U.S. chocolate sales could hit $18.8 billion this year, an 18-percent jump from 2011, according to statistics from Euromonitor International. And consumer demand is encouraging more high-end chocolate launches, says a report this week in the Wall Street Journal.
Chocolate seems healthy when it's high in cocoa, low in sugar and full of premium ingredients, consumers justify. It also helps to be organic, with fair-trade origins. The attraction of premium ingredients as well as luxurious, creative packaging have also contributed to the weight gain in sales. Godiva's new $7 chocolate bars, for instance, feature indented squares that handily fit a thumb so eaters can snap one piece at a time.
The Journal's article maintains the fairly low sugar content in a piece of premium Godiva chocolate doesn’t worry consumers the way other sweets might, according to Nagisa Manabe, head of marketing and innovation for Godiva North America. "Having a small bit of chocolate isn’t the thing that’s going to kill you," Manabe says.
Mintel suggests that nearly half of consumers buying chocolate favor high-end ingredients. "They say that's their health-permissibility factor,' notes Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insight for Mintel’s food and drink division. Dark chocolate, with its higher cocoa content, is also perceived as healthier, she says. Five years ago, only about one-third of U.S. chocolate eaters said they preferred dark chocolate, but by last year, some 42 percent of U.S. chocolate eaters said they preferred it to other types of chocolate, according to Mintel research.
Premium brands like Lindt and Godiva are increasing their offerings, and other companies such as 7-Eleven and Hormel-owned Justin's are also launching high-end chocolate products to appease a sweet tooth.
Individually wrapped single pieces at department stores and convenience stores, groceries and gas stations give weary holiday shoppers craving a reward a small indulgence, retailers and chocolatiers claim. "If you’re going to indulge, you might as well do it with the best chocolate possible," says Danielle O’Neil, vice president of marketing for Lindt USA. One of Lindt’s hot sellers is a chocolate bar containing 90-percent cocoa, says O’Neil. "As consumers try dark chocolate, they start to test themselves," she explains. "They might begin at a lower rate, but then go up to 70-percent, then 85-percent, and then a 90-percent chocolate bar."
To maximize chocolate's healthful attributes, choose products with a higher cocoa content, recommends Katherine Zeratsky, a dietitian from Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Zeratsky says chocolate with 65 percent cocoa or higher, and one that limits added sugar or fat, is a good choice. However, she cautions, while chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease, it's best enjoyed in moderation.