Chocolate snacking: Almonds thrive amid premium, plant-based and texture trends

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25 Apr 2018 --- Indulgence has long been known as a key driver for chocolate NPD, but nowadays consumers are looking for a healthier chocolate experience. According to Innova Market Insights, 11 percent of global chocolate products have an indulgent and premium positioning in 2017 and globally, 23 percent of all chocolate launches tracked in 2017 carry a texture claim. Social eating occasions are driving the trend for sharing bags and easy to share formats across the confectionery, bakery and snacking segments.

Speaking during a live webinar yesterday, Harbinder Maan, Associate Director, Trade Marketing and Stewardship at the Almond Board of California and Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights presented key trends that are driving innovation across the chocolate snacking space. The most notable trends included “Playing with shapes for new textures,” “Say it with colors,” and “better-for-you,” underneath the indulgent factors, which overall was listed as the key driver for NPD in chocolate. Consumers want an indulgent eating experience when it comes to purchasing and consuming chocolate, but there are many other factors that affect buying habits that cannot be ignored.

Consumers are embracing a holistic well-being approach by making responsible food choices that make the difference. Innova Market Insights data had revealed that 4 in 10 US and UK consumers had increased their consumption of “healthy foods” (2017).

In a Q&A session after the webinar, Williams was asked about the trend for high protein chocolate. She said: “High protein is definitely on the rise, but small numbers so far in the chocolate category. I’ve found less than 100 chocolate products in the last year, with high-protein claims, but if you think about some of the other categories, such as snacks and bites there are a lot of high protein and chocolate combinations out there. So that would be a good source of inspiration of what could happen in the chocolate category. For example, we have seen bars like Snickers come out with a protein version, so it’s certainly trending, but not something that we see huge numbers for.”

The plant-based trend is also one to watch in the chocolate snacking space. Nuts are plant-based and a very popular inclusion in chocolate, notes Williams.Click to Enlarge

“According to the Almond Board of California research, nuts are the number one inclusion in chocolate,” Maan explains. “When it comes to allergens in chocolate, nuts are not a major concern in chocolate snacking, so we don’t think that it hinders this category at all. We have seen some newer types of products that contain almond milk by replacing dairy milk, so they are suitable for vegan chocolate, and avoid certain allergens for lactose allergies or intolerances.”

“We also do see grains being used more often in chocolate, puffed grains as a source of a new texture for crunch, there are lots of interesting inclusions such as fruit that fit well with the plant-based trends,” adds Williams.

Stevia and erythritol also continue to drive innovation for chocolate with natural ingredients. And according to Williams, maltitol is a game changer when it comes to sugar-free chocolate, with stevia already being an option for sugar-reduced chocolate.

Maan also notes that almond butter is striking a chord: “It allows you to use less sugar which is obliviously very appealing and it gives a very indulgent flavor profile, so that is one ingredient that we are seeing being used more in the chocolate category,” she says.

“Plant-milks creamed up and emulsified is something that is being seen a lot more as a possible filling for chocolate as well,” adds Williams.

Natural ingredients are often associated with healthy indulgence. Williams says: “I have seen chocolate with lavender and other botanicals used as ingredients, which make them flavorful. I would say that this is relevant to the super premium chocolate categories, but there are opportunities for botanicals in more mainstream chocolate applications.”

Palm-free and sustainability is also an issue that has moved into the chocolate space: “Palm-free chocolate is trending up but on a tiny scale,” continues Williams. “In Italy, a few years ago, there was a big trend for palm-free but that died out when Ferrero ensured a lot of education around that. There are a lot of misconceptions about processing, but I think that sustainability is a bigger concern. Then again there is also a lot of commitment towards sustainable palm oil – it’s not a big but a small trend that is slowly gaining traction,” she says. 

Chocolate manufacturing is very traditional in the food industry. “Story-telling is a huge trend right now; there are lots of opportunities where manufacturers can tell consumers where the chocolate is grown, how it’s made, what the processes involved, for example. If you have the right story for the market, there is a lot of interest in how things are made,” Williams says, “It’s a traditional industry, but there is a lot of interest in innovation.”
 
You can watch the full webinar here
 
By Elizabeth Green

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