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Raising the bar – Positive trends are shaping Europe’s sweetest industry




Good news for Europe’s chocoholics: their favourite industry is growing. The size of the European chocolate sector is projected to reach $57 billion by the middle of the next decade. This represents a major chunk of the world’s $162 billion total. It even dwarfs the US market, which is expected to surpass $22 billion in value.

Germany holds the continent’s largest market share, at 15 per cent. In a close second place is the UK, whose government estimated last year that the country’s chocolate exports were worth more than £680 million – a significant 84% rise from the £370 million recorded ten years ago. More broadly, the manufacture of cocoa and chocolate is today worth over £1 billion to the British economy.

Reaching for the top shelf

It is not all about raw growth, however. New forms of consumer demand are driving several changes in the industry.

One noticeable trend has been the rise of top-shelf chocolate. Britain’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has found that foreign buyers “are showing an increasing taste” for quality chocolate exports. This mirrors the trend across the pond, where according to consumer surveys premium brands now account for nearly 20 per cent of all US sales of the sweet stuff. It is a considerable share of a national market regularly tapped by almost four fifths of adult consumers.

Closely linked to this trend has been the boom in “craft chocolate”. Over the past half-decade, independent start-up chocolatiers, using artisanal production methods, have been looking to eat into the market share of “Big Chocolate”. They are seeking to mirror the rapid growth of the craft beer industry – which has already drawn millions of global consumers away from the larger established brewers.


Indeed, in order to meet rising domestic and foreign consumer demand, the Department for International Trade has noted that “the number of independent chocolatiers in the UK has grown in recent years, with more artisanal and specialized products being launched”.

It’s good for you

Another major transformation in the consumer market has been a move towards healthier products. In the UK, messages on the dangers of excessive sugar and fat consumption seemed to begin to make an impact in 2017, when the 12 biggest brands reportedly faced losses of £78 million; the profits of artisanal and independent makers of organic and healthier varieties, in contrast, remained on the up.

Dark chocolate also seems to be becoming more popular. The proportion of chocoholics choosing dark chocolate has grown to 48 per cent in recent years, according to recent surveys. Taken in moderation, it has been found to offer benefits to heart, artery and brain health.

Helping to drive demand for dark chocolate, and for products made with plant-based substitutes for cow milk, has been the ongoing rise of veganism. Since 2014, the number of British vegans has quadrupled: an estimated 600,000 now have a plant-based diet, or 1.16% of the population. Growth is not expected to slow anytime soon. It is estimated that a quarter of the British population will be either vegan or vegetarian by 2025 (with just under half of all British consumers calling themselves flexitarians).

“We are definitely seeing greater demand for vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free products,” says Niels Østenkær, CEO of Copenhagen-based brand Simply Chocolate. “Brands are adjusting to the ‘free-from’ culture. Those high-end chocolate makers able to stay on top of this demand – with a clear message, values and focus on quality – will be the winners of tomorrow.”

Increasing pressure to go green

Last – but by no means least – is the growing call for a sustainable chocolate sector. “No serious chocolate maker can comprehend a future for the industry without greater sustainability,” says Østenkær. “Consumers demand it. Investors are increasingly doing so – in fact, our own owner, Alshair Fiyaz, absolutely insists on sustainability.”

In the industry at large, however, there remains much to do to go green. Many certification programmes exist which promise greater equity and better conditions for commodity farmers. But the International Cocoa Association, a trade body, has found that the proportion of cocoa sold worldwide under the Fair Trade label remains as little as 0.5 per cent. The warning comes amid wider fears of “greenwashing” – the danger that of the multitude of labels and certifications on the market today, some may not require the most stringent of standards, and instead be used as a marketing gimmick.

Østenkær believes the solution lies in taking a holistic approach: “We need a guarantee of sustainability across the board. That is why at Simply Chocolate we only use chocolate certified by Cocoa Horizons, a programme which supports the livelihoods of farmers, promotes workable, entrepreneurial farming methods, helps them boost productivity, and contributes to the economic development of their communities – all the while protecting the natural environment.”

Of course, making the chocolate industry sustainable goes far beyond the ingredients themselves. Østenkær explains: “Chocolate depends on an intricate global supply chain – from the grower, all the way to the factory and distribution. We need to ensure compliance at all stages of that supply chain. So work at the local level is critical. That is why we produce all of our chocolate by hand at our factory in eco-friendly Copenhagen, ensuring that we know exactly what goes into our bars. We’re even installing solar panels on the roof to reduce our carbon footprint!”

Europe’s chocolate industry is not only expanding, it is evolving – and in a positive direction. Tastes are changing, consumer trends are shifting, and awareness of sustainability is fast developing. It is an exciting time in the land of chocolate.

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