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    Dark Chocolate Gaining Ground on Milk Chocolate

    Mintel cites awareness of health benefits as driving factor

    When it comes to consumers’ chocolate preferences, milk chocolate is the heavy favorite, but dark chocolate just might be gaining ground.

    According to the latest research from Mintel, just more than half (51 percent) of all adult consumers say their favorite type of plain chocolate is milk chocolate, followed by 35 percent who favor dark chocolate and 8 percent who prefer white chocolate. In contrast, Mintel's 2011 report found that 57 percent of consumers favored milk chocolate and 33 percent preferred the dark variety.

    “The progressively better understood health benefits of dark chocolate may be increasing its popularity as more consumers are looking for indulgent foods that can serve multiple functions such as nutrition or convenience,” said Sarah Day Levesque, food analyst at Mintel. “An exception to the pattern of milk chocolate being the consumer favorite is among consumers aged 55+ who are more likely to favor dark chocolate, most likely because they are seeking added nutritional benefits.”

    Some 46 percent of men and 48 percent of women age 55+ favor dark chocolate, followed by 38 percent of men and 40 percent of women that prefer milk. These numbers are indicative of the trend toward the increasing favor for dark chocolate, as 73 of all chocolate consumers are aware that dark chocolate is healthier.

    The chocolate confectionery market has fared seemingly well in a lagging economy, growing 19 percent from 2007 to 2012. This growth can be attributed to consumers’ demand for affordable luxuries or indulgence, as well as the foodie culture that has increased interest in premium, high-quality and artisanal varieties of chocolate. However, due to countering trends, Mintel expects slow growth for the chocolate confectionery category in the next five years, with sales growing 15 percent from 2012 to 2017.

    “As the economy recovers ever-so-slowly, consumer demand for the affordable indulgence that chocolate provides is expected to remain and interest in chocolate as part of the larger food culture will continue,” added Levesque. “However, obesity, the dark cloud that looms over this category and many other indulgent categories, and related health risks will remain a concern for many consumers and present challenges to increasing category sales.”

    When deciding to purchase chocolate, some 89 percent of consumers buy chocolate as a treat or reward and 87 percent buy it as a snack option. Meanwhile, 83 percent of consumers look carefully at the size of chocolate candy packages to determine the best value for the money, and 72 percent buy chocolate as a way to improve their mood or provide an energy boost.

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