According to Barry Callebaut's 2022 Chocolate Trends report, 88% of US consumers reported buying chocolate in the last three months and nearly two-thirds (65%) say it is their favorite indulgence.
Sales of chocolate in North America, the #2 market for chocolate confectionery, were over $23bn in 2021 with the US accounting for nearly 90% of all sales in the region. Forecasted growth for the category is expected to remain on a steady trajectory upwards registering 4% CAGR during the period 2022-2026, according to Euromonitor.
Creating moments of indulgence
One of the biggest growth drivers of the category has been consumers' search for different forms of comfort during the pandemic and taking opportunities to create indulgent moments, which come in many different forms, noted Barry Callebaut.
Two out of three North American consumers said they "sought out chocolate for moments of comfort" while 70% said they also bought chocolate as a way to celebrate a special occasion. According to the report, 67% of US millennials said they buy any type of holiday-themed, seasonal chocolate.
"When consumers want to indulge, chocolate confections will always be a popular category. Chocolate is a beloved treat for consumers and often considered the ultimate indulgence. In the wake of COVID-19, consumers increasingly sought pleasure in indulgent moments to feel happy, celebrate, and to have a sense of me-time," said Barry Callebaut.
'Good for me' chocolate
While indulgence is a key theme and driver for the category, so too is the growing awareness for better-for-you or 'guilt-free' chocolate from dairy-free/vegan, low- and no-sugar-added chocolate attributed to the inclusion of trending health ingredients.
"Consumers around the globe were impacted differently by the pandemic. In North America, one way that consumers reacted was by eating healthier, and for some, that included chocolate," said Barry Callebaut.
"In fact, 39% of North American consumers said they are seeking out healthier chocolate options as a result of COVID-19."
According to the report, 71% of North American consumers are looking for ways to improve their diet and 61% of US consumers agree that they wish there were healthier chocolate options.
More specifically, 55% of US consumers said they cut back on chocolate in the past year to reduce their sugar intake (highlighting a growing opportunity for no-sugar-added chocolate products) while 22% of US consumers agree that vegan chocolate is something they actively seek out to purchase.
Consumers are also more motivated to try chocolate products with immunity- and energy-boosting ingredients such as caffeine from coffee beans and added probiotics.
Over half (53%) of US consumers are caffeine users making it one of the top functional ingredients consumed and 225 of North American consumers are seeking out chocolate snacks that reinforce the immune system as a result of COVID-19, noted Barry Callebaut in its report.
Trust and transparency
As consumers are becoming more aware about sustainability, they are taking action through their food and beverage purchases (71% of North American consumers agree that food, drink, and supplement brands should be doing more to protect the plant), noted Barry Callebaut.
Chocolate has become an area where consumers are growing particularly attuned to sustainability as 55% of US consumers said they are actively seeking out sustainably-produced chocolate.
"For many consumers, sustainability isn’t a 'nice to have', it’s a 'must have'. These consumers are increasingly concerned about the impact of climate change and manufacturers must provide products the consumer can feel good about consuming," said the company.
According to Barry Callebaut's research, 48% of US consumers agree that they would like more information about where their chocolate comes from, 67% of North American consumers report finding sustainably-sourced ingredient claims in chocolate bars and other product formats more appealing while two out of three North American consumers say certification/logos for sustainable manufacturing was influential when purchasing chocolate.
New formats and dayparts for chocolate
The rise of snacking has penetrated the chocolate category with 57% of North American consumers say they snacked more on chocolate as a result of the COVID-19. In the US specifically, two out of three consumers report that they typically snack on chocolate behind fruit (82%) and yogurt (71%)
This strong tide in consumer behavior towards all-day snacking creates ample opportunities for chocolate, which lends itself well to indulgent snacks throughout the day, said Barry Callebaut.
"Most North American consumers snack throughout the day, with the majority (80%) saying they consume snacks in the afternoon or evening. Other day parts are important snacking moments, too. 67% of US consumers reported that they consume snacks in the morning," noted Barry Callebaut, adding that consumers seeking chocolate as a snack would be drawn to product features such as convenient resealable packaging, new flavor combinations, and unique experiences from their favorite brands.