European consumers first started to exchange chocolate gifts as a token of love in the 1800s, when the edible treat started to take over from the more popular tokens of cards or flowers. However, chocolate fans will turn away from traditional lines this year, and some of the hottest chocolates for the holiday are infused with flavours ranging from paprika and chilies to green tea and lavender. US-base Phytobase, for example, has created the Choconella T bonbon infused with Goji berries and exotic-sounding "Amazon rainforest herbs." Together, the functional ingredients can increase libido and energy levels, reduce stress, support memory and mental clarity, and enliven the mood, the company claims. "Imagine Love Potion Number 9 as an organic dark chocolate treat. That's the concept behind Choconella," said company chief executive officer Sam Gur. "It's all about convenience, quality, great taste and added health benefits." The vogue for chocolate with an added kick is not just confined to the US, as several European manufacturers are also eager to cash in on the trend. Godiva, the leading premium chocolate firm, claims to sell 15,000 chocolate covered strawberries an hour, while Lindt's 70 per cent dark chocolate bars are still very much in demand. Organic and ethical chocolate firms are also getting in on the act, allowing consumers to feel even more virtuous in their chocolate eating habits. Hershey-owned organic firm Dagoba produces chocolate bars seeded with hemp, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, while the 74 per cent dark chocolate bars are flecked with chillies, cacao nibs, nutmeg and vanilla. The trend is not only contained to the commercial world, unusual and exotic ingredients took centre stage for artisan chocolate creations at the UK chocolate awards announced yesterday. UK chocolatier William Curley won awards for his ganaches, one flavoured with Japanese black vinegar and the other with sesame seeds. Other chocolates flavours exhibited at the show this year included the traditional rose and violet to the sea salted caramel, as well as spiced chocolates and a move towards Japanese ingredients and natural liquorice. According to the National US Retail Association, the average US consumer plans to spend $122.98 on Valentine's Day this year, up from $119.67 in 2007. Traditional gifts such as confectionery, flowers and jewellery will continue to be popular, but chocolate still remains this holiday's favourite, as nearly half of consumer - 48 per cent - say that chocolate is still their number one choice of present for a loved one.
What's more, Valentine's Day is the fourth-largest confectionery holiday after Halloween, Easter and Christmas in the US Sales for chocolate and non-chocolate Valentine's Day products are projected to be $1.1bn in 2008, up from $1.03bn in 2007 this holiday, according to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.