How to sell indulgence now

04 February 2022, 07:49 AM
  • Chocolate is the pinnacle of luxury – but this year, consumers are craving more than great taste and a pretty package
How to sell indulgence now

Picture an indulgent treat and there is no doubt chocolate will come to mind. From decadent, sweet spreads to silky, smooth bars and from creamy milk chocolate to deliciously bitter dark, there’s variety aplenty to enjoy in the chocolate sector. And as fine food retailers will know well, taste is king. Yet, as conscious consumerism goes mainstream, shoppers are more and more often scrutinising the labels of their favourite chocolates. Sugar-free, palm-oil-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, plastic-free – these free-from markers are the new buzzwords shaking up the world of cocoa. 

Indulgence, explains Raffaella Baruzzo, business development manager at BRIK Chocolate, is changing. “In the past few years, I have seen a change in attitude and consumer behaviour in purchasing chocolate. Taste is still the key factor influencing our purchasing, but today people are also considering the types of chocolates to eat for personal health, and purchasing in consideration of social responsibility and the environment,” she says. As self-indulgence transforms to conscious-indulgence, we take a closer look at how retailers can excite their customers with the new generation of artisan chocolates, while ensuring beloved classics remain pride of place.

Best of both worlds

When great taste is a given, a health or wellness twist can make a product jump out on-shelf. “I think more and more consumers want low or no sugar in their chocolate, and this has been a growing trend for many years,” says Sameer Vaswani, founder of healthy, vegan chocolate brand Prodigy. “More recently, the rapid growth in plant-based and dairy-free eating means more consumers are looking for those options. For us, it’s been similar to plant-based meat,” he explains. “A huge number of consumers who have made a conscious decision to go plant based – either for health or environmental reasons – have missed their childhood favourites.”

Modern chocolates can even offer health benefits in the guise of functional ingredients like superfoods, high-quality cocoa or botanicals. “Too many consumers believe that it is not possible to have a chocolate treat that tastes amazing and also is a healthier option,” Sameer says. He believes that the industry has historically been held back by a lack of innovation – but this is changing. “With innovation, we now have access to better, more natural ingredients, and delivering a chocolate treat that is healthier for you and tastes great is now a reality.” Increasingly, brands are scrapping processed ingredients for nutrient-rich ingredients and natural sugars. For consumers who want to have their cake and eat it too, these developments are game changers.

An ethical choice

Part and parcel of selling fine food today is ensuring products have top-notch sustainability and ethical credentials. This is of huge importance in the chocolate industry, where Fairtrade labels offer a stamp of approval that consumers recognise and trust. Just like great flavour, though, Fairtrade is now an expectation. To loom large on retailers’ shelves, producers are targeting other high sustainability and ethical standards. “At Summerdown, as a certified B-Corp, we believe that business can be a force for good. That is to say, we believe we can bring Great Taste award-winning peppermint chocolates to consumers whilst looking after the planet and people too,” says Jo Colman, grandson of Summerdown’s founder, Sir Michael Colman.

Caring for the environment has been at the heart of Summerdown from the very start. “Farming for the future is at the core of Summerdown’s sustainability strategy, so we’re always thinking about our impact on the environment, how to maintain a thriving, sustainable ecosystem and, vitally, how we can protect it for years to come. The underlying aim of our business is to be regenerative; that is to say, we strive to make business decisions that actively engage the restoration of the environment and reduce our negative impact on it,” Jo explains.

Some chocolate makers are delving deep into the fine details of their carbon emissions. Ombar recently launched a range of chocolate which states the carbon footprint of the product on the label. “We knew we wanted to do more to make a positive impact, so we set out to make a range of chocolate that was as sustainable as possible,” says founder Richard Turner. “The range has less than half the carbon emissions of ‘regular’ milk chocolate, and we’re proud to be the first chocolate brand to state our carbon footprint on our packaging. At the moment, we’re one of a select few brands at the forefront of the movement for climate transparency, but we hope that knowing and showing a carbon footprint on-pack will soon be adopted by the rest of the food industry, helping consumers to make informed choices.”

Indeed, transparency is a key motivator for consumers today. “Consumers want to know the backstory of the brands they are enjoying so that they can share their knowledge with their friends and on social media,” says Tracey Hughes, managing director of Henley Bridge, the UK’s leading independent chocolate supplier. Belcolade, one of the group’s brands, has launched its own Cacao-Trace programme, which is a transparent payment scheme for cacao farmers. “Whilst chocolate is considered an indulgence, having impressive ethical credentials lessens the guilt and makes consumers feel good about themselves,” Tracey adds.

As well as cutting out carbon emissions and ensuring ethical standards are met, chocolate makers are taking a stand on single-use plastics. Summerdown, for example, has launched new peppermint chocolate bars in fully compostable packaging. “This is only the beginning of a long journey,” Jo says. Challenges remain, chiefly cost. “It’s not economically viable to replace all our existing product packaging with plastic-free alternatives right now, so instead we’ve looked at ways in which we can take steps towards offsetting our plastic.”

Sameer has also strived to ensure Prodigy part of the plastic solution rather than the problem. “From inception, we wanted to be a plastic-free brand. We were forced to delay our launch by almost a year in order to maintain this goal,” he admits. “Once we launched, we felt we needed to go one step further and also help reduce the single-use plastic problem, so for every Prodigy Bar sold, we fund the clean-up of 10 single use plastic wrappers from the environment.”

Tasting the difference

The industry’s shift towards sustainability is a positive one, but impressing and exciting customers with great flavours remains core to retailers’ chocolate offering. “Chocolate is an accessible luxury that we eat to treat ourselves for our own gratification,” says BRIK Chocolate’s Raffaella. Demand for indulgence is on the rise, she says, but rather than purchasing large bars of chocolate, consumers are buying smaller amounts of chocolate that bring a larger dose of indulgence. “Smaller mouthfeels of chocolate, perhaps of different taste, texture and type, extends the time of the tasting experience, meaning consumers will enjoy it more, improving the perception of taste and satiety,” Raffaella says. “Small portions are also associated with a more premium image and higher quality chocolates, with the size of the pack also influencing the occasion of consumption.”

Demand for comforting indulgence peaked in the pandemic, but this has petered out as the ‘new normal’ takes shape. “This isn’t to say the demand for indulgence has disappeared entirely, but perception of indulgence has shifted,” explains Richard. “‘Everything in moderation’ has never been truer, and consumers are finding that a smaller amount of something indulgent brings more satisfaction than a larger quantity of a less indulgent alternative.” 

“It’s about permissive indulgence,” adds Summerdown’s Jo, “allowing yourself a treat because you know the treat contains only the finest ingredients.” While luxury and indulgence are changing for the modern consumer, there is one thing that will always be true: a bar of chocolate, whether enjoyed in secret while the rest of the family is out or shared amongst friends, offers a simple way to brighten up the everyday.

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