“These are noted by the flavor experts at the Kerry Flavor Institute and we have built them into our holiday 2022 and 2023 lines. Gingerbread was our #1 seller on ecommerce—consumers went nuts and it sold out in 8 days!” Lindsay shares.
The company is continuing to make ecommerce a focus of its business. Amazon and its own site are major components, but it is seeing more and more an omnichannel approach from retailers, notes Lindsay.
“It is a key part of our strategy to partner with our brick-and-mortar customers to ensure our products are available on their ecommerce sites and we have robust product listings with SEO descriptions and good content to support,” she comments.
Gilroy says that aligning legacy brands with current trends is key to winning, and as Gen Z continues to gain buying power, Mars is looking at generational trends to make sure it’s staying relevant and bringing in new users while also satisfying existing ones.
“M&M’S is a great example of this. The brand is iconic, but to make it legendary we need to keep fans engaged and make it relevant for Gen Z to ensure consumers keep coming back. In 2022 alone we launched a new M&M’S brand visual identity and brand purpose focused on creating a world where everyone feels they belong,” he elaborates.
“We partnered with trailblazing artists on custom collaborations, and of course, introduced the first new character in over ten years, Purple—all of which helped cement the M&M’S brand on Morning Consult’s list of Gen Z’s favorite brands for 2022,” Gilroy adds.
For ecommerce, Mars is always evaluating how it can best leverage its portfolio in creative and engaging ways that always seek to put the consumer at the heart of everything we do, he says.
“While there’s been explosive growth in e-commerce as shoppers are increasingly choosing different methods of shopping for speed and convenience, consumer behaviors continue to show that shoppers are craving one-on-one connections with brands. Across our brands, we’re focused on creating connected and immersive shopping experiences for our customers—both online and in retail,” Gilroy elaborates.
“We support our wholesale and retail partners with creative 360 media campaigns to amplify the experience in-store, and we help our retail partners activate against brand campaigns and key moments with a range of display vehicles and promotional support, including digital activations, to capture and maximize on the impulse nature of the confectionery category,” he finishes.
Gilroy says that, in response to consumer demand, Snickers recently announced the return of a fan-favorite flavor, Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road.
“Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road is packed with roasted almonds and marshmallow-flavored nougat all covered in rich dark chocolate. These ingredients are combined with the same classic silky caramel in original Snickers that fans know and love, delivering a satisfying snacking experience,” he shares.
Lindsay says Niagara Chocolates has a new launch shipping on April 1 called “Crafter’s Café,” which is its take on a hipster coffee shop brought to life in chocolate—for example, bagged chocolates in flavors like Churros and Hot Chocolate or Jasmine Vanilla Matcha, and chocolate bars in flavors like Strawberry Donut and Honey Almond Cold Brew.
“We know that coffee is a top 10 inclusion in premium chocolate, but we are confident that no one has approached it like this before, and we want to surprise and delight consumers with our take on a coffee shop,” she comments.
Pearley says that this October, Divine Chocolate turns 25, and plans are underway to celebrate this huge milestone.
“In 1998, Divine was established by Kuapa Kokoo, the world’s largest Fairtrade cocoa cooperative, and several NGOs. Today, Kuapa still owns Divine, has 40% representation on Divine’s board of directors, and receives 2% of Divine’s sales to invest in farmer-led community programs,” he notes.
Divine is launching new products for the American market with its Christmas range, including pouches filled with dark and milk chocolate minis and two limited-edition peppermint bars in white and dark chocolate, Pearley says.
“Divine continues to expand its distribution in the U.S., gaining shelf placement in Dollar General nationally and select Target stores in September 2022. [In addition,] Divine continues to engage with other national retailers and large regional grocery chains to increase its availability to consumers,” he adds.
Moley says Chocolove will have a couple of new products and a product line to launch in 2023 that are worth watching for, though he prefers to talk about them when the company is ready to show them.
“What I can say is that we will continue to play in the gourmet and super-premium side of our business, with a focus on making the best possible chocolate that we can,” he shares.