Easter egg sales have soared nearly 50% in the UK this year as consumers plan to celebrate an easing of lockdown restrictions.
Sales are up £48m to £153m on last year, according to figures from Kantar. "There are signs of people making a special, even symbolic, effort this year," Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar told the BBC. "Grandparents might be showing up with additional treats after 12 months of restrictions."
Meanwhile, a host of vegan Easter eggs have hit the market to meet the demands of a typically younger demographic, says market researcher Walnut Unlimited.
In a recent nationally representative survey of around 2,000 consumers, it found that almost half (48%) are aware of vegan chocolate but only 4% regularly buy it.
Interestingly, it noted a marked difference across the generations on interest in vegan products. Gen Z adults (18-24s) are almost three times more likely to be eating vegan chocolate than the total population (11% vs 4% respectively). It therefore expects demand for vegan chocolate products to continue to grow in the coming years.
“With the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for sustainable, ethical food and drink is only going up and we expect to see this play out with Easter this year too,” Walnut Unlimited’s head of sensory Debbie Parker told FoodNavigator. “We are seeing increasingly more ‘free-from’ and vegan eggs available.” She added that she expects pent-up demand this Easter to help premium brands and more ethically viable products such as vegan alternatives. This led it to sensory test vegan vs non-vegan chocolate eggs.
The challenge for manufacturers who want to create vegan chocolate is to avoid milk. Not all dark chocolate, meanwhile, is vegan-friendly. Some brands add milk, or fillers developed from dairy, such as milk fat, to their dark chocolates to make the product creamier and sweeter.
The current crop of vegan Easter eggs therefore typically feature rice, oat and maize powder, noted Parker, a fact that can bring flavour and texture challenges. “Milks fats help to give chocolate the creaminess that we like,” she said. “When you take milk or milk powder out, it’s difficult to recreate those textures and flavours.”
Rice and maize powders often give a slightly oily flavour to chocolate, observed Parker. Also, the texture of the chocolate was often gritty, dense and brittle. “This caused the problem of many eggs being hard to get into and when you did, they shattered.”
"In a lot of the chocolate it was difficult to find an alternative to milk chocolate,” she added. “They all had flavourings in them such as orange, salted caramel, strawberry and raspberry to try and compensate for the lack of the smoothness and creaminess that you get from the milk flavour.
"It works, up to a point. As long as the flavour and texture of the product is acceptable and recognisable as chocolate then people might happily forego that extra little bit of melty indulgence if they know that they're buying vegan."