Chocolate is a perpetual favorite in decadent desserts, dairy products and snacks, but consumers have begun to embrace chocolate’s health credentials too, reports Food Business News.
Dark chocolate in particular comes with a generous helping of natural antioxidants and flavanols, which have been linked to improved cardiovascular health, reduced levels of harmful LDL cholesterol and prevention of cognitive decline.
- As well as touting its natural health benefits, food manufacturers increasingly are using chocolate or compound coatings as carriers for ingredients like added protein or fiber, or to reduce sugar or fat in the finished product.
There has been a host of studies in recent years extolling the health benefits of chocolate. With chocolate remaining one of the world’s favorite indulgent foods, it is no surprise that consumers are quick to embrace the positives. However, medical professionals are keen to underline that chocolate is still a high-calorie food that should be eaten in moderation.
The United States is the world’s biggest chocolate confectionery market, worth about $22 billion in 2015, according to a recent Packaged Facts report. Premium chocolate accounts for about 18% of that, and is the fastest growing sector, with sales up 4.6% in 2015 compared to just 0.3% growth in sales of everyday chocolate. Packaged Facts predicts continued growth for the U.S. chocolate market — driven by both health and indulgence — and says research into chocolate’s health benefits has created a “positive halo.” This has revamped chocolate’s image, and more consumers see it as a guilt-free treat.
Premium chocolate has found a niche as an “accessible luxury” and the market has continued to grow even during the recent economic downturn. The International Cocoa Organization suggests that demand for premium cocoa and chocolate has led to rapid growth for organic and fair trade products in recent years as consumers have become more aware of the environmental, food safety and human rights concerns associated with cocoa production.
For food manufacturers, investing in ethically produced chocolate may have an unexpected secondary effect: researchers have found that consumers tend to perceive foods that carry ethical claims like fair trade as healthier, lower in calories, and therefore more suitable for greater consumption.