As we reported earlier this week, France's chocolate market has undergone something of a rollercoaster ride in recent years, according to market analysts Xerfi, with strong growth in the early 2000s deflated by price rises linked to a cocoa supply crisis in 2002/03. But the market is expected to return to growth again in 2004 and 2005 as the high level of product innovation continues to stimulate interest in what would otherwise be a stagnating mature market.
The Xerfi report suggested that the vast majority of the growth in the market came from branded, rather than own label, players, although the GNPD data for the first few months of 2004 shows that both brand owners and retail groups have been busy rolling out new varieties. But the launches do reflect the trend towards mixing chocolate with other ingredients - fruit, caramel, etc - in a bid to rekindle consumer interest.
For example, market leader Nestlé launched Noir Eclat Caramel in April, dark chocolate with crispy caramel pieces, while fellow Swiss group Lindt has followed suit, adding a dark chocolate tablet with roasted whole hazelnuts, praline hazelnuts, Montmélimar nougat pieces and soft cherry to its portfolio, part of an ever-widening range of what it calls "rich gourmet chocolate creations".
Other good examples of new 'chocolate with…' launches include a new addition to the Evasions range from Cémoi which contains roasted cocoa bean nuggets, vanilla and bitter orange, also launched in April, and Lait Biscuit, milk chocolate with biscuit pieces, launched in March by retailer Casino.
But the GNPD data also reveals other trends in the French chocolate market not highlighted by the Xerfi report but which reveal other strategies on the part of brand owners and retailers alike to stimulate growth.
For example, the Nestlé chocolate bar with caramel pieces also plays not only to consumers' desires for more unusual taste varieties (to French palates, at least) but also to their increasing demand for healthy or functional products. The bar contains magnesium, and Nestlé is actively marketing the chocolate as a 'stress buster' - combining indulgence and functionality in one neat package and paving the way, no doubt, for similar products in the near future.
Another likely area of growth - although one which has been around for some time already - is the children's market, and several recent launches highlighted by Mintel show that both brand owners and supermarket groups continue to find new ways of keeping kids eating their chocolate.
For example, retailer Casino has launched Barres Fourrées au Lait, a pack of 16 mini milk-filled chocolate bars targeted squarely at the children's snack market, and with the added bonus of being enriched with calcium, an oft-used selling ploy designed to placate parents concerned about the 'healthiness' of chocolate.
In a similar vein are dark and milk chocolate bars from Delespaul, also designed as snacks for children, and Choco Fresh from Kinder, rhinoceros-shaped chocolate bars for kids which also contain hazelnuts and a cream filling and come with the added bonus - especially with the approach of summer - that they are designed to be eaten chilled, straight from the fridge, another USP in an increasingly busy market.
While convenience and fun is the key to growth in the kids market, adult needs are inevitably more sophisticated, as evidenced by the recent launch of Noir Dégustation by Acdis, an extra-fine dark chocolate clearly aimed at connoisseurs but in particular those with ethical leanings - the chocolate is part of the Max Havelaar Fairtrade range - another potential area of growth as yet underexploited in France.