A new report by Mintel indicates that there are remarkably fewer new choices for chocolate lovers across the globe this Easter. Chocolate innovation slumped 25% over the past 12 months*, according to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD). Easter chocolate accounted for one in ten (10%) chocolate product launches globally in the last year*, compared to 12% the year prior**.
Over a quarter (28%) of all global chocolate launches are seasonal (ie Christmas, Easter, and Halloween), and it’s not just Easter that has witnessed a halt in innovation: launches of all seasonal chocolate are down 18%, while new product development in the chocolate industry overall has declined 14%***.
The US has the biggest hunger for seasonal confectionery where more than a third (36%) of all chocolate launched in the last year **** featured a seasonal claim. This is followed by Europe where one in three (32%) new chocolate launches carried a seasonal claim, and Latin America with a quarter (26%).
Marcia Mogelonsky, Director of Insight, Mintel Food and Drink, said: “The pandemic has dramatically slowed chocolate innovation as the usual channels and tactics used to attract new consumers have been shut down. Sampling and gifting through boutiques and other brick-and-mortar options have proved to be a challenge. Many manufacturers have stalled budgets and investments in new product development until economies improve. While innovation has slowed, the internet has proved to be a success story for some producers who have introduced new products and/or launched extensions of familiar brands through online sales and social media.
“Coping with holidays has been a real challenge for the chocolate industry. 2020 Easter sales declined as it was the first holiday celebrated during pandemic lockdowns or under increased government restrictions. Key chocolate occasions such as Halloween and Christmas also suffered in 2020 as manufacturers worked to get confectionery to consumers who were staying home.”
Tension between sustaining the planet and sustaining hygiene
The move to make chocolate packaging more sustainable has been an issue for years, however, in a COVID-19 world, hygiene will continue to be at the forefront of consumers’ minds. In the US, six in 10 (64%) consumers bought individually wrapped chocolate pieces before COVID-19; and given the built-in hygiene feature of such products, it is likely that they will gain further popularity over the next year.
“Before the pandemic, the major focus for many confectionery companies was the protection of the planet through ramped-up recycling programs, concerted efforts to remove plastics from the waste stream, and reduced packaging, especially for festive, gifting sweets. However, COVID-19 has changed all that, as hygiene has become a major focus for many consumers, who seek cleanliness, safety, and security across all links of the supply chain. While individually wrapped treats reintroduce excess packaging to the waste stream, they provide a sense of hygiene and security for consumers. Looking forward, one of the outcomes of the pandemic will be a new sense of hygiene, and it will be a number of years before consumers are comfortable with sharing unwrapped treats,” continued Mogelonsky.
Brazil leads the way in reduced sugar innovation
Finally, while the increased attention placed on health and wellness over the last year has put further pressure on sugar reduction efforts, according to Mintel research, low/no sugar and sugar-free chocolate accounts for a fraction of new product development. In the 12 months from March 2020 to February 2021, ‘sugar adjusted’***** chocolate was responsible for less than one in twenty (4%) launches globally, up from 3% the 12 months prior.
Across the globe, Brazil leads the world in reduced sugar innovation accounting for 14% of global launches, followed by Germany (9%), the US (7%), South Africa (5%), and Japan (5%). With a quarter (23%) of US consumers concerned about added sweeteners in candy and confectionery, and one in five (20%) sugar confectionery eaters in the US cutting back on their consumption in the past year**, confectionery companies and brands currently experimenting with sugar reduction are poised for increased opportunity.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased attention on overall health, as well as the obesity epidemic that plagues nations like the US. This has added further pressure on chocolate’s health credentials. Confectionery will never be a conventional ‘health food’ and the path to sugar reduction remains bumpy. The war on sugar will remain a challenging battleground as our research reveals that consumers overwhelmingly want to keep their usual chocolate products without sugar reduction.
“Urging consumers to reduce their sugar intake has, for the most part, been met with mixed reactions. While some consumers look to switch away from overly sugary foods, others are reluctant – at least they were until the onset of COVID-19, which has provided a strong impetus to improve eating habits. In the year post-COVID, expect to see a divide among global chocolate consumers – those that take their health and wellness seriously, reducing or eliminating chocolate consumption, and those that prioritize the indulgence and comfort that chocolate can bring,” concluded Mogelonsky.
*March 2020-February 2021
**March 2019-Feb 2020
***Mar 2019-Feb 2020 v Mar 2020-Feb 2021
****Feb 2020-Jan 2021
*****low/no sugar, no added sugar and sugar free