By Deborah Cassell
Executive Editor
Candy Industry
Retail Confectioner

getting fresh: Premium chocolate predictions

It’s been a long, hot summer here in the Midwest -- the kind that makes playing outdoor sports exhausting, getting sunburned more likely and shipping chocolate extremely difficult (as recently received product samples prove). Soaring temperatures often result in power outages (I can attest) as well as thunderstorms -- a phenomenon I don’t begin to understand, as my knowledge of the weather is limited to what we learned about clouds back in elementary school (cumulus, cirrus, stratus).

Just as forecasters such as WGN’s beloved Tom Skilling are charged with predicting the weather (sometimes even successfully), industry leaders make it their business to call out what’s new and next for their respective product categories.

Take premium chocolate. I recently asked executives from Lindt, Godiva and Ghirardelli to weigh-in on what’s happening in this area of interest. Here’s what the experts had to say about what’s hot (other than summer temps):
  • Sea Salt, which “continues to be a strong flavor trend,” says Tami Luongo, brand manager of bars for Lindt USA. “Last year, Lindt introduced the Excellence A Touch of Sea Salt Bar, pairing dark chocolate with Fleur de Sel. Many manufacturers are adding Sea Salt to various flavor combinations to try and capitalize on the trend.”
  • Desire for fresh products, such as Godiva’s Freshly Dipped Chocolate Covered Strawberries, suggests Lauri Kien Kotcher, cmo and senior v.p. of brand management for Godiva.
  • Desire for customization is another, Kotcher continues. “These days, more and more customers are buying Godiva products that are made daily in our stores such as our Freshly Dipped Marshmallows, and Milk and Dark Chocolate Bark with Caramel, Fruits and Nuts, as well as picking their favorite pieces from the chocolate case.
  • Dark chocolate is another growing trend. “We see more people choosing dark chocolate than ever before,” Kotcher notes.
  • High quality standards: “The American consumer palate is becoming increasingly more sophisticated and selective -- especially in terms of premium chocolate,” says Mona Maher, marketing vice president of Ghirardelli. “Characteristics ranging from the use of higher-quality ingredients to carefully controlled manufacturing processes are becoming increasingly important to consumers.”
  • Accessible luxuries: “Premium chocolate has always been seen as a small luxury,” Kotcher notes. “One may not be able to afford a new piece of jewelry, new car or other expensive indulgences, especially in these challenging times, but decadent chocolate serves as a special treat that one can enjoy on a regular basis.”
  • Taking familiar flavors and “gourmetizing” them: “Consumers always enjoy flavors that evoke familiarity and positive association,” Maher says. For example, Ghirardelli SQUARES take “familiar flavors and creates filled chocolates using the highest-quality ingredients” such as bits of real raspberries and peanut butter “made using peanuts specially picked from a farm in Georgia,” she continues, thus “’gourmetizing” consumers’ favorite chocolate recipes in an affordable and convenient way.
  • Affordable indulgence: “Given the current economic environment consumers are looking for little indulgences that they can afford,” Maher says. “Premium chocolate is top of their list for affordable indulgences.”
Additional insights into premium chocolate trends -- including highlights from “The U.S. Market for Chocolate 2010,” a new Packaged Facts report by senior analyst Curtis Vreeland -- can be found in the July issue of Candy Industry. Visit www.candyindustry.com, click on Digital Edition, and turn to the Industry Trends feature in Retail Confectioner for the full story.

For a look at this weekend’s forecast (not to mention occasional storm-chasing footage that will make you go weak in the knees, regardless of the current temperature), I recommend www.weather.com. Looks like this Saturday is going to be long and hot here in Chicago – that is if it doesn’t rain. I just love those “isolated t-storms.”



Exec changes to take place at Endangered Species Chocolate

Wayne Zink, ceo of Indianapolis-based Endangered Species Chocolate (ESC), has announced that he will transition from company operations to become president of the Endangered Species Chocolate Foundation (www.escfoundation.org), the non-profit arm of the company. Zink also will serve as chairperson of ESC’s board of directors. Curt Vander Meer will take over as ceo of ESC.

Zink’s focused involvement will serve to further Endangered Species Chocolate Foundation’s on-the-ground commitment to cacao farmers in Ecuador and the Ivory Coast. The foundation’s projects allow the company to work directly with individuals in cacao farming communities, creating sustainable solutions for the planet and promoting ethical trade practices that empower communities.

Zink speaks highly of his ceo successor.

“Curt and I have worked closely together for five years now, and he has been a huge part of making ESC a success,” Zink says. “I’m proud that our brand is the No. 1-selling chocolate in the natural organic category.”

Vander Meer joined Endangered Species Chocolate in 2005 and has served the company in various positions, most recently as coo.

