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    Dark Chocolate Slowly Catching Up to Milk Chocolate

    Obesity and health concerns still loom over the confectionery category.

    CHICAGO -- In the battle over the better indulgence, dark chocolate is gaining ground against milk chocolate, according to Mintel.

    In its recently published Chocolate Confectionery report, the research firm found that 51 percent of all adult consumers prefer milk chocolate, followed by 35 percent who favor dark chocolate and 8 percent who prefer white chocolate. In contrast, Mintel's 2011 report found that 57 percent of consumers favored milk chocolate, while 33 percent preferred dark chocolate.

    "The progressively better-understood health benefits of dark chocolate may be increasing its popularity as more consumers are looking for indulgent foods that can serve multiple functions, such as nutrition and convenience," said Sarah Day Levesque, a food analyst at Mintel.

    In fact, 73 percent of all chocolate consumers are aware that dark chocolate is healthier. Day Levesque also pointed to research that indicated consumers aged 55-plus are more likely to favor dark chocolate, most likely because they are seeking added nutritional benefits. Within this age group, some 46 percent of men and 48 percent of women prefer dark chocolate, compared to 38 percent of men and 40 percent of women who prefer milk chocolate. These numbers are indicative of dark chocolate's increasing popularity, the research firm noted.

    The chocolate confectionery market has fared well in a lagging economy by growing 19 percent from 2007 to 2012. Mintel attributes this growth to consumers' demand for affordable luxuries or indulgence, as well as the food culture that has increased interest in premium, high-quality and artisanal varieties of chocolate. However, due to countering trends, Mintel expects growth in the category to taper down to 15 percent over the next five years.

    "As the economy recovers ever so slowly, consumer demand for the affordable indulgence that chocolate provides is expected to remain, and interest in chocolate as part of the larger food culture will continue," Day Levesque added. "However, obesity, the dark cloud that looms over this category and many other indulgent categories, and related health risks will remain a concern for many consumers and present challenges to increasing category sales."

    When deciding to purchase chocolate, 89 percent of consumers buy chocolate as a treat or reward, while 87 percent buy it as a snack option. In addition, 83 percent of consumers look carefully at the size of chocolate candy packages to determine the best value for the money, and 72 percent buy chocolate as a way to improve their mood or provide an energy boost.

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