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Pandemic Chocolate: How COVID Changed the Market and Where It’s Going


The coronavirus impacted almost every aspect of our lives, including our eating habits, and our relationship with chocolate is one of the many things that changed.


Did you turn to chocolate for a taste of comfort during some of the darker COVID days? You’re not alone. Lots of people enjoyed more chocolate, and ate larger amounts of high-quality chocolate, during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s look back at the chocolate trends we saw over the past year and forward to where these trends are headed.


Why did people turn to chocolate during the pandemic?


Simply put, chocolate makes you feel good. People aren't just imagining those good feelings that come when they eat chocolate; science has proven that chocolate has several mood-lifting compounds. These include phenylethylamine, a natural antidepressant that the brain makes when you're struck by love, and tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the body produce the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin.


How did chocolate habits shift as the world weathered COVID?


People consumed more chocolate and better chocolate -- when it was available. Globally, while people around the world craved chocolate, and overall sales went up, they often had to settle for lower-quality confections that they could find in supermarkets. The supply issues resulting from coronavirus restrictions were responsible for the slump that the premium chocolate sector saw across the globe last year.


In the United States, where supply problems were less of an issue, the consumption of high-quality chocolate outpaced lower-grade chocolate in 2020. The National Confectioners Association calculates that overall chocolate sales rose 5.5% and premium chocolate saw a spike of 12.5%. The percentages of chocolate purchased at local supermarkets and grocery stores were even higher: chocolate sales went up 17.9% and premium chocolate rose a whopping 21.4%.


Why did people more often choose premium chocolate over non-premium chocolate? The market research firm ReportLinker found that in 2020 consumer inclination leaned toward dark chocolate because it's generally healthier, lower in calories, and carries a premium cachet. Findings suggest that this demand for dark chocolate will only increase and fuel market growth.


Chocolate is a part of daily life for many Americans.


Data from the food giant Mondelēz International (Oreo, Chips Ahoy) shows that in mid-2020 about one in four consumers said that they regularly ate chocolate. The market research company FMCG Gurus surveyed chocolate eaters in the United States and found that 93% of them buy single-serve chocolate bars. Ten percent of those people ate one chocolate bar every day, and 38% of them said that their consumption of single-serve chocolate bars increased during the pandemic.


Sustainable and dark chocolate will drive the future.


In almost any market you look at it’s a fact: sustainability sells. Chocolate is no different. A staggering 81% of U.S. consumers say that they have positive inclinations toward products with sustainable ingredients.


And consumers favor dark chocolate. ReportLinker predicts that the world's chocolate market will have a compounded annual growth rate of 4.5% from 2021 to 2026. The market research company Technavio forecasts that dark chocolate will outpace general chocolate sales, growing at a rate of 7% annually to become a 3.5 billion dollar sector by the year 2024.


Will chocolate consumption continue to rise at the same dramatic rate without end? According to Packaged Facts, market researchers who specialize in packaged foods, the 12+% surge we saw in 2020 and 2021 will level off. The effects of that chocolate boom, however, will reverberate for years. The elevated levels of snacking and baking with chocolate we saw during the pandemic are expected to hold. Going forward we should see more consumption of chocolate than we did in pre-pandemic days.


There have been some small silver linings with COVID. Not a lot, but some. And one may be the rediscovery of the restorative properties of delectable chocolate, which we can surely keep with us as the world returns to normal.

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