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To the dark side: Cocoa polyphenol craze prompts dark chocolate shift in Japan, says Meiji

By Oliver Nieburg+

22-Apr-2015
Last updated on 23-Apr-2015 at 03:07 GMT2015-04-23T03:07:36Z

Dark chocolate viewed as functional food after industry marketing push, says Meiji
Dark chocolate viewed as functional food after industry marketing push, says Meiji

Japanese consumers are eating more dark chocolate at the expense of milk varieties as interest grows in cocoa polyphenols, says leading domestic chocolatier Meiji.

Milk chocolate is a growing category in Japan and will remain the country’s most popular chocolate category for the foreseeable future, but consumers are rapidly upping consumption of bitter chocolate, Yoshinori Doi, general manager of the production division at Meiji’s confectionery unit, said at the Asia Choco Cocoa Congress in Singapore.

Step change for all ages

“It’s a big change,” he said. He told ConfectioneryNews after his presentation that his company and industry associations had been promoting the benefit of cocoa polyphenols, which had led to the spike in consumption of dark chocolate, now widely viewed as a health food.

And it’s not only happening among older adults. “Growth of dark chocolate contributes in all age groups including young generations,” he said.

Doi said that Japanese chocolate companies only mention products contains polyphenols and make no specific health claims.

A similiar trend towards dark chocolate can be seen in China. According to Euromonitor International, Chinese dark chocolate sales were just over RMB 600m ($97m) in 2006, but reached around RMB 1.5bn ($242m) in 2014. Last year, plain milk chocolate sales in the country were around RMB 1.7bn ($275m). Doi said that Chinese consumers were moving towards dark chocolate as they favored higher quality products.

Japan's chocolate consumption low by European standards.

25 years to raise consumption 0.5 kg

Japan is an established confectionery market but annual chocolate consumption, at 2 kg per capita, is still very low by Western European standards, which can be more than 10 kg in some countries such as Switzerland.

Doi said Japan had significant prospects to grow consumption to these levels, but warned it would be a gradual process.

“It took 25 years to reach 2 kg from 1.5 kg – it took so long,” he said.

The Japanese confectionery industry was valued at $27.4bn in 2013, up 2.5% on the prior year, according to Doi’s presentation.

Last year, chocolate overtook Japanese cakes as the country’s leading confectionery category by value sales for the first time. Chocolate values sales were $4.06bn in 2013, meaning the category made up 15% of the confectionery sector.

“Chocolate has become more familiar in Japanese people’s daily diets,” said Doi. “The bean to bar concept is becoming more popular in Japan also.”

Meiji is Japan's leading chocolate company with a 19% value share, according to Euromonitor.

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