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    Consumers Still Loving Dark Chocolate

    Health benefits, mass marketing pushes sales.

    Dark chocolate sales continue to be sweet, spurred by the confection's touted health benefits and mass marketing by Hershey Co., Lindt & Sprungli Co. Plc and others, according to a report by Reuters.

    Dark chocolate sales increased 49 percent to $1.88 billion between 2003 and 2006, according to one study.

    "It tastes good and at the same time people have the perception that it has added health benefits," Marcia Mogelonsky, a senior analyst with research firm Mintel International, who authored the March 2007 study, told the news organization.

    Analysts expect to see more competition in the dark chocolate segment, as more companies begin marketing dark chocolate through grocery stores and other mass outlets. Some companies are even beginning to market chocolate as a "health" food.

    "Mass has been under-penetrated as far as dark and premium chocolate goes," Mitchell Corwin, an analyst who follows the confectionery industry for Morningstar Inc., told Reuters. "You're seeing more premium brands hit the mass retailers because that's where consumers are going in greater numbers and they are demanding higher-quality products."

    The dark chocolate trend began about five years ago and is peaking now, Mogelonsky said. "Companies have been working hard to introduce people to different ranges of dark chocolate, from 45 percent to 75 percent cacao."

    But some analysts and nutritionists have warned against overselling chocolate as a health food. Consumers do not want to buy chocolate as a "healthy food," said Douglas Healy, the project director of HealthFocus International, a health and wellness consulting firm, at the panel.

    "Consumers will react against it" if companies stop selling dark chocolate as an indulgence, albeit one with benefits, he added.

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