Candy in 2009

May 28/Lakeland, Fla./The Ledger -- After stalling in early 2009, the dark chocolate market finished the year with a 9% increase in sales. Not bad for an industry that many analysts thought would see demand from recession-weary consumers melt away, particularly amid higher prices for cocoa beans and predictions of a shortage in the world cocoa harvest. In the first two months of 2009, dark chocolate sales were off by 2.2%.

However, while consumers started to pull back on unnecessary spending, they found ways to treat themselves. Economists call it the "lipstick factor," referring to the historical rise in lipstick sales during tough economic times as women looked for an affordable way to cheer themselves. In the candy industry's case, during the recession people sought chocolate as an affordable indulgence to feel better.

"There is no (vacation), but people stay at home and find small moments of joy," said Tim Quinn, vice president of trade development at Mars Inc.

Candy sales as a whole increased last year by 3.6%, with 2,843 new products introduced to the market. About two-thirds were chocolate products, according to the National Confectioners Association.

Now, as the nation emerges from the recession, candy-makers hope consumers will continue to indulge themselves. Dark chocolate saw the greatest demand in 2007, when sales peaked at $829 million, a 35% jump from the previous year. Then the recession hit, and the pace of sales growth slowed in 2008 to 12%, according to the National Confectioners Association.

Eric Bochner, owner of Bochner Chocolates, said the recession put a big dent in his sales. So he decided to adapt his products to the pocketbook-conscious market. He infused his chocolate with flavors that were more familiar to consumers, such as cherry and hazelnut, and sold the new product at reasonable prices, about $3.50 a bar. It worked. Bochner said sales are increasing, and he is expecting to reach prerecession levels later this year.

Larger companies also are experimenting with new flavors. In March, Hershey Co. introduced Kit Kat Dark, which had been produced as a limited-edition bar. Hershey acknowledged the economy's impact on its sales, calling itself recession resistant, not recession proof. However, the company's wide portfolio gives consumers many options and many prices to choose from, said Anna Lingeris, a company spokeswoman

In April, the chocolate-maker reported first-quarter sales increased 13.9%, as the candy-maker's U.S. market share grew by half a percentage point.

Green & Black's, an organic chocolate-maker owned by Cadbury, which was acquired by Kraft this year, created a peanut-and-sea-salt chocolate bar for American consumers. It was introduced to the market at the end of 2009. It was the first time the British brand created a flavor specifically for the U.S. market, said Katie Butler, senior brand manager for Green & Black's USA. The flavor is doing so well that it is expected to reach British consumers at the end of this year, Butler said.

Like the rest of the industry, Green & Black's sales slowed in the last two years, but the brand continued to make a profit, Butler said. "People enjoy small indulgences," she explained.

From the June 7, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition