dark chocolate trends

(Photo: Flickr user John Loo)

It’s no secret that when it comes to chocolate trends, dark chocolate has grown increasingly popular with consumers who like their indulgences with a side of health benefits. Now that dark chocolate has become much more mainstream and in demand, a growing number of consumers have become accustomed to the stronger, less-sweet taste, chocolate makers say. And, as with most consumer food trends, familiarity breeds a craving for something new, from sea salt and nuts to fruit and black pepper.

In a study last year, Mintel found that while milk chocolate is still the top choice, more than a third of consumers now prefer dark chocolate to other varieties.

That percentage jumps in the over-55 age group, to 46% for men and 48% for women, and 73% of all respondents said they know dark chocolate is better for their health. The higher level of cocoa flavonoids in dark chocolate are reported to have beneficial effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In addition, dark chocolates without milk fats are the only chocolate option for vegans.

Many of those new chocolate trends were on display at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City earlier this month.

“People are really turned on by the health benefits,” said Deb Morris of Barkeater Chocolates. “It’s more than a fad.”

New York-based Barkeater came out with a couple new dark chocolate products this year, including a Black Raspberry bar made with black pepper, which gives it a spicy kick that comes after the fruity flavor has mellowed in the mouth.

Hershey-owned ScharffenBerger had a head start when it came to developing new dark chocolate products, said sales manager Eldyn Tarbush, because much of the company’s business grew out of making chocolate for home bakers, and much of that was dark or semi-sweet.

This year, two of the four new products the company bowed at the show were dark chocolate, including a bar made with pistachios and sea salt.

“People are used to the dark taste, now they want something in it,” he said.

U.S. companies weren’t the only ones with new dark chocolate treats at the show. Russia-based Uniconf showed off its Darx line, which includes a dark chocolate bar with orange and almonds and another with hazelnuts and raisins. The 210-year-old company grows its own cocoa beans in Ghana, produces its own sugar beets and sugar cane and makes the chocolate in in 22 Russian factories, said Business Development Manager Vlad Glen.

The company distributes its sweets throughout Europe and parts of Asia, and it’s on a mission to make the leap from ethnic specialty stores to mainstream retailers in the U.S. Demand for dark chocolate is on the rise around the world, Glen said.

“The original chocolate was dark and bitter,” he said. “So they added sugar to make it sweeter. Now, with a global tendency toward healthier foods, the darker the better.”

Dark chocolate makers tout the health benefits, and some like Chicago-based Vosges Haut-Chocolat take it further with new bars made with “super foods” such as matcha green tea and spirulina, and acai and golden berry. Of course, the more indulgent creations are also available — including the Super Dark Bacon Bar.

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