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Despite some regulations being delayed, HFSS is coming into force in October this year.
This is forcing indulgence brands to consider whether they should reformulate to meet the guidelines and continue to be positioned front and centre in retail stores, or stick to their guns and champion conventional luxury.
Continued focus on indulgence
According to Ben Davies, founder and CEO of intelligence platform Vypr, despite the new restrictions, 89% of consumers won’t be deterred from satisfying their cravings for sweet, salty or fattening foods. He explained, “Comfort food is here to stay. As we head into the winter and financial tightening of household finances, indulgences may be the one thing that remains in the shopping basket.
“Altering products to make them HFSS- compliant could be a big gamble for indulgent brand owners. Reformulating them might end up removing what your customers are looking for.”
Deirdre Burns, trade marketing manager at Forest Feast, added, “Taste will always be important to consumers. In numerous Mintel reports consumers have cited taste as key to purchasing decisions.
“It is important to give consumers choice and arm them with the tools to make informed decisions, but there will always be a demand for indulgent treat options, as consumers want to reward or comfort themselves while they relax after a busy week at work for example.
“We have seen demand for more indulgent snacks, especially chocolate-covered nuts like our Salted Dark Chocolate Almonds and Belgian Milk Chocolate Brazils increase over the past 18 months.
“Quality and great taste are more important than ever. Consumers are more discerning in what they are looking for from their snacks, therefore healthier options which still deliver on taste will always be in demand, but there will always be a place for luxury brands.”
The bliss point
Cocoa Runners have explored the idea of the ‘Bliss Point’, which is where if you combine sugar, salt, and fat with interesting flavourings and textures, humans hit a point where we gorge ourselves.
Hannah Goodwin, content, marketing, and business analyst at Cocoa Runners, explained, “Commodity makers use cheap ingredients to get customers to eat more using the ‘Bliss Point’ approach. It is about pointing customers towards the list of ingredients and showing them that ‘bliss point’ tactics are not at play, even in a product that is wrongly stereotyped as being ‘unhealthy’.
“It is actually better for the customer (chocolate has lots of minerals, manganese, iron, etc. when minimally processed) better for the farmers, and the planet. Therefore, craft chocolate should become part of a regular routine, not as an occasional splurge (or indulgence).”
With HFSS regulations coming in from October, it is this concoction of fat, sugar and salt that will be facing restrictions. Therefore, for craft chocolate brands considering reformulating to meet guidelines, doing so could be a huge mistake.
According to Ben, “It’s important that indulgent brands get their messaging right. Indulgence is about absolute taste and lavishness. As we get closer to those HFSS restrictions becoming a reality, I believe that the luxurious brands should shout about their luxuriousness from the rooftop, so they stay in the front of the mind.
Hannah added, “We have seen makers using QR codes on packaging to their advantage. This way customers can gather more information on not just the ingredients used, but also where these ingredients are from and how they are ethically sourced.”
“It’s worth noting that consumer awareness around HFSS is staggering low, with only 15% of us currently acquainted with the new rules. So, it’ll be a huge shock for many people - something brands need to be prepared for”, Ben told Speciality Food.
Promoting quality over quantity
By focusing on chocolate that doesn’t apply the ‘Bliss Point’ principle and instead provides real flavour and ingredients, indie retailers can capitalise on a taste for indulgence.
For Deidre, “Consumers often visit fine food retailers as they know they stock products that have craft, heritage and provenance like our Chocolate dipped Nuts range - oven roasted skin-on whole nuts generously drenched in Belgian milk, white or dark Chocolate.”
This idea of promoting quality over quantity is something Cocoa Runners strongly believe in. “Quality over quantity is fundamental when it comes to promoting craft chocolate. In other words, ‘savour not scoff’. When a bar of chocolate is quickly eaten, the tasting experience is one-dimensional and the person will only be able to taste sweetness,” Hannah explained.
“However, when a bar is savoured (leaving the chocolate on the tongue to melt with the body’s temperature), the person can embark on the ‘flavour wave’ and perceive upfront flavour notes, the overall flavour body, and any after tastes. Since craft chocolate makers put so much effort into creating nuanced, complex, and balanced bars, it is fundamental to realise this commitment by savouring their work.
“We believe it’s a real shame that HFSS regulations are grouping together commodity chocolate (long list of unrecognisable ingredients, ultra-processed, bliss point) and craft chocolate (simple ingredients, a recipe that could be replicated at home).
“However, since this is the reality, indie fine food retailers will have to become smart with their packaging and encourage customers to prioritise quality over quantity. This is crucial as restrictions may come into place that limit the quantity of HFSS bought.”
Hannah concluded, “Promoting quality over quantity is a familiar tactic with craft makers due to the higher price points of the bars. We often encourage customers to spend less and savour their chocolate for longer - the same principles can apply when HFSS restrictions come into place.”