Despite commitments to a vegan, gluten-free or fat-free diet, consumers still want to indulge. Better-for-you dessert and confection manufacturers have learned that the best way to satisfy the sweet tooth of a health-conscious consumer is through additional product benefits, whether inherent or added, as well as predetermined moderation.
“We believe consumers are seeking out healthier options in all categories across the grocery store,” says Amanda Klane, co-founder of Boston-based Yasso, maker of frozen Greek yogurt bars. “People want to live healthier lives and engage with brands that are creating innovative products, but they are not willing to sacrifice taste. We believe there is a huge opportunity to continue to innovate around those two core attributes.”
In order to catch the eye of this extra-particular shopper, manufacturers have begun to boast their products lack of gluten, dairy or soy, as well as the presence of dietary fiber, heart-healthy cacao content and more. This has proven to be a big bonus for retailers as more consumers seek out better-for-you products throughout the store, say industry observers.
A prime example of the importance of indulgences is the steady growth of the chocolate confectionary market in a lagging economy, growing 19% from 2007 to 2012, according to Chicago-based Mintel. Observers believe this growth can be attributed to consumers’ demand for affordable luxuries as well as the foodie culture that has increased interest in premium, high-quality and artisanal varieties of chocolate.
“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 and convenience,” says Sarah Day Levesque, Mintel food analyst. “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 seeing added nutritional benefits.”
Studies have shown that people whose diets include dark chocolate have a lower risk of heart disease than those that do not. The good news for retailers is that 73% of all chocolate consumers are aware that dark chocolate is healthier.
Several manufacturers have harnessed the benefits of premium dark chocolate with portion-controlled single-servings and increasing cacao levels. Lake Champlain Chocolates has made eight varieties of its USDA Organic and Fair Trade Certified chocolate available in its bite-sized Squares format. With a suggested retail price of 85-cents, the squares are available in register-friendly canisters, filled with 106 squares each.
“For consumers who are looking to regulate how much chocolate they eat, that’s a great piece of chocolate to satisfy the sweet tooth without any guilt,” says Meghan Fitzpatrick, PR and communications for the Burlington, Vt.-based company.
NibMor has brought its own bite-sized innovation to market. Daily Dose of Dark, a play on the recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals, is the Great Neck, N.Y.-based company’s answer to shoppers seeking indulgence, convenience and health.
“Creating on-the-go convenience in a guilt-free indulgence is exactly what consumers are looking for, and we’ve already figured out the moderation,” says Jennifer Love, NibMor CEO and co-founder. “Our Daily Dose of Dark has only 50 calories with three grams of sugar. You don’t have to feel bad about that. Everyone wants to have a little treat, and it’s a treat consumers can feel good about.”
Available in Original and Mint varieties, Daily Dose of Dark is made with organic and ethically traded 72% cacao. The newest flavor, Extreme, is made with 80% cacao and cacao nibs. It is available for individual sale, and comes merchandised in a 60-count box for placement at the register, deli, salad bar and grab-and-go sections. It is also sold in a seven-count box.
The power of the coconut
Convenience and moderation are crucial to this growing segment, but indulgence cannot be ignored. San Francisco-based Alter Eco Foods brought the benefits of coconut oil to the chocolate category with its reincarnation of the classic truffle.
Earlier this year the company introduced organic, fair trade truffles in two flavors: Black, made with dark chocolate, and Velvet, made with a dark milk chocolate. The addition of pure organic coconut oil creates a silky, melty filling, while providing plentiful health benefits courtesy of the popular superfood, say company officials.
Many consumers are seeking to incorporate coconut oil as well as coconut milk into their diets because of the benefits they provide, including the ability to aid weight control, memory improvement and cholesterol regulation, say observers.
“Coconut milk and oil is rich in medium chain fatty acids which are plant-based fats that the body processes differently than other fats,” says Hilary Martin, spokesperson for Eugene, Ore.-based So Delicious Dairy Free. “The liver breaks them down and converts them into energy as opposed to storing them as fat in the adipose tissue. They are slow burning fats that provide energy to the body.”
So Delicious has a wide variety of coconut milk dairy alternatives, including ice creams and frozen novelties. Officials say one of its most popular products is a gluten-, dairy- and egg-free cookie dough ice cream made with organic coconut milk, that consumers can enjoy regardless of dietary necessity or preference. So Delicious also produces ice creams and frozen novelties made with almond and soy milk, many of which feature No Sugar Added, Gluten-Free, Organic and low-calorie claims.
Officials at Ramar Foods, maker of the Magnolia ice cream brand, say they use coconut for its health benefits, as well as for its tropical flavor and rich, creamy texture. Magnolia’s superfruit-inspired ice cream flavors include Coconut, Lychee, Purple Yam, Mango, Guava and Avocado.
“As you can see, we don’t play the vanilla game,” says P.J. Quesada, vice president of marketing and third generation owner of the Pittsburg, Calif.-based company. “We specialize in bringing a completely unique experience to the ice cream category that not everyone is familiar with. Our ingredients have a ton of unique attributes that you don’t normally see in this format.”
Because of Magnolia’s unconventional flavors Quesada felt the brand needed to take a new approach when packaging its “dangerously unfamiliar” ice creams, he says. For example, a pint of Guava reads: “Guava. The tropical flavor is irresistible. The grass skirt is optional.”
Better-for-you… for everyone
Consumers seeking better-for-you products have infiltrated every retail channel and store category. As a result, retailers need to be marketing to them in every aisle, say observers. In the natural space Sanders Candy created its Orchard Collection Fruit & Snack Dips to help win consumers over.
Available in Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and Caramel varieties, the dips come in 15-ounce multi-serve tubs, as well as single serving 2-ounce cups, individually or as a six-pack. They are gluten-free and contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. The dips are made without high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils.
“There are incremental choices people have to make when implementing a healthier lifestyle,” says Brian Jefferson, CEO of Morley Candy Makers, the Clinton Township, Mich.-based parent company of Sanders. “Products like ours need to be merchandised throughout the entire store because there’s a mass market demand for better-for-you products of all kind.”