New Research Delves Into Consumers' Preferences & Purchase Behaviors Around Chocolate

Mood is the biggest purchase driver for dark, milk or white chocolate.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Chocolate is a consumer favorite during ordinary and pandemic times, with shoppers treating themselves and others with chocolate in support of their emotional wellbeing.

The National Confectioners Association's (NCA) second edition of Getting to Know Chocolate Consumers 2021: Exploring Consumer Demographics, Consumption Preferences and Shopping Habits for Mainstream, Premium and Fine Chocolate aims to bring an understanding of the consumer perceptions, attitudes and behaviors regarding chocolate.

"Chocolate has always been a consumer favorite, but preferences for type and format vary widely based on consumers' age, income and lifestyle," said NCA President and CEO John Downs. "This past year was a strong one for chocolate. COVID-19 dramatically changed shopping behaviors, spurring tremendous growth in chocolate e-commerce, for instance. The research in this new report breaks down the changes we're seeing to help the confectionery industry continue to adapt, grow and thrive."

Key takeaways from the report include:

  • Innovation drives engagement — Chocolate's range of items and continued innovation in flavor, texture, ingredients, packaging and branding that reflect changing consumer preferences drives the continued high consumer engagement in household penetration, trips and spending.
  • Variety is the spice of life — More than 80 percent of consumers partake in at least two out of the three chocolate segments. Additionally, preferences for dark, milk or white, and cacao percentages and inclusions vary widely. Mood is the biggest purchase driver.
  • A rising tide lifts all boats — Most consumers purchase chocolate across the entire range of offerings.
  • Education can drive experimentation — Consumer education about the product and process can result in greater appreciation of chocolate's textures and flavors and may move consumers past the price point hurdle.
  • Elevating the profile of American-made chocolate — Many consumers either see no difference between American and European-made chocolate, or believe European chocolate is superior. Elevating the profile of American-made items is another area of joint interest among U.S. chocolate producers.
  • Social and environmental stewardship matters — About five to six in 10 consumers care about how their food is made, what's in it, who made it, and having shared brand values.
  • E-commerce is now a must — Chocolate e-commerce has been a big area of growth, yet there remains opportunity on the unplanned side of the business. Access, preferred consumer status and high top-of-mind awareness are key elements in driving further e-commerce growth.

The report also takes a closer look at the rapidly growing fine chocolate segment, which has seen a significant increase in frequent and exclusive consumers since the start of the pandemic.

"Over the past year and a half, we've seen consumers more willing to treat themselves to a piece of fine chocolate in order to support their emotional well-being during this stressful period," said Bill Guyton, executive director of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association. "This wave of interest in fine chocolate has spurred all sorts of new experimentation and inclusions from the fine chocolate industry as consumers find new ways to fit fine chocolate into their everyday routines — from single origin recipes to rare ingredients."

Getting to Know Chocolate Consumers 2021 is based on a survey of 1,506 consumers conducted in August 2021. The attitudinal survey findings are complemented by retail measurement and household panel data provided by insights firm IRI.

More information on Getting to Know Chocolate Consumers 2021 is available here.

Washington, D.C.-based NCA is the trade organization that promotes the unique role of chocolate, candy, gum, and mints in a happy, balanced lifestyle and the companies that make these special treats through advocacy and regulatory guidance, communications, industry insights, and retail and supply chain engagement.