Startup Watch

TRŪ Chocolate spots US market gap for premium sugar-free dark chocolate

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

TRŪ Chocolate's xylitol-sweetened snackfections have distribution at ShopRite. Photo: CN
TRŪ Chocolate's xylitol-sweetened snackfections have distribution at ShopRite. Photo: CN

Related tags Chocolate Sugar substitute Price

Startup TRŪ Chocolate has entered the US market with xylitol-sweetened dark chocolate and already has a listing with a mainstream retailer.

The Boston-based company has secured distrbution at ShopRite in New York, the largest food retailer in the city's metropolitan area.

TRŪ Chocolate is projecting $7.2m in sales in its first year.

The company exhibited at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago last month, marking its first trade fair.

TRŪ Chocolate launched in test markets in 2009 and 2010, but kicked off its official launch in the US last month after seven years of product refinement.

Seven years in R&D

"It took a long time to make good chocolate without sugar,"​ Bob Bergwall, vp of sales & marketing at TRŪ Chocolate, told ConfectioneryNews.

"Americans are looking for ways to cut down on sugar - however, nobody wants to cut down on dark chocolate. So, we're offering them a way to get their dark chocolate and not worry about sugar,”​ he said.

tru choc1
TRŪ Chocolate exhibited its range for the first time at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago last month. Photo: CN

 The company – led by CEO Michael Gilmore, formerly COO of Ferrero USA - has four SKUs:

  • Soild Dark Chocolate Wafers 
  • Dark Chocolate Covered Raw Pasteurized Almonds
  • Dark Chocolate Covered Flame Raisins
  • Dark Chocolate Covered Gluten Free Pretzels

The range is Fair Trade USA and non-GMO certified and comes in 61 g and 85 g stand-up reclosable boxes.

The entire range will be stocked at ShopRite's natural marketplace in its New York City stores from this month.

America’s diabetic population

TRŪ Chocolate says it is aiming to meet demand for 'better-for-you' products in premium chocolate by offering a range without additives or preservatives.

It is also aiming to appeal America’s diabetic population.

Around 29.1 million consumers​ - 9.3% of the US population - are diagnosed diabetic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A further 8.1m people in the US are undiagnosed, it estimates.

Xylitol from Canada

TRŪ Chocolate is sweetened with xylitol, extracted from birch tree bark from Canada.

A snapshot: US sugar free chocolate market

No sugar free - adrian825

The US sugar-free chocolate candy market is worth around $116m* in annual dollar sales. The segment registered a slight decline in dollar sales (-3%) for the 52 weeks ending August 7, 2016. Sugared chocolate generated around $10.1bn sales over the same period. The sugar-free segment is dominated by Russell Stover ($85m in annual sugar-free chocolate sales), followed by Hershey, Whitman’s Chocolate, Lilly’s Sweets and HealthSmart Foods.

*Source: IRI, 52 Weeks Ending Aug 7, 2016 in Total U.S. Multi-Outlet w/ C-Store (Supermarkets, Drugstores, Mass Market Retailers, Gas/C-Stores, Military Commissaries and Select Club & Dollar Retail Chains)

The company claims its xylitol has a low-glycaemic index of seven, compared to 68 for sugar and 100 for high-fructose corn syrup.

"The problem with most alternative sweeteners is they leave an aftertaste, and stevia is one of those. For many people, it has a negative aftertaste,”​ said Bergwall.

He added that many mainstream sugar-free chocolates use maltitol, which he alleged was not akin to sugar in taste.

"Maltitol is really cheap, while xylitol is expensive. No-one wants to use it because it is really expensive,” ​said Bergwall.

A premium sweetener

TRŪ Chocolate estimates sugar costs $0.27 per lb., whereas its xylitol costs $3.14 per lb.

"We found we could work with xylitol and have no aftertaste at all. If you put this out at a party and don’t tell people it's xylitol, people think it's sugar,”​ said Bergwall.

TRŪ Chocolate’s 85 g packs have a suggested retail price points of $5-$6 due to the cost of xylitol.

"Right now we're not getting any push back for the $5-$6 price range,” ​said Bergwall. “For convenience stores, we've come out with a smaller package (61 g) that will sell for $2.99."

No sugar, but not low calorie

The company uses 72% Fair Trade USA organic cocoa from Peru.

"We're not claiming it's a low calorie food. It has no sugar, but there are plenty of calories from the cocoa butter,” ​said Bergwall.

TRŪ Chocolate’s range contains 130 to 180 calories per serving depending on the product. By comparison, a single-serve Snickers bar contains 250 calories.

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