Chocolate could prove a godsend for manufacturers. Its reputation as a treat is well-established, but recent years have brought a boon of positive health news surrounding the dessert staple. In the process, manufacturers have been able to identify heart health and other benefits on products that already virtually sold themselves. 
The global market for chocolate is a healthy one and expected to remain so for the foreseeable future. According to the Markets and Markets report, “Global Chocolate, Cocoa Beans, Lecithin, Sugar and Vanilla Market by Market Share, Trade Prices, Geography Trend and Forecasts (2011-2016),” the global chocolate market stood at $83.2 billion in 2010 and will reach an estimated $98.3 billion by 2016. 
Fueling that growth, to a degree, have been the reported health benefits of chocolate; a large variety of applications for the ingredient; and seasonal and festive sales. Nevertheless, there are potential pitfalls that could restrain the market’s growth, the report notes. These include raw material prices and the dependency of the industry on unstable economies for the supply of cocoa; not to mention the major threats posed by the rising counterfeit market and changing consumer preferences. 
The U.S. leads the North American market quite comfortably, with a market share of 86.3%. The UK boasts the largest demand in Europe, with a market share of 16.4%, followed closely by Germany’s 15.9%. Another analyst, Research and Markets, found the UK chocolate confectionery market had 2011 revenues of $7.7 billion, representing a compound annual growth rate of 1.7% since 2007; however, consumption in the country actually decreased over that time, with a compound annual rate of change of -0.7%, to register a total of 588.6kg. Nevertheless, the group predicts the UK chocolate market will grow 1.6% annually through 2016, to reach roughly $8.3 billion in sales. 
Africa, meanwhile, consumes only about 3% of the world’s cocoa, despite the fact that more than 75% of all of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa. The Ivory Coast alone produces more than 35%, according to the International Cocoa Organization. 
However, some of the segment’s bigger news is in chocolate sales in Asia. While Japan leads that area with a 39.7% market share, Asia as a whole has a lower penetration of chocolate, but it continues to grow. Euromonitor International reports Indians eat only 165g of chocolate per year, with Chinese consuming only 99g annually. But, as Asian economies strengthen, so does their demand for indulgent treats, Mintel finds. In 2012, chocolate sales in China were expected to rise 19% to $1.2 billion; India expects to see a 7% jump to $633 million; and in Indonesia, chocolate sales were expected to surge 25% to $1.1 billion—increasing to nearly $2 billion by 2015. In fact, the Markets and Markets report predicts Asia will hold a 20% share of the global chocolate market by 2016, with sales increasing to $19.7 billion from the $15 billion reported in 2010. 
The U.S. still should register among the world’s largest chocolate markets, even considering that sizable growth in various Asian countries. However, the $20 billion U.S. chocolate candy market is “mature, differentiated and demanding,” says the “Chocolate Candy in the U.S.” report from Packaged Facts. It estimated the U.S. market for chocolate sold at retail as $18.5 billion in 2011, a 6.6% rise over the segment’s 2010 performance, with dollar gains in everyday chocolate, seasonal candies and premium chocolate. Those increases did come at a cost; Packaged Facts notes those gains were driven in part by price increases implemented to offset rises in raw material and other costs. With rising costs and prices, as well as other difficulties, the opportunities for chocolate marketers to distinguish themselves from their competition is proving as challenging as ever. Nevertheless, chocolate has shown a notable resilience to the country’s recent economic doldrums, and Packaged Facts contends: “Chocolate can be counted on to outpace overall food market growth.” 

Going for Premium

Even premium-priced chocolate managed to withstand the economic tribulations, likely because consumers, on the whole, regard this indulgence as an affordable luxury. Packaged Facts also attributes the segment’s success to manufacturers’ continued innovation in packaging and flavors, innovations not limited to major companies. In fact, the researcher notes innovative efforts from both major and niche chocolate manufacturers alike complemented the segment, as did increased marketing support and advertising expenditures. Even in the wake of rising prices at retail, chocolate showed a particular resilience in convenience and natural food stores, notes David Sprinkle, publisher at Packaged Facts. He explains that natural food stores saw organic chocolates post nearly 20% growth in 2011, according to SPINSscan data reported in the Packaged Facts research. 
The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) contends that organic cocoa, nevertheless, represents a relatively small portion of the total cocoa market. It estimates that, in total, organic cocoa represents less than 0.5% of the world’s total production, with only about 15,500 tons of certified-organic cocoa produced globally. This is the case, even as demand for organic cocoa products continues to grow “at a very strong pace, as consumers are increasingly concerned about the safety of their food supply, along with other environmental issues,” the ICCO states. 

Acting Fair

Among other issues in the minds of many consumers is the notion of Fair Trade. Simply put, Fair Trade is an effort to improve trading conditions and to secure the rights of disadvantaged producers and workers. It is a concept that has taken firm hold in the area of cocoa production and in certain markets of the world, notably Western Europe and North America. The UK boasts the largest Fair Trade chocolate market in the world, finds Leatherhead research, tallying roughly $760 million in sales of Fair Trade chocolate in 2011, with the U.S. Fair Trade market a distant second (registering $175 million). In terms of market share, Fair Trade holds the largest percentage of the Irish market, where it accounts for 14% of chocolate sales. 
Indeed, major manufacturers have lent their support to the Fair Trade effort. Mondelez International, in late  2012, announced it would commit $400 million to cocoa sustainability over the next 10 years. And, this year will see Nestlé SA make two-finger KitKat chocolate bars in the UK and Ireland from Fair Trade-certified cocoa, representing some 800 million bars of KitKats a year—effectively doubling its quantity of certified, sustainably grown ingredients. The company has utilized Fair Trade cocoa in its four-finger KitKat products in those countries since 2010. In October, The Hershey Co. announced it plans to purchase 100% of its cocoa for chocolate production from certified, sustainable sources by 2020.
With Fair Trade firmly ensconced in the minds of chocolate manufacturers, the next step may well be in the arena of non-GMO (genetically modified organism) certification. Whole Foods Markets recently announced that, by 2018, it will demand all products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores to carry a label indicating whether they contain GMOs, and a recent anniversary product from Endangered Species Chocolate (ESC) added a “Non-GMO Product” verification. 
The ESC is celebrating its 20th anniversary by adding that seal to all of the company’s natural dark chocolate products, as well as one noting it contains cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. 
While the effort was not a simple procedure (in fact, Kelley Meinken, the director of marketing at ESC, notes, “It took some time to find quality non-GMO ingredients for our natural dark chocolate line”), the company took the step in an effort to “solidify its commitment to providing its consumers with chocolate that contains high-quality ingredients.” The natural dark chocolate bars will feature both seals on the wrapper, so they will be easily identifiable to consumers.
While some consumers may be interested in chocolate as it relates to the health of the planet and other peoples, there also has been a heightening of public awareness on the health benefits of dark chocolate for the individual. In the process, chocolate—dark varieties, in particular—has transitioned from a guilty pleasure into an indulgence that demands little, if any, sacrifice. Dark chocolate has a higher level of flavonoids, which various studies have found combat “bad” cholesterol and help to lower blood pressure. As a result, consumers have seen a distinct rise in the number of products boasting 70, 80 and even 90% cocoa solids on supermarket shelves, and the trend has not been relegated to grocery stores alone. Krispy Kreme introduced a dark chocolate donut, and Dunkin’ Donuts added a dark hot chocolate to its beverage menu. 
While milk chocolate may still rank as the favorite of consumers (and by a substantial margin: Some 71% of Americans over the age of 45 prefer milk chocolate, and 29% favor the dark varieties, according to the National Confectioners Association), there has been a distinct trend toward dark chocolate. Not the least of which is because of the positive health aura surrounding the products. The biggest reputation boost came courtesy of research that explored the daily consumption of 400-600mg of cocoa flavonoids. However, that amount equates to roughly 10 chocolate bars—per day—leading researchers to conclude the ideal reward-to-risk-of-obesity ratio would result in the consumption of one bar a day. 

Out of the Dark

Manufacturers are indeed taking note, with dark chocolate versions of traditional milk chocolate favorites M&M’s, Snickers and KitKat, to name just a few. For that matter, for one of its recent allergen-friendly snack launches, Kind LLC incorporated dark chocolate, as well as a variety of nuts purported to benefit heart health (including almonds), into its Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt bar. 
This is not to say that all of chocolate’s health benefits stem from flavonoids. In fact, a December 2012, UK study of 300 patients in 13 hospitals utilized theobromine extracted from cocoa to stabilize chronic coughing. While a dark chocolate bar high in cacao contains around 450mg of theobromine per ounce, the UK study used 1,000mg twice daily for two weeks. The coughing did return when the theobromine dosing ended, but another study concluded that theobromine was more beneficial at reducing chronic coughing than codeine, which is the usually prescribed regimen.
Dark chocolate also benefits from a high antioxidant level. In fact, the oxygen-radical absorption capacity (ORAC) of cocoa tops the common food list’s 10 top ORAC values, as compiled by the USDA. Per 100g, raw cocoa powder registers an ORAC score of 95,500, followed by 62,100 for raw cocoa nibs and 26,000 for roasted cocoa powder—well ahead of goji berries, açai berries, prunes and raisins. For that matter, even milk chocolate registered a higher ORAC than prunes, raisins and blueberries. 
Still, chocolate has its share of detractors, notably those who equate the products with rising obesity levels. Realizing the need to balance chocolate flavors with a weight-conscious approach, manufacturers have introduced a variety of products that incorporate the indulgence of chocolate—but without an abundance of calories. The Weight Watchers brand, for instance, has added Red Velvet Crème to its line of cakes that includes Chocolate, Lemon and Carrot Crème. The company promises the red velvet variety combines a rich filling with real cream cheese, surrounded by moist red velvet cake and covered with a layer of sweet icing, but each pre-portioned cake contains only 90 calories. 
Similarly taking chocolate into the realm of weight management, Skinny Cow has introduced a lower-calorie snack that eschews the trend toward eliminating chocolate in favor of carob. Instead, the Skinny Cow Divine Filled Chocolates boast real chocolate, caramel and peanut butter. Each pack contains 130 calories and 7g of fat, with flavors including caramel and peanut butter crème. 
Another recent introduction presumes to “revolutionize the energy supplement industry” by incorporating real milk chocolate. Energems, from NRG Innovations LLC, are a portable, no-mess, no-melt, hard-shelled treat promising an energy boost. Each box contains nine “gems” made with real milk chocolate and a proprietary energy blend, inside a hard-coated candy shell. The line includes three flavors: Milk Chocolate, Mint Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chocolate. The company claims three of the “gems” provide the same energy boost as one cup of “strong coffee,” though developers do include a caution not to consume more than “two boxes daily, consumed several hours apart.” 
It does appear the market for weight-conscious chocolate products holds as much opportunity as ever. In fact, a recent study found that people who frequently consume chocolate products had a lower body mass index (BMI) than consumers who did not. The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, examined more than 1,000 healthy men and women free of heart disease, diabetes and cholesterol problems.