While consumers on the Continent may fail to see the appeal of British chocolate - made, as much of it is, from vegetable fats and not cocoa butter as elsewhere - consumers in the UK are showing no signs of ending their love affair with the confectionery product, and Britain still consumes more chocolate than any other EU nation.
A new report from market analysts Datamonitor shows that chocolate accounts for more than 30 per cent of the total confectionery market in Britain, with consumers munching their way through 660.9 million kg of chocolate in 2001, a massive increase of 55 million kg on the levels consumed in 1996. In addition, the amount spent on chocolate has also increased, from £3.3 billion to £3.7 billion in 2001.
Not to be outdone, however, sugar confectionery sales in the UK are also the largest in Europe, accounting for 23 per cent of the total European market value in 2001. Within this sector, gums and jellies form the most popular sweet, with the rise of pick-and-mix shops in leisure complexes such as cinemas, bowling alleys and shopping centres contributing to this. Hard-boiled sweets are the second most popular sugar confectionery product.
Gum sales are on the up as well. In 1996, the UK consumed 19.6 million kg of gum, but in 2001 this figure rose to 22.6 million kg. Health concerns contributed towards strong growth in the sugar-free gum sector. This, claims Datamonitor, is mainly due to the promotion of chewing gum as part of the total dental care package. Innovative products such as tooth-whitening chewing gum and products that release menthol vapours have recently been released onto the market.
The picture is less rosy for the perennial children's favourite, bubble gum, whose sales have been in steady decline. Bubble gum makes up only 2 million kg of the total 19.6 million kg of gum sold in 2001, and sales are not expected to increase in the next five years.
Lawrence Gould, Datamonitor consumer markets analyst, said: "Bubble gum has been largely relegated to the novelty products niche. Temporary surges in sales can be attributed to marketing agreements on the back of children's crazes such as the recent Pokémon phenomenon, but these are short-lived.
In the longer term, no significant growth can be expected from this segment."
Recent, and increasing, fanaticism over energy and sport drinks is clearly evident in the UK, with only Germany matching Britain in terms of volume consumed. The UK energy and sports drinks market reached a value of €1.1 billion in 2001, making it one of the largest energy and sports drink markets in Europe.
The UK market reached a value of £770 million in 2001, growing at a strong compound annual growth rate of over 42.4 per cent between 1996-2001. This is by far the highest growth rate in the UK soft drinks market, with over one quarter of these drinks sold on-trade pubs and bars. In 2001 consumers in the UK spent an average of £12.60 per head on 9.7 litres of sports and energy drinks.