There are many classic pairings for chocolate—such as peanut butter, raspberry, and mint—but for edibles manufacturers, there is one that tops all the rest: cannabis.

Not only is chocolate well-loved by consumers, but its fat content marries with cannabis oil to create a richer experience, said Angela Brown, co-founder and CEO of T.bear Inc. dba Coast Cannabis Co.

“Chocolate is amazing—good chocolate is even better,” she said. “The other thing is good chocolate carries good, healthy fat—cocoa butter—which is a great source for cannabis and cannabinoids to cling onto, match up with, and go on their little journey through your digestive track, turn into hydroxy-11, and work their magic. With gummies, you miss that. Most gummies are fairly low in fat or fat free.”

Chocolate represents 7% of overall edibles sales, but it occupies a higher share in Florida (13%), Massachusetts (12%), Illinois (8%), and Michigan (8%), according to recent BDSA data.

However, in the markets that BDSA tracks, chocolate sales dropped about 7% between January 2022 and December 2023.

While cannabis chocolate sales have dipped, manufacturers hope innovation around minor cannabinoids, flavor, doses and portion sizes will bring consumers back to the category.

“I hope people will reach for chocolate more,” Brown said. “It is such an enjoyable high. I think chocolate is such an amazing ingredient.”

Manufacturing considerations

Dave Owens, director of culinary for Missouri-based Proper Brands, also pointed to complementary fat content in chocolate and cannabis.

“We find that with cocoa butter it disperses really easily and we have good homogeneity with that,” he said. “We’re pretty successful with our testing on those products, so it’s worked out pretty well.”

Proper Brands, which creates extracts in addition to manufacturing infused confectionery products, incorporates its distillate into European chocolate. Owens, who previously served at St. Louis-based Bissinger’s, said Proper Brands turned to European chocolate for its familiarity and flavor, which harmonizes with other ingredients such as fruit and nuts.

“The European chocolate doesn’t really interfere with those flavor profiles,” he said. “It combines really well. That’s why we stuck with that. It really went back to my Bissinger’s days. We knew how great it tasted and the consumer appeal of that kind of chocolate.”

Owens also highlighted the importance of achieving complete breaks along the scored chocolate bar pieces to ensure consumers receive their desired 5 or 10 mg dose.

Honeybee Dark Chocolate Bar

When Coast Cannabis Co. began evaluating chocolate samples in 2017, Brown sought chocolate that was organic, FairTrade, and ethically sourced, as well as delicious. Her desire for high quality chocolate came from a lack of suitable edibles options at the time, she said.

“What turned me to my own kitchen, which then turned into this company, was the fact that the products I was being given for edibles—which is how I was consuming for my needs—were high fat, high sugar, terrible ingredients, very artificial,” she said. “They just weren’t great products. I thought to myself, ‘if this is something I’m going to consume daily for a medicinal purpose, there has got to be a better way.’”

Coast Cannabis Co. sources chocolate from a B Corp supplier directly connected with cocoa farms. The chocolate for Coast Cannabis' milk bars comes from Peru, while its dark bars feature fruity, floral 60% cacao chocolate from Peru and the Dominican Republic.

To develop flavor profiles, Coast Cannabis Co. turns to employees for inspiration, who have contributed flavors such as Almond Coconut & Sea Salt.

“We’re very excited and blessed that we have such a creative team internally that has so many great ideas,” she said. “Every bar we’ve put out has been successful.”

Product innovation

Coast Cannabis Co. offers bars in a variety of flavors, including Milk Chocolate S’mores—one of Brown’s favorites—Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch, Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate & Raspberry, White Chocolate Birthday Cake, White Chocolate Key Lime Pie, White Chocolate Berries & Cream, and White Chocolate Cookies & Cream.

Brown noted bringing flavors to market depends on whether the company can find organic and natural ingredients.

“There have been some flavor profiles that sounded amazing and we wanted to try them, but we couldn’t source the ingredients that would match the ethics standards that we have,” she said.

Coast Cannabis recently introduced a 1:1:1 Dark Chocolate Cranberry bar with THC, CBD, and CBN, inspired by one of the company’s gummy products. It’s quickly become one of Coast Cannabis’ top sellers. 

Coast Cannabis Dark Chocolate Cranberry Bar

In the meantime, the company is working on incorporating CBG and THCV into chocolate, as well as products with a larger piece size with less cannabis content for consumers who can’t resist taking more than one bite of chocolate.

Eli Weiner, brand manager for Green Thumb Industries’ incredibles brand, also pointed to how consumers turn to cannabis for help with sleep.

“Sleep is an ongoing problem to solve for consumers,” Weiner said. “According to the National Sleep Foundation, 35% of all adults in the U.S. report sleeping for less than seven hours per night on average, and between 10% and 30% of adults experience difficulty initiating or maintaining quality sleep. We wanted to offer a solution to consumers besides traditional over-the-counter products.”

incredibles offers the Snoozzzeberry bar, featuring 20 mg CBN and 100 mg THC. It’s made with milk and dark chocolate coating, puffed rice, and freeze-dried blueberries. The brand recently launched Snoozzzeberry bites in Illinois, featuring 2 mg CBN and 10 mg THC per piece.

