Current and future trends in speciality confectionery and chocolate

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Fudge Kitchen Gourmet Fudge Miniatures

According to Mintel, the sugar and gum confectionery market is estimated to see a rise in value of 10.4% between 2015 and 2020, bolstered by increasing prices despite a slight fall in predicted sales. Nevertheless, concerns over the dangers of sugar usage, particularly links with childhood obesity, pose an ongoing threat to market growth. Several operators in this sector are exploring a more upmarket and adult-oriented positioning in certain categories, including marshmallow and fudge, referencing provenance and handmade credentials. Indeed, 52% of users polled expressed interest in sophisticated adult sweets, e.g. high-quality fruit jellies, with 45% attracted by sweets from other countries, including salted liquorice from Scandinavia. Additionally, 30% would like to see more allergen-free sweets, another potential area for development.

Mintel's analysis also shows that premium chocolate is experiencing growth with a 72% increase in products launched globally between 2011 and 2015. As consumers become more concerned with cocoa content, source of origin, uniqueness and authenticity, a quarter of chocolate buyers in the UK say they would pay more for a luxury brand of chocolate for themselves, while 44% would do so as a gift. Flavour innovation, particularly with Asian-inspired ingredients, has been strongly influential, from wasabi in 2012 to matcha green tea last year. Furthermore, the trend for teas as an ingredient in chocolate confectionery looks set to remain amid claims of health benefits, flavour nuances and ability to complement different strengths of cocoa.

Emma Murphy, Selfridges' Confectionery Buyer, comments: "We have seen strong sales in 'superfood chocolates' and tea-infused options, such as matcha and oolong. We’re also predicting growth in ‘grown-up’ confectionery, including cocktail flavours." Additionally, within the speciality confectionery and chocolate sector, savoury combinations have been gaining traction and this trend shows little sign of abating. Siân Holt of Fudge Kitchen notes: "In chocolate, fudge & other confectionery, the biggest trend over the last few years has been the huge love of sea salted caramel. No single flavour has had such impact before or since and, whilst variants of it are now emerging e.g. maple with sea salt, this is not about to go away any time soon. Beyond this, spices like cardamom and cinnamon have been increasingly popular, likewise chilli, sometimes as a named variety, other times mixed with complimentary ingredients like lime, along with more subtle flavours of tea (chai, matcha, earl grey) or florals like geranium and rose. More recently alcohols, particularly gins, are beginning to emerge linked to the growth of artisan distilleries, incorporating botanicals in confectionery."


Bonieri Chocolates

Concerning savoury versus sweet options, Bonieri's Amber Rust makes the following observations: "There are many weird and wonderful ingredients being put with chocolate - from bacon to kaffir lime, curry powder and peppercorns. I think this will persist, as opposed to the growth of 'pudding chocolates' like lemon meringue mousse or apple crumble flavours etc. that we have already seen. Hazelnuts are always popular but I can see pistachios being used more too." Similarly, Louise Truswell of Booja Booja adds: "All our dairy-free ice creams and a few of our chocolate truffles contain nuts. We’ve certainly seen increased demand for both during the last few years and the fact they contain nuts may have played a part in this." For Nathan Williams of Tudors Pralines, the success of nuts as key ingredients may not just be for the flavours: "Almonds have become very popular and their status as a healthy ingredient is widely known. Even though we cover ours in caramel, this seems to help sell the product quite nicely."

At Zotter Chocolate, taste innovation is top of the agenda: "At the moment", reveals Keith Lowe, "we are exploring the opportunities of wood, including chocolate infused with schnapps made from silver fir trees and we will be launching more 'wood-themed' bars in the future." However, balancing innovation with traditional flavours remains important, as Jayne Edge of Campbells Fudge describes: "There are always the traditionalists who will only buy plainer flavours such as 'All Butter' or 'Vanilla', but we have found that over the last five years our customers are keen to try the more 'exotic' like 'Strawberry & Cream' or 'Iron Brew'. The best sellers are always the traditional ones of 'All Butter' and 'Vanilla', however in the last two years 'Salted Caramel' has hit a real high and we sell as much of that as the traditional flavours."

