American shoppers buy less ‘ethical label’ chocolate than Europeans, says Euromonitor

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock/Roger Ashford
Photo: iStock/Roger Ashford

Related tags Sustainability

Chocolate sales peak around holiday season, and while Euromonitor analysts in Western Europe notice an increasing trend in ‘ethical label’ chocolate sales, the same can’t be said for its American counterparts.

Euromonitor analyst Hope Lee wrote in a blog post​ that in European countries, “sales of boxed chocolates peak at Christmas, and a growing number now carry ethical labels.” ​In Germany, retail sales of boxed chocolates bearing at least one ethical label reached US$1.4bn in 2015. Similarly, British shoppers spent US$1.3bn in the same category that year.

Germany's leading brands, Merci (Storck KG, August), Lindt (Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli AG), Ferrero Rocher and Mon Chéri (Ferrero Group), all have either third party sustainability certification or in-house sustainable development programs that ensure the company's transparency and responsibility in the chocolate supply chain, though Lee clarified that "thus far, there is no conclusive data to show that corporate engagement in sustainable agriculture practice and participation in programs to care for the planet help generate sales of boxed chocolates."

Do assorted boxes of chocolates with ethical labels fare as well in the US? Not so much. “Boxed assortments with at least one ethical labelling are definitely underdeveloped in the USA compared to other countries,” ​Ewa Hudson, head of health and wellness research at Euromonitor International, told FoodNavigator-USA.

What is ‘ethical’?

‘Ethical Labels’ defined by Euromonitor include environment/sustainability (trade and farming initiatives, responsible forestry, sustainable palm oil certifications, recycling labels), people (religious labels, origin labels, clean label, charity/sponsorship), and animal welfare (free-range, marine sustainability, vegetarian/vegan friendly).

While European data includes many of the labels above in its ethical chocolate sales number, the only ethical label with sales large enough to track in the US in the same category was Kosher, which reached $350m in 2015.

Forecasts: Chocolate bars a better bet for US shoppers

Looking into the future, boxed assortments with ethical labels will remain stagnant in the US, as Euromonitor projects sales in 2020 to be $350m—the same number as 2015.

According to Hudson, a better bet would be the ethical label chocolate bar category, which Euromonitor calls ‘countlines,’ like KitKats, Snickers, or Nutella and Go. Sales of ethical labelled varieties in this category were $5.9bn in 2015, projected to hit $6bn in 2017 and $6.3bn in 2020.

The best-selling ethical claims for countlines are Kosher, leading with $5.1bn in sales, and ‘widely recycled’ with $2bn (some of these may overlap). Slowly emerging is the ‘Rainforest Alliance’ label, which had $102m in sales in 2015, and is forecasted to reach $110 in 2020.

Is cocoa sustainability top of mind for consumers?

While the cocoa industry is championing more transparency and responsibility on how it manages the cocoa supply chain through a variety of labels and certifications, a random consumer-on-the-street interview in Chicago conducted by our sister title Confectionery News hinted that not many consumers are getting the message​.

The two leading ethical label sales tracked by Euromonitor in the US - Kosher and Widely Recycled - don’t have much to do with sustainability practices in the chocolate supply chain.

According to Marc Donaldson, a cocoa industry analyst and senior partner at On the Ball Consulting, there is a misconception among consumers that cocoa sustainability is linked to quality​, which is not the case.

“It may or may not improve the quality of the product, but its aim is to improve that social economic environment for cocoa farmers and their families,”​ Donaldson told Confectionery News. “Otherwise, they will die out and we will have not enough cocoa.”

He added: “Cocoa sustainability will never be correctly understood unless there is one global standard, that is not a competitive tool for brands to use.”

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