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).


By Deborah Cassell
Executive Editor
Candy Industry
Retail Confectioner
casselld@bnpmedia.com


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.”