Another trend is the use of single-origin cocoa, as Lowe explains: "We have seen a marked increase in demand for our single-origin chocolates and I am sure this will continue. Not many years ago most of the wine on sale in the UK was the most dreadful plonk, but now every high street is full with an astonishing selection of fine wines. I believe that we are now at the beginning of the same transformation in our chocolate buying habits." Holt concurs, adding that the use of different types of creams from named dairies, or sugar varieties that play with caramelisation and flavour depth are also part of the same phenomenon.


Champion Reeves Confectionery

"The trend for gourmet and 'grown-up' confectionery is certainly very current", Philippa Quayle of Art of Mallow describes. "People seem to be much more aware of what they are eating and the desire for good quality, hand-made produce is very much apparent. Food that requires little or no processing is what people are after. When food is crafted by hand there are obvious differences in taste, texture, quality and nutritional value. Marshmallows are a good example of a product that was originally made by hand, was then industrialised and over-processed and has now re-emerged as a handmade sweet treat, albeit with a modern gourmet twist." Jacqueline Champion of Champion Reeves agrees: "People want to eat something natural – a real product made with real ingredients, not something synthetic and over-engineered! We use good quality animal fats like butter in place of synthetically manufactured alternatives, olive oil rather than palm oil and molasses, which are full of trace minerals and vitamins, instead of more refined white sugars." Kit Tomlinson of Mighty Fine Honeycomb also notes the importance to the speciality consumer of quality and provenance: "Customers are looking for great ingredients in their confectionery and chocolate and are prepared to pay a small premium for them. We use British honey in the production of our honeycomb that gives us a far superior taste and texture, allowing us to support a vital UK industry."

Health concerns are never far from public scrutiny and more consumers are choosing Free From products for both health and lifestyle reasons. Truswell comments: "We’re definitely seeing a growth in this market and more demand for unprocessed, simple, healthy products made from just a few ingredients. The digital world has facilitated the sharing of recipes and food photography, so naturally there’s more buzz about food and lifestyles in general with veganism a particular trend at the current time." Similarly, Taz Basunia of Jealous Sweets sees a growing appreciation of health and nutrition affecting the market: "People are much more aware now of what they put into their bodies. When I do in-store tastings, I am constantly asked what ingredients, allergens and calorie content are in the sweets. This would not have happened ten years ago!" Nicole Dunphy of Pandora Bell believes this trend will last: "Since we launched, I have noticed that special dietary requirements have become a big issue, whether it be gluten-free, vegetarian, dairy-free etc.. I expect this will continue into the future and that vegetarian/vegan will become increasingly important as the sustainability message becomes part of how we live."

Selfridges' Murphy predicts further innovations in health-related products, citing Nutircoa as a brand which "harnesses the benefits of using high quantities of cocoa and collagen to create a tasty beauty supplement." Champion sees a further significant change: "People recognise the link between obesity and large-sized, poor quality confectionery, so portion control is becoming more important with smaller, individually wrapped pieces a growing trend."


Fudge Kitchen Fudge Bars

Home kits, gift sets and experiences comprise another burgeoning market, as Siân Holt explains: "Over the last ten years, particularly the last two, there has been a growing consumer-led demand for ‘real experiences’ with the culinary sector leading the way. We now undertake more than 350 fudge-making experiences a year across our shops and our ‘Make Fudge at Home’ kits have grown exponentially since launch five years ago." For many confectionery companies, the gift sector offers a strong, reliable revenue stream. "Special treats and gifting", Dunphy remarks, "are stable and the luxury market for food will always hold. If you compare the cost of other luxury items like handbags or watches to a bar of nougat, the premium price is not at all unaffordable!"

The speciality confectionery and chocolate market offers exciting possibilities for the consumer. As Philippa Quayle says "There seem to be more artisan producers now who are looking at popular mainstream confectionery, reorganising and disrupting it and adding exciting new twists. It’s a fun and innovative time for confectionery offering consumers more variety and appealing new choices."

This article was originally published in the 2016 Confectionery and Chocolate Buyer Supplement of Speciality Food Magazine.