In countries such as Australia and Russia, Mondelez has begun marketing high-cocoa versions of its mainstream bars such as Cadbury and Milka under the label Dark Milk.
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Mars—the chocolate retail market leader according to Euromonitor—launched Dove Peanut Butter & Dark Chocolate Promises as well as Twix Dark in North America this year.
Large confectionery companies are also venturing into snack and cereal bars including chocolate, seeking to take advantage of growing global demand for healthier snacks.
According to Euromonitor, the volume of snack bar sales has risen an average 2.6 percent a year for the past five years and is expected to grow 2.4 percent a year going forward.
While these snacks are often smaller than traditional chocolate bars, they typically earn companies a bigger margin.
This year, Mars unveiled its goodnessKNOWS snack bars in Britain, its biggest product launch in the country in two decades. The bar, split into three bite-sized pieces, is made of nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate.
Mars, which makes M&Ms and Snickers bars, has also taken a stake in KIND, the third-biggest maker of snack bars worldwide.
Other chocolate makers have turned to creating recipes with ingredients geared towards health-conscious consumers.
Germany’s Ritter Sport, for example, has launched vegan chocolate with grains such as quinoa and amaranth and is working on a vegan “milk” chocolate bar, using a dairy substitute.
Emma Calvert, food policy officer at the European Consumer Organization lobby group, is skeptical, however, about the health drive by major chocolate makers.
“For us, this is a marketing tool rather than any strategy to actually help improve the health of consumers,” she said.
“They might be using coconut oil for fat or agave syrup instead of sugar,” said Calvert. “But it’s still a type of sugar and would contribute to your excess calories. It’s a way to give a healthy halo to products that really shouldn’t have it.”
Some niche chocolate makers are focusing on a combination of luxury and health.
At Rabot 1745 in London, a cafe, restaurant and shop owned by Hotel Chocolat, bars with cocoa beans from a defined part of the company’s Saint Lucia plantation are sold alongside sugar-free 65 percent chocolate made with buffalo milk.
Angus Thirlwell, co-founder and CEO of Hotel Chocolat, a British company with more than 70 outlets across the country, hopes different kinds of cocoa beans will attract the same premium value attached to certain coffee beans or grapes.
“The wine world has achieved a much better balance between growing grapes and the added value of the final product,” he said. “Chocolate has lost its way but is finding it again.”
While companies such as Hotel Chocolat source specialty cocoa with a more distinct flavor from Ecuador or Brazil, most mainstream chocolate is made from mass-processed beans grown in Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s top two producers.
The beans are usually mixed together without regard for whether cocoa from different trees or plantations can produce varied tastes, textures, or colors.
But this could be changing. Barry Callebaut, the world’s leading provider of chocolate products for businesses, unveiled a new type of chocolate this year with a pink hue and fruity taste: ruby chocolate.
Barry Callebaut determines if beans have the properties that make ruby chocolate by testing cocoa pods on plantations for particular genetic properties.
“The market is moving more towards understanding taste,” said Bas Smit, head of global marketing for Barry Callebaut. “It’s about hunting for the unique.”
($1 = 112.6500 yen)