The results of a consumer survey on healthy chocolate suggests that the substance once considered solely as a sweet confectionery item has made huge strides towards the realm of health foods.
The survey was conducted on behalf of cocoa manufacturer Barry Callebaut through telephone or face-to-face interviews with around 1000 consumers in each of Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. On average 35.6 per cent of people asked signalled that they would buy chocolate that promised health benefits.
Although the survey results are, understandably, being used as to boost marketing of Callebaut's products and ingredients (particularly those based on its ActiCoa polyphenol-preserving process), the findings may hold good news for the healthy chocolate sector at large.
It appears that consumers in major European markets grasp the difference between chocolate with a cocoa content of over 70 per cent has been researched for its preventative role in relation to serious conditions like heart health and dementia, and sugar-laden confections.
The latter, which have lower cocoa levels and therefore less polyphenols, are considered to be junk food of little nutritional value.
What is more, market researchers generally advise that only foods that have a basic healthy profile should be considered as carriers for healthy ingredients, as otherwise they are seen as novelties that contradict the aim of promoting wellbeing.
Some food companies are already using high-cocoa chocolate as a vehicle for functional ingredients. For instance, a chocolate bar called Attune containing DSM's Lafti brand probiotic launched recently in the US.
Mars, which is one of the other leading lights in healthy chocolate innovation besides Callebaut, has also added plant sterols to its CocoaVia healthy chocolate bars.
As for Barry Callebaut, chief innovation officer Hans Vriens said: "A large number of people associate eating chocolate with feelings of guilt. We are working hard on that - unjustified - 'guilty feeling' with the development of 'guilt free' chocolate."In addition to the ActiCoa process, the company has also come up with a way to naturally reduce the sugar content in chocolate by as much as 40 per cent.
The highlights of the survey released by Barry Callebaut also contain an insight into the relationship between added health value and consumers' readiness to reach into their pockets.
In all countries some respondents said they would be prepared to pay up more for chocolate that is beneficial for their health. On average, 23.2 per cent said they would be prepared to pay up to 10 per cent more for chocolate that is beneficial to their health, and 11.4 per cent would be prepared to pay up to 20 per cent more.
Other aspects of the survey revealed some interesting differences between the five countries.
For instance, France led the pack in terms of dark chocolate consumption, with 57 per cent of respondents reporting its use compared to 47 per cent in Belgium, 40 per cent of Swiss, 7 per cent of Germans, and 35 per cent of Brits.
The French seem to be firm believers that chocolate is good for you (74 per cent said it boosts morale and revitalises you, 22 per cent that it boosts memory and 13 per cent that it benefits the cardiovascular system.
At the other end of the spectrum, the British came across as most sceptical about the benefits. Just 23 per cent believed in the morale claim, 20 per cent that it revitalises you, six per cent that it boosts memory and seven per cent that it aids the cardiovascular system.