Shifting Trends in Chocolate: 2017 and beyond

Chocolate has always been an emotive product. A real feel-good food, associated with love, relieving stress, bad moods and generally making us feel better. That should be enough, but the chocolate world is constantly evolving never the same from one year to the next.

Just now chocolate makers are financially exposed to prices for packaging cocoa beans the £ $ rates and of course the ‘Brexit effect’; it’s difficult to pass on the price to UK consumers, so makers are looking to export markets. The cocoa industry also faces increased legislation and regulation due to the public debate around fat, sugar and child labour policies.

Premium and dark chocolate are the strongest segments of the market in terms of % growth but not yet in market share. Here are a few more trends I see emerging in 2017:

Premium, healthy, sustainable, miniaturisation and clean are some of the key trends driving chocolate in 2017 but the overall market for confectionery is having a tough time with margins in decline along with slowing demand in Europe and other export markets.

choc 1Miniaturisation of Chocolate Bars
Industrial and craft chocolate companies are now moving towards making miniature bars. Fast and busy lifestyles. Time is precious. Consumers are looking for food on-the-go to satisfy their snacking needs. Chocolate is no exception to this trend. These new sizes range from 15g to 35g Easy to carry in a hand bag. Miniature bars perfectly meet the demand for practicality.
Craft chocolate companies are taking advantage of this trend by introducing smaller sizes of their bestselling bars or using it as a method of trialling new variants.

With this in mind many of the main stream confectionary companies have reduced the size of their bars which has cause suspicion among some consumers (shrinkflation) with recent research saying consumers don’t want their favourite bar to shrink threatening to change brands.

Demand for premium chocolate is at an all-time high with provenance and origin being key amongst cocoa and chocolate products. The lasting trend of single origin is still prevalent as it’s not enough to just offer ‘salted caramel truffles’, the salt also needs provenance, a story; think Himalayan sea salt or Kalahari Desert salt smoked over French oak.

We have seen the third wave in artisan chocolate production with new bean to bar makers starting every week pushing the quality further upward towards the bean to bar pioneers like Duffy Sheardown.

choc 2Clean label
Sustainable and clean certified chocolate is now spreading to new countries and categories. It is important to know where food comes from and how it is produced. True ethical and environmental costs really matter to today’s consumer. Examples of this trend can be seen as Ferrero announced in July it will increase the Blitzer trade source. In February 2017, The Co-Op announced that all cocoa used in own-brand products will be Fairtrade certified, signalling a clear CSR agenda but also the currency that it feels this provides for its members.

Every bean-to-bar producer would like to have a unique mould to create that special experience and identity. I use a sensory tasting stick to demonstrate how we use all of our senses when we taste chocolate.

choc 3It may not be practical to have a bespoke mould but it is important to create a sense of brand identity. The chocolate market is busy, noisy and confusing for a shopper and producers must find new ways to be memorable.

Along with the trend for sugar reduction, gluten-free and lactose-free claims are increasingly being seen in cocoa and chocolate with milk alternatives such as almond or coconut milk appearing on the label.

Ingredients such as turmeric and other Indian spices are now taking over not only kitchens but also chocolatiers laboratories. Moreover, chocolate bars that include superfoods grow in popularity every day. Given its beneficial properties, it’s no big surprise that turmeric is becoming the favourite ingredient for many health-oriented brands.

New flavours and textures:
We are seeing chocolatiers using more exotic and unique flavours. Herbs like fennel and basil, fruits like yuzu, sour cherries and even vegetables like kale, beetroot piccalilli!

The savoury trend, which started some years ago, with salted caramel, continues and we see more activity every year with flavours like bacon be paired with chocolate. Chocolate based BBQ rubs and crusts are young and emerging trends.

choc 4Asian ingredients exotic, intriguing, mostly sour, like miso, wasabi and soy sauce into truffles and pralines. Caramel is often used as the sweet to their sour. Matcha green tea is also another popular flavour.

After vanilla and saffron, cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice. However, its price hasn’t stopped chocolate professionals from turning it into a trending inclusion.

Black figs chewy, sweet, this sweet fruit pairs perfectly well with dark chocolate.

Rare and single malts paired with bean to bar chocolate continue to excite and impress.

In summary, the chocolate world continues to be fast changing and exciting. Chocolatiers are responding to consumers that are demanding more from their sweet, or savoury, treat. The key trends I’ve highlighted are around size, premiumisation, clean credentials, personalisation, health and exotic flavours. If we look further into the future I’m confident we’ll start to see insects creeping into our chocolate repertoire but that’s certainly a few years away!

By David Greenwood-Haigh FIH