NCA Sweet Insights Report Explores Preferences, Habits Of Chocolate Consumers

Washington — In 2021, chocolate continued to build on its 2020 strength, with increases in dollars, units and volume, according to a report released today by NCA. Sales growth in the sector continues to accelerate, driven by more frequent trips and larger baskets, with everyday chocolate dominating sales, particularly larger pack sizes, gift boxes and sugar-free and premium chocolate.

The Association’s new report, Getting to Know Chocolate Consumers 2021: Exploring Consumer Demographics, Consumption Preferences and Shopping Habits for Mainstream, Premium and Fine Chocolate, explores chocolate consumption patterns and preferences.

Conducted by 210 Analytics, LLC and sponsored by the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) and Barry Callebaut USA, the report provides an in-depth look at consumer perceptions, attitudes and behaviors regarding chocolate, with the intention of guiding the confectionery industry with regards to production, marketing, merchandising and branding decisions. 

The survey explored three chocolate segments: mainstream, premium and fine chocolate, and found that 80 percent of consumers purchase at least two out of those three segments:

  • Mainstream chocolate, such as Hershey, Snickers and Baby Ruth, is purchased by 83 percent of chocolate consumers, with half maintaining mainstream is their typical chocolate choice.
  • Premium chocolate, such as Lindt, Ghirardelli and Ferrero, has the second-widest audience, at 67 percent, with 27 percent noting premium is their typical chocolate choice. This is up from 23 percent in 2018.
  • About three in 10 chocolate consumers (29 percent) also treat with fine chocolate, but only 5 percent say that it is their typical choice.

“Chocolate has always been a consumer favorite, but preferences for type and format vary widely based on consumers’ age, income and lifestyle,” John Downs, president & CEO of NCA, says. “This past year was a strong one for chocolate. COVID-19 dramatically changed shopping behaviors, spurring tremendous growth in chocolate ecommerce, for instance. The research in this new report breaks down the changes we’re seeing to help the confectionery industry continue to adapt, grow and thrive.”

The Getting to Know Chocolate Consumers 2021 report also takes a closer look at the rapidly growing fine chocolate segment, which has seen a significant increase in frequent and exclusive consumers since the start of the pandemic.

Among Americans who consume fine chocolate at least on occasion, 17 percent choose it frequently or almost exclusively. This is up significantly from 11 percent in 2018, the report reveals. On the other end of the spectrum, 45 percent of consumers indicate they rarely consumer fine chocolate, which is unchanged from 2018. Core fine chocolate consumers recognize the quality and taste of products in the sector and have overcome the general chocolate consumers’ perception of “expensive.” They opt for fine chocolate because they believe it tastes better (59 percent), is more satisfying (43 percent) and you can eat a little and it enjoy a lot (42 percent), according to respondents.

The research also found that fine chocolate consumers skew younger, tend to live in urban areas and earn above-average incomes. They are very socially and environmentally engaged and while in 2018, 11 percent frequently or even exclusively enjoyed some fine chocolate by 2021, this share reached 19 percent.

“Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen consumers more willing to treat themselves to a piece of fine chocolate in order to support their emotional well-being during this stressful period,” Bill Guyton, executive director of the FCIA, confirms. “This wave of interest in fine chocolate has spurred all sorts of new experimentation and inclusions from the fine chocolate industry as consumers find new ways to fit fine chocolate into their everyday routines — from single origin recipes to rare ingredients.”

Laura Bergan, director of marketing for the Barry Callebaut Brand, North America, agrees that consumer preferences have evolved: “Looking at our own consumer insights and research in parallel with watching our customers’ business, we agree there have been shifts in consumer purchases at the shelf. This research aligns with our observations that consumers are more than ever seeking chocolate experiences in their sweet treat consumption moments.”

The complete Getting to Know Chocolate Consumers 2021 report is available to NCA member companies at CandyUSA.com/ChocolateConsumers, and key insights can be found in the executive summary at CandyUSA.com/2021ChocolateSummary.