“I am excited to move into this leadership position,” Vander Meer says. “Wayne will continue to do what he loves by being able to use his philanthropic skills to expand the reach of Endangered Species Chocolate Foundation.”

For more information visit www.chocolatebar.com.




Mars dubs Ms. Green queen

It’s official: Ms. Green is America’s favorite M&M’S character. On July 27, Mars Chocolate North America announced that Ms. Green nabbed nearly a quarter of the 3.4 million votes cast by fans on www.mms.com, defeating fellow M&M’S characters Red, Yellow, Blue and Orange.

“Surprised? Darling, please,” Ms. Green said, reacting to the news. “I’m fabulous, and America knows it.”

To help celebrate Ms. Green’s new status, music superstar Sean “Diddy” Combs will host a special party in her honor in New York City this September. The exclusive guest list will include the winner of the M&M’S Party Like Diddy Sweepstakes, B.C. Ashmall-Liversidge of Brooklyn, N.Y., and 20 of her friends. Ashmall-Liversidge will have a hand in planning the bash with Diddy, who met with her in Los Angeles this week to begin preparations.

For more information about M&M’S or the Party Like Diddy Sweepstakes, visit www.mms.com or www.facebook.com/mms.




Mintel envisions veggies in candy

Greater use of vegetable ingredients within confectionery products could go far in improving candy’s health image as well as offer additional growth potential, writes Marcia Mogelonsky, global food and drink analyst for London-based Mintel International Group Ltd., in a recently released report on Sugar and Gum Confectionery

“The absence of vegetables -- especially naturally sweet vegetables such as corn, sweet potato, yam and carrot -- in confectionery provides an option for innovation,” she says.

Noting that less than 2% of sugar and gum confectionery products introduced since 2008 contained vegetables, Mogelonsky points out that the majority of those new products were launched in Asia.

Given that beverages in Europe and North America containing vegetable ingredients are common, and many now combine fruit flavors with vegetable ingredients, Mogelonsky sees an opportunity for confectionery manufacturers.

“Getting children to eat their vegetables in the guise of confectionery may be a strategy worth trying,” she says. “Besides using vegetables as an ingredient in confectionery, manufacturers could also utilize vegetable extracts and juices as natural coloring, providing an alternative to the more commonly used and often criticized artificial coloring agents.”

For more information, visit www.mintel.com.



Just eight tickets remain in America's quest for WONKA gold

Two of the legendary WONKA Golden Tickets have been found, the brand announced yesterday, turning up the heat in the hunt for the eight remaining tickets.

Eva E. of San Francisco was the first to have her ticket verified as a genuine WONKA Golden Ticket, which she found in a bar purchased at a Target store in Colma, Calif. The second winner, Jason C. of Southaven, Miss., who discovered his ticket in a bar he purchased at his local Walmart store, was not far behind. Both have won the Grand Prize of a lifetime -- no, not a tour of the legendary chocolate factory, but trips around the world with three guests, worth up to $40,000.

“We’re thrilled for Eva and Jason, and can’t wait to hear more about the adventures they have planned for their globe-trotting journeys,” says Patricia Bowles of Nestlé Confections & Snacks. “We look forward to celebrating as more ticket holders come forward.”

A total of 10 tickets were placed inside new WONKA Exceptionals, a collection of three varieties available in 3.5-oz. tablet bars (S.R.P.: $2.39) and 9.5-oz bags of individually wrapped minis (S.R.P: $4.29).

The WONKA Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate Bar is made with bits of toffee pieces, crispy cookies and crunchy peanuts wrapped in milk chocolate. The WONKA Chocolate Waterfall Bar features a combination of creamy white chocolate swirled in milk chocolate. The WONKA Domed Dark Chocolate Bar is made of rich dark chocolate topped with milk chocolate drops.

Each variety is marked with a Golden Ticket “burst” on the front and can be found at retail stores nationwide.

For those who don’t find a Golden Ticket, there are thousands of instant-win Purple Tickets hidden inside WONKA Exceptionals chocolate bars and bags of minis. Prizes include $500 airline vouchers, $50 Ticketmaster gift cards, $25 movie theater gift certificates and free WONKA Exceptionals chocolates.

The contest ends Aug. 31. No purchase necessary. For more information, visit www.wonka.com.




Sweet of the week: Wings of Nature Bars

Wings of Nature Bars from New York-based Fresh Harvest Products are great for gym buffs, kids and people on the go. They’re available in three flavors: espresso coffee, almond raisin and cranberry crunch. All-natural, certified organic and gluten-free, the bars contain no preservatives, trans fats or added sugars. Fresh Harvest Products uses natural sweeteners that do not elevate blood sugar levels as much as other sweeteners. The suggested retail price is $1.79 per 1.4-oz. bar. For more information, call 1-917-652-8030 or visit www.freshharvestproducts.com.