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Demand for chocolate grows in Canada, but consumers want healthier options

Canadians are indulging in chocolate more than ever. Here’s how grocers can satisfy consumer cravings
TEASER chocolate

During the darkest days of the pandemic, consumers turned to chocolate — sweet, creamy, and unapologetically indulgent. Sales were robust, making producers and retailers happy. But what is happening with this sweet confection now? It’s time to look at category trends.

Canadian figures from NielsenIQ reveal the chocolate category is continuing to perform well. Sales for the 52-week period ending May 9, 2020, exceeded $1.9 billion. Fast forward a year; sales increased by 9%. And in May 2022, there was another jump of 6% over 2021 figures, with total sales of $2.2 billion.

“Consumer demand for indulgence and affordable luxury remains strong, especially during the four new waves of the pandemic that forced many to stay home in 2021, and this demand continues into 2022,” says Mark Strobel, research manager, Euromonitor International. Strobel says the home-snacking trend will benefit the category as more workers forego returning to an office. “Overall, 2022 is looking to experience growth at a faster rate than 2021 for chocolate confectionery,” he adds. 

Boosted by growing awareness of immunity and self-care, health-minded consumers will be seeking better-for-you indulgences, says Strobel. This trend has contributed to the popularity of portion-controlled product formats, such as minis, bites, squares and blocks. 

The big news, he says, is that “the plant-based food craze is also taking over the category.” Lindt introduced vegan chocolate into Canada in early 2022 as did Barry Callebaut with its Plant Craft range.

It’s a trend that Goodness Me! has witnessed. The Ontario-based natural food market saw a spike in chocolate early in the pandemic and it continues to perform well. “We’ve always carried traditional, high-quality dairy milk chocolate, but we’re seeing an increase of alternatives made with ingredients like oat milk and keto bars sweetened with Stevia or coconut sugar,” explains Robin Langford, the grocery retailer’s category manager. 

She credits innovation in the alternatives category for its growth. “The vegan chocolate you would have had five or more years ago is nothing like what is available today,” Langford explains. “You couldn’t taste the difference between the vegan bars we carry and the regular ones [today]. The technology has advanced so much.” Vegan chocolate is among Goodness Me!’s top 10 chocolate SKUs. 

The grocer also takes care with chocolate merchandising, placing it in multiple locations, including end aisles, near check-outs, and close to snack food aisles. “It’s 100% about location,” Langford says. “It’s an impulse buy. If a customer sees a beautiful chocolate bar, it will end up in their carts more often.” 

The quest for healthier options has also pushed the trend for chocolate bars with high percentages of cocoa. “Consumers are looking for the indulgence, but with a health slant,” says Susan Hooper, senior brand development manager, Tree of Life. “This could also be sugar-free options, or healthy inclusions like fruit and nuts in their chocolate bars.” She suggests grocers keep well stocked with a diverse selection to please a range of customer preferences.

Samuel Bussieres, senior director, confectionery, Mondelēz, thinks consumers in the post-lockdown era crave new experiences, which is driving consumers towards indulgent products that stimulate their senses, such as chocolate infused with interesting textures and unusual flavours. “That said, with inflationary pressures heating up, it’s important we can deliver against their indulgence needs without breaking the bank,” he says. 

The home nesting trend has also created significant growth in shareable chocolates. Mondelēz has been focusing on expanding its portfolio of larger pouches with bite-sized/mini-chocolate formats. And consumers are also seeking ways to reduce their environmental impact. “For us, this means buying products with sustainably sourced cocoa,” explains Bussieres. “That’s why we remain committed to ensuring that all Cadbury Dairy Milk products are made with 100% sustainably sourced cocoa through the Cocoa Life program.”

To support chocolate sales, Bussieres says retailers should develop solutions to capitalize on the significant consumer demand that exists for impulse chocolate, with new in-store display vehicles that catch the eye of the shopper, while making efficient use of space in-store. 

In terms of merchandising, Liv Glazebrook, marketing manager at Whittaker’s Chocolates, a New Zealand brand that launched in Canada in 2015, adds that chocolate needs to be displayed at room temperature and kept out of direct sunlight. 

Whittaker’s, too, has experienced an increased interest in its ethical sourcing and Rainforest Alliance certification. “We’re delighted that Canadian chocolate lovers are just as passionate about ethical sourcing as we are,” she says. 

So what’s the outlook for chocolate? Euromonitor International estimates sales growth from 2021 to 2026 in Canada will be 11% and reach USD$3.25 billion. Sweet!

This article was first featured in Canadian Grocer’s June/July issue.

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