When it comes to Missouri consumers, Owens said they prefer milk chocolate, as well as classic, indulgent flavor profiles.

“I can come up with some pretty complex flavor profiles, but if they are too complex, the consumer—at least the consumer here in Missouri—may not gravitate toward those,” he said. “They look for things that resonate with them.”

Among the chocolate bar offerings under Proper’s Honeybee brand are Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter and Jelly, Milk Chocolate Sticky Bun, Milk Chocolate Peanut + Pretzel, Milk Chocolate Toasted Coconut + Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Salted Brownie Batter, Dark Chocolate Espresso + Caramel + Toffee, Dark Chocolate Candy Cane Crunch, White Chocolate Cherry Pistachio, and Caramelized White Chocolate Strawberry Crunch.

Honeybee PBJ Bars

Proper Brands offers 100 mg THC bars and high-potency 300 mg THC bars, but Owens said they company may explore even higher doses, though there are concerns over balancing the chocolate and cannabis.

“When you look at a pitcher of distillate going into your melter, it looks like a whole lot,” he said. “So far we haven’t had any challenges, so I’m hoping that continues.”

Other market introductions

Several edibles manufacturers introduced unique chocolate products within the last year.

In May 2023, 4Front Ventures Corp. launched the Koko Gemz Variety Pack in Massachusetts. Featuring four varieties—Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Cookies & Cream, and Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate—each 20-piece package is made by the company's master chocolatiers with Belgian chocolate. Each piece includes 5 mg THC.

"We set out to bring cannabis consumers a great mix of sweet treats that use only the highest quality ingredients, and each of these little gemz does just that," said 4Front Ventures President Brandon Mills. "Our master chocolatiers are dedicated to delivering both taste and consistency with each sphere of chocolate delivering a smooth, decadent texture that can be enjoyed with confidence. We always try to focus on the products and flavors that people are enjoying the most and after researching the latest trends, we are confident longtime Koko Gemz fans and newcomers are going to equally love this new variety pack.”

Sunderstorm’s KANHA brand moved into the chocolate category in August, introducing limited-edition S’mores. Each piece delivered a symphony of marshmallows, crushed graham crackers, and chocolate made with cacao beans from small farms in Ecuador, Ghana and Ivory Coast. With 10 chocolates per package, each S'more contained 10 mg THC and aromatic terpenes. 

"Our first venture into chocolate is another example of KANHA making great-tasting products with consistent, reliable effects," said Cameron Clarke, co-founder and CEO of Sunderstorm."Whether you want to enjoy it by a campfire or as an everyday indulgence, S'mores is the ultimate summer treat for chocolate enthusiasts who love cannabis and outdoor adventure."

Last fall, GTI’s incredibles brand partnered with Magnolia Bakery to launch two limited-edition chocolate bars inspired by the New York City’s bakery’s signature banana pudding and red velvet cupcakes.

“When considering brands to partner with back in September 2022, we wanted to find brands that had similar values to incredibles: brands that evoke joy, are colorful, award-winning and trusted on a national level,” Weiner said. “Magnolia Bakery has set the standard for tried-and-true desserts, much like incredibles has set the standard for credible edibles that deliver on taste and consistency, so it was the perfect recipe for success.”

incredibles Magnolia Bakery chocolate bars

Specifically, the chocolate bars include:

  • Swirled Famous Banana Pudding Bar: Features a swirl of creamy vanilla pudding, crunchy vanilla cookies, and freeze-dried bananas, containing 10 mg THC per piece and 100 mg THC per bar.
  • Red Velvet Piece Ahhh Cake 1:1 Bar: Features flavors of moist red velvet cake, cream cheese tang, and rich dark chocolate, containing 10 mg THC and 10 mg CBD per piece and 100 mg THC and 100 mg CBD per bar.

“Foodies and cannabis connoisseurs are both loving the new way to experience these two iconic brands,” Weiner said. “We’ve seen a strong, positive response on social media especially over the holidays. Proudly, we’ve already sold through our initial inventory in Illinois and have re-ordered packaging given the high consumer demand.”

Last month, Texas Original debuted Dark Chocolate Bites, the company’s first chocolate product and the Lone Star State’s first medical cannabis chocolate product with Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). Made with 70% cacao Belgian dark chocolate, the bites include oil extracted from the Blue Dream medical cannabis strain, grown locally at Texas Original’s medical cannabis facility.

Following up last year’s launch of its Peanut Butter Smooches, Insa introduced the Red Velvet variety in time for Valentine’s Day. Each piece featured rich, velvety chocolate enrobing creamy red velvet ganache and 5 mg THC. 

“These products aim to give the aroma of passion while capturing the essence of love during this holiday season with a touch of rich and velvety chocolate flavors,” said Julian Rose, head chef and director of R&D at Insa.

Photos courtesy of Coast Cannabis Co., Proper Brands and Green Thumb Industries.