The chocolate category is performing well, with growth of approximately 4% in measured channels for the first half of the year, according to Michele Buck, chairman of the board, president, and chief executive officer of The Hershey Company. Everyday chocolate sales have consistently grown 9% since the pandemic began. While take-home products are driving outsized growth, instant consumable products are also growing.  

“We are leading not only through our portfolio of iconic brands, consumer relevant marketing and strong execution, but with our thought leadership, as well. Within confection, this has enabled us to drive growth that far exceeds the category and expand our number one share position in the U.S.,” Buck shares.

So, which products are hot with consumers today?

“We see that high percentage dark chocolates, free from, dairy free, soy free, sugar free, nut free are growing,” explains Marine Leman, senior communication manager for Valrhona Inc. “Natural, clean label, and plant-based are getting more and more attention. Anything baking as well, from a staple quality dark chocolate to chocolate chips.”

Consumers are interested in reducing their sugar consumption without giving up on indulgence, so less sweet seems to be the current trend, says Marie Loewen, research and development corporate manager-applications for Blommer Chocolate.

“We are seeing more ‘dark milk’ options in the confectionery space, like our Lyra Milk Chocolate,” Loewen says. “The pairing of more traditionally savory ingredients, such as miso and tahini, with chocolate in baked goods is also very popular. Black tahini paired with milk chocolate is a team favorite we hope more consumers have a chance to enjoy.”

At Hersey, sales for baking items are performing exceptionally well, with growth of over 40% in the second quarter. This growth was across products, including syrup, baking chips, toppings, and cocoa, as consumers spend more time at home together in the kitchen.

“We have capitalized on this trend to sustain momentum, increasing marketing spend and generating more content and recipes for our consumers,” says Buck at Hershey’s. “This is important for the second half of the year, when baking takes on an even bigger role in U.S. households.”

Mark Seaman, CMSA, culinary applications chef, specialties, at Barry Callebaut, elaborates on trends, noting that chocolate is the most sought-after flavor in desserts today.

“What I find more interesting than focusing on the percentage on the pack, is that In the United States, 74% of people prefer milk chocolate,” he shares.

Other innovative ideas for bakery product uses and/or decorations feature chocolate.

“I’m personally excited for new metallic shimmers that Mona Lisa Decorations will be launching in the coming months in the U.S.,” Seaman says. “These chocolate ‘gems’ will add such sparkle and texture to a whole range of chocolate desserts.”

Dark chocolate innovation

Consumer education about dark chocolate, in particular, looms as a key challenge in coming years. Consumers are starting to understand percentages, but there is a lot of room to grow.

Leman at Valrhona explains that education is important to help consumers understand flavor options and preferences.

“Most people do believe that the higher the percentage, the better. But it’s wrong. Again, it’s a question of education because percentage is just an indication,” she explains. “You can have the same percentage for two chocolates, but if the beans come from 2 different countries, their tastes will be drastically different (best example is Valrhona Manjari 64% from Madagascar and Taïnori 64% from the Dominican Republic). Focus should be on taste, not so much on percentage.”

Retail bakeries are innovating in new ways, as well. To celebrate the return of Baileys Red Velvet, Georgetown Cupcake, a six-store retailer based in Washington, DC, will be offering the Baileys Red Velvet Dozen, non-alcoholic Baileys-infused red velvet cupcakes, available online for nationwide delivery now through December.

Additionally, Baileys will be releasing a series of virtual at-home baking content leading up to the holidays to remind consumers that although things might look a bit different this year, baking with loved ones still brings that sense of tradition and togetherness that is needed now more than ever.

Sisters Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne are the co-founders of Georgetown Cupcake, stars of Cupcake Cam LIVE and DC Cupcakes on TLC, and best-selling authors of The Cupcake Diaries and Sweet Celebrations. Inspired by their grandmother, in 2008, the sisters followed their passion for baking and opened Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, DC. Since 2008, they have expanded Georgetown Cupcake with locations in Bethesda, New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. Georgetown Cupcake also ships its cupcakes nationwide.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be working with our friends at Baileys once again to help bring back Baileys Red Velvet,” says Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne. “Our Georgetown Cupcake signature red velvet flavor is so special to us because it was the original offering when we first opened our doors and twelve years later it’s still our most popular one, chosen by our customers nearly ten to one. We couldn’t be happier to partner with Baileys on this amazing flavor that we know consumers adore so much.”

WholeFruit Chocolate

As for other new products, Seaman points to WholeFruit Chocolate as a fresh, fruity delight made from 100% pure cacao fruit. Not only does it have a unique sensory and nutritional profile, it is also the most impactful chocolate since it valorizes a fruit that used to be partially discarded as waste.

WholeFruit Chocolate comes in two variants from Barry Callebaut:

  • WholeFruit Bold (100% Pure cacaofruit)
  • WholeFruit Velvety (100% Pure cacaofruit+Milk)

The taste of WholeFruit Bold is a punchy symphony of fresh fruitiness and deep chocolaty notes.

WholeFruit Velvety is a creamy, luscious chocolate, enveloping a gentle mix of (citrusy) freshness and (yellow) fruity notes.

Not only does it have a unique sensory and nutritional profile, it is also the most impactful chocolate since it valorizes a fruit that used to be partially discarded as waste.

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The chocolate contains more than 40% less sugar than the most consumed dark and milk chocolates and is high in fiber, Seaman explains. “And WholeFruit Chocolate is better for the planet, too: normally 70% of the cacao fruit is discarded as waste, now not only its seeds (beans) but also its fresh fruity pulp are used to craft this delicious chocolate.”

Creative applications

Seaman at Barry Callebaut says he can’t wait to see shiny, scarlet flakes on next year’s Valentine’s Day cupcakes and bonbons – and other creative applications for chocolate in baking.

“I’ve been swirling melted white chocolate into fruit purées to add to my cheesecake bases. I can create a seasonal cheesecake without really changing my base formula,” he shares. “Keep the same quality white chocolate, such as Callebaut W2, and swap in pumpkin for the Fall or pomegranate for Christmas, etc.”

Other innovative ideas for bakery product uses and/or decorations featuring chocolate involve new products like Ruby from Callebaut. Ruby offers a totally new taste experience – a tension between fresh berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness – that satisfies a different consumer need than dark, milk and white chocolate. Made from pure cocoa beans, Barry Callebaut has unlocked the flavor and color tone naturally present in select cocoa beans through unique processing that took 10-plus years to perfect.

“I am a cake decorator at heart. I love featuring chocolate as a decoration on the outside of a cake. Ruby is one of the coolest because it has such a unique color,” he explains. “Decorators can be as simple as they want from creating a Ruby drip cake or shaving Ruby chocolate over piped borders for a light color.”

Mona Lisa, a Barry Callebaut brand, makes it easy for cake decorators to add tiny Ruby chocolate curls to any bakery item post-bake with RTU Ruby blossoms. Seaman says his favorite attributes are easy and beautiful.