French chocolate market volumes declined -0.9% in 2016 year-on-year to 381,900 metric tons (MT), but value sales grew to €3.48bn ($3.74bn), data released by the association last week shows.
Higher cocoa content
Patrick Poirrier, president of the Syndicat du Chocolat, told ConfectioneryNews the French market has followed a trend in most mature global chocolate markets for quality, higher cocoa content products.
French chocolate market retail value market share in 2016:
- Ferrero – 23%
- Lindt & Sprüngli – 13%
- Mondelēz – 10%
Mondelēz and Nestlé lost share in 2016, but Euromonitor expects market shares will be unchanged in 2017.
"You can see it in all mainland Europe and you see the same trend in the US market that consumers prefer to buy premium products."
"The tablets market is continuing to premiumize...there's quite an increase in value in this segment," said Poirrier, who is also president of Perpignan-based chocolatier Cémoi.
Brands such as Lindt, Cémoi and private label are driving the premium trend, said Poirrier.
Tablets are the main category in the French chocolate market accounting for 33% of sales volumes in 2016, compared to 9% for countlines.
"If you compare the tablet market [in France] to other European countries and the US, the number of SKUs (Stock-Keeping Unit) you have on shelf is enormous. We are the biggest country for the number of tablet SKUs in the world,” said Poirrier.
Inclusions and fillings
The Syndicat du Chocolat chief said novel inclusions were driving sales in the tablet segment in France.
For example, Cémoi recently launched a tablet containing physalis, a fruit native to the Americas known as the Inca Berry.
"Filled bars is also a driver of sales," said Poirrier, particularly fillings adding a crunchy texture.
Cocoa origins and provenance
The Cémoi president added that provenance and transparency was heavily influencing NPD in France's tablet segment.
"Consumers want to know what they eat, so they ask more about what's inside and the cocoa content, and the country the cocoa comes from."
The bulk of cocoa for the French chocolate market, 43%, comes from Côte d'Ivoire and 37% from Ghana. Dominican Republic is France's main source of fine flavor cocoa, accounting for 8% of total cocoa imports.
Poirrier does not expect Latin American cocoa origins will take share from West Africa for the French chocolate market despite the premium shift.
"In France, we've got a bigger market share for dark chocolate. For dark chocolate we need fermented cocoa and we have a strong base and chocolaty taste in West African cocoa and it's a good match with the French taste," he said.
Consumption likely to remain static
French chocolate consumption reached 6.95 kg per capita in 2014, making it Europe's seventh top consuming market, according to trade body CAOBISCO.
Around 30% of chocolate consumption in France is by adults, compared to 5% on average in the EU.
Poirrier said: "Nobody is searching an increase in volume in a developed markets like France, Europe or North America.
"Consumers will move for better quality, but there will be less volume."
Putting a spring into Easter sales
Easter accounts for 3.9% of annual sales in the French chocolate market (15,000 MT), according to the Syndicat du Chocolat. Chocolate volume sales over Easter declined -1.2% year-on-year in 2016. Around 51% of sales came in the week of Easter. Poirrier said the market was dominated by gifting products for children. He said French firms could borrow from the US trend for Spring rather than Easter-specific products to help extend sales over the season.
Exports: Brexit challenge
France exports around 63% of its chocolate volumes (250,000 MT) with around 87% going to EU markets - mainly the UK, Germany, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Poirrier said even SMEs in France tend to post around 30-50% of turnover in export markets.
"Brexit means a lower value for GBP and that means an increase in price for imported products. Even if you look at locally produced products [made in the UK] a lot of raw materials are imported, so really there will be an impact on the price of products,” he said.
But he said French chocolate makers could capitalize on the country's positive image in the gastronomy and pastry sectors to drive sales outside the EU
"USA is one of the growing markets [for French chocolate], Asia also. People are talking about Japan and China where people love really dark chocolate,” said Poirrier.