'Healthier' chocolates gives U.S. cocoa demand a shot in the arm

Mon Jun 3, 2013 7:00am EDT
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By Marcy Nicholson

NEW YORK, June 3 (Reuters) - In an increasingly diet-conscious nation where the amount of chocolate candy sold has tumbled in recent years, a niche segment of the U.S. market is taking off: so-called "healthier" chocolate.

Studies declaring health benefits found in cocoa, combined with new chocolate products touting lower fat and calories, have helped manufacturers to capitalize on a growing consumer appetite for these alternative sweets in the United States, the world's biggest chocolate consumer.

Nestle USA says the lower-calorie chocolate line that it launched in 2011 was one of its snack division's best-ever debuts. A year later, Hershey Co brought out Simple Pleasures, a brand with almost a third less fat than average milk chocolates. The world leading maker of industrial chocolate for retail brand companies, Barry Callebaut, says products with health benefits now make up 5 percent of its sales.

Rising demand for these products is increasingly apparent in a recent improvement in the North American cocoa market, where demand slowed throughout much of 2012. A surprising turnaround was seen in the first quarter when "grindings", the term for processing cocoa beans which is shorthand for commercial demand, rose nearly 6 percent in North America, the biggest annual jump in nearly two years.

In Europe and Asia, first quarter grindings tumbled.

Also included in the supposedly better-for-you chocolate segment are bars that are gluten- or sugar-free, or that have additives like probiotics to help promote healthy digestion and other possible benefits.

Francisco Redruello, Euromonitor International senior industry analyst for foods in London said these "healthier" products are already having an influence on grindings.

"There's really a concern about obesity in the U.S. and this is having an impact on demand for chocolate confectionery," he said. "So 2012 has seen new concepts, new lines, trying to launch healthier chocolate with low fat."   Continued...