Quality counts

As consumers try to cut back on sugar, chocolate products with premium credentials or offering a variety of flavours and textures are gaining ground

CHOCOLATE has long been an important product for Scotland’s c-stores and is likely to remain so. But the question of what modern consumers are looking for from their chocolate is open to debate.

Facing an avalanche of reports on the ‘evils’ of sugar in the media, an increasing number of shoppers are, according to producers, looking for better treat experiences – without the guilt.

An MSc graduate of Nottingham University, Natalia Mansilla was recently appointed to the position of chocolate technician at Mackie’s

So what can retailers offer them? Stuart Common, commercial director at Mackie’s of Scotland, pointed to the health benefits of cocoa, which consumers aren’t always aware of.

“Cocoa rich diets can help reduce stress and even blood pressure,” he said.

“Having said that, cocoa is not synonymous with all chocolate and any way you look at it, chocolate is a treat.

“We are great believers in the ‘everything in moderation’ mantra and chocolate can be enjoyed as part of a balanced, healthy, and highly enjoyable, diet.”

That said, with dark chocolate typically higher in antioxidants and lower in sugar, Common said retailers might see sales increase with more health conscious shoppers switching from milk or white chocolate.

“We are seeing smaller bars become increasingly popular with consumers,” he said.

“As people become more health conscious the chance to get hold of something a bit smaller seems to be getting more attractive to customers.

“This is very much tied to attitudes towards the sugar levy so giving customers a choice of sizes and weights could become more and more important.

Consumers are trading up, looking for quality over quantity and happy to pay a bit more for a premium confectionery line.

“Mackie’s is in the rare position of having an academic on site to make sure our chocolate is as good as it can be.

“Our researcher Natalia has been conducting tests into the ideal particle size in our bars and investigating how we can continually improve our product lines.

“On top of this she’s experimenting with new Scottish flavours to showcase the best local produce to customers at home and further afield.”

The Lily O’Brien’s Desserts Collection includes a selection of the world’s best-loved dessert recipes – including Hazelnut Tort – with a variety of textures

Consumers being mindful of their treat in-take has led to a shift in behaviours and purchase habits, according to  Andrew Marjoram, commercial director of Lily O’Brien.

“Consumers are being more conscious of their portions sizes,” he said.

“We are also seeing an increased demand for dark chocolate. Luckily, there are a myriad of reasons that make this treat nearly guilt-free (in moderation, of course.) It is naturally healthier than its white and milk varieties because it has more cocoa, it has less added sugar, plus, it is chock-full of antioxidants and flavanols, vitamins and nutrients. On the back of this, we have introduced new Dark Chocolate Peppermint Crunch and Dark Chocolate Ginger Stem Batons to our premium share bag range.

“At Lily’s we are also developing and launching new exciting chocolate flavours with added inclusions such as sesame seeds, almonds, ginger and coconut which are really on trend for those looking to increase their intake of healthy or superfood ingredients.

“Consumers are also trading up to more premium treats as they are eating less often so when they do indulge they want it to be worth it.

“They are not completely cutting out their treats they are just being more mindful of their consumption. Within the chocolate category growth is coming from added value as consumers spend more on less volume and we are seeing this in our portfolio as consumers choose to trade up to brands like Lily O’Briens for their premium treats.”

Cachet chocolate bars with caramel and sea salt, and Van Roy milk chocolate peanut clusters are among the latest products from House of Sarunds

Gary Parkinson, general manager, House of Sarunds, offered a similar report.

“Consumers are trading up, looking for quality over quantity and happy to pay a bit more for a premium confectionery line,” he said.

“Especially popular right now are sharing packs/pouches and boxed confectionery which enjoyed a 6.3% increase in sales last year.

“Although consumers are becoming more aware of the sugar and fat content of what they eat, this does not deter them from enjoying those special ‘me time’ treats.  Chocolate is considered to be an affordable luxury, a treat to be enjoyed regardless of the calorie count and for that reason it remains the best- selling impulse purchase.”

Andrew Ovens, marketing manager at Big Bear Confectionery, said products that provide variety are very popular in chocolate confectionery at the moment.

“The ‘mix up’ options in the sharing bags category are a big hit as customers get a range of flavours and textures in a single purchase,” he said.

“This is why we created our Poppets Move Mix product, to offer variety in one pouch via the four different flavours: orange fondant, dairy fudge, chocolate shortcake and juicy raisin. This product sits perfectly alongside our solo flavour bags, giving an extra option to customers who already love the existing range.”