Lotte’s probiotic chocolate success highlights functional potential in Japan

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Lotte's lactic acid bacteria-fortified brand appeals to health-conscious consumers in Japan, says Canadean. Photo: Canadean
Lotte's lactic acid bacteria-fortified brand appeals to health-conscious consumers in Japan, says Canadean. Photo: Canadean

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Functional chocolate is poised to contribute to market growth in Japan based on the success of Lotte’s Sweet Days chocolate, says market analyst Canadean.

In a report published last month, the research firm said 20m Sweets Days packs had been sold in Japan by September 2016 since the brand’s October 2015 launch.

Lactic acid bacteria

The product contains lactic acid bacteria and is marketed to help maintain bowel health.

“Generally, lactic acid bacteria are vulnerable to stomach acid, but those in Lotte Sweets Days chocolate are coated in the fat element of the chocolate, which helps them to reach the intestine,”​ said Canadean in its report.

It said that probiotic yoghurts containing lactic acid bacteria had already enjoyed great success, particularly among Japanese women.

“The chocolate format is convenient for consuming and storing probiotics without a refrigerator, extending consumer enjoyment of probiotic products beyond yogurt,”​ it said.

Meiji and Glico

Chocolate confectionery market leader in Japan, Meiji, is also expessing interest in the functional chocolate market. In September last year, it held a media seminar presenting functional chocolate studies in collaboration with Teikyo University.

Early last year, Japanese confectioner Ezaki Glico made its first foray into the functional chocolate market with new brand Libera and said more funtional chocolate launches would follow. The Libera milk chocolate brand is fortified with indigestible dextrin and dietary fibers, which the company claims helps suppress the absorption of ingested sugars and fat.

Growth driven by cocoa’s health association

Chocolate consumption in Japan has grown from 1.31 kg per capita in 1984 to 2 kg in 2014, according to Chocolate & Cocoa Association of Japan (CCAJ).

This makes the country among the biggest chocolate consumer in Asia Pacific, far ahead of China (0.2 kg in 2014, Euromonitor) and Indonesia (0.3 kg in 2014, Euromontior).

Value sales in chocolate confectionery in Japan grew 6% in 2016 to reach ¥552bn ($4.8bn), according to Euromonitor. It said growth was driven mainly by rising demand for the health benefits of cocoa as chocolate with over 72% cocoa solids saw large value sales increases.

Canadean said in its report: “Identifying key health concerns and catering to them with chocolate creates opportunities in a category not normally associated with health.”

Japan has one of the world’s oldest populations with a median age of 46.9, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. Coronary heart disease is the third leading cause of death in Japan, while the country has one of the highest suicide rates in Asia, according to the World Health Organization.

High cocoa content chocolate has been linked to boosting mood​ ​and maintaining heart health​ in some peer-reviewed studies, while cocoa flavanols - but not necessarily those found in chocolate - have been tied to improved cognitive performance.

Canadean: Success Case Study: Lotte Sweets Days Chocolate​ (December 2016)
Euromonitor: Chocolate Confectionery in Japan​ (August 2016)

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