Natural Foods Merchandiser
Natural retailers giving into chocolate

Natural retailers giving into chocolate

Life may be like a box of chocolates, but for naturals retailers it’s pretty easy to know what you’re going to get by carrying a diverse selection of cacao-rich products. Last year, chocolate sales rose 10 percent in the natural channel, according to SPINS, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research company. Pure cacao powder is one of the most antioxidant-rich foods around and packed with flavonoids that have been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease.

Stocking specialty chocolate offers high profit margins and can help you position your store as a “gift destination.” Additionally, carrying a wide selection of chocolate provides opportunity to connect with naturals consumers on several levels—from artisanal chocolate products positioned like fine wines to health-food bars packed with wholesome ingredients. To maximize the retail potential of this increasingly essential indulgence, consider these key concepts.

Room for new products
Despite the presence of big names like Dagoba Organic Chocolate and Scharffen Berger, the natural and organic chocolate market remains open to upstarts and novel ideas. “Chocolate is a product where people are willing to experiment and move away from the core brands,” says Frederick Schilling, who founded San Francisco-based Dagoba in 2001 and has since moved on to other ventures. “Consumers are willing to step out of their comfort zone because it’s a cheaper example of indulgence.” With that in mind, he suggests retailers keep at least a third of their shelf space in this category fluid, rotating in and out new products.

Going dark
Dark chocolate bars with high cacao content are here to stay. Often, the higher the percentage of cacao in a bar, Schilling says, the lower the percentage of added sugar. Still, retailers shouldn’t go overboard with high-cacao products, says Jonathan Smiga, chief operating officer of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Chuao Chocolatier. “This movement to 74, 75 percent cacao has been purely artisan, but it’s gone against the palate of American consumers,” he warns. “The average consumer doesn’t like an overly concentrated chocolate.”

Healthy add-ins
For the past decade, many natural and organic chocolate companies have dabbled in infusions. Now, they’re not only mixing exotic tastes such as lavender, goji berry and chili pepper into their products, but also upping the nutrition ante by including ingredients like phytosterols that have added health benefits. “People want things that are good for them, especially in an indulgence category,” says Greg Kokoefer, general manager of NewTree, a Belgian chocolate company in San Anselmo, Calif. “If you can feel good at the same time as you are indulging in something, that’s a win-win.” The grape extract in NewTree’s black currant and cherry-flavored bars, as well as the green tea extract in its mint bars, don’t add flavor but are packed with antioxidants.

Ethical initiatives
Considering that cacao is usually grown in regions of the world that tend to be economically and ecologically challenged, naturals consumers are demanding that chocolate products be produced in humane and sustainable ways—and companies are taking note. Ethical initiatives are a top chocolate trend, from traceable ingredients to eco-friendly practices to recycled packaging.

Joel Warner, a Denver-based writer, likes the idea of chocolate bars infused with healthful ingredients to help him feel better about his late-night indulgences